Bruce Halle was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1930, the second of seven children. As the Great Depression spread, Halle’s parents, Fred and Molly, returned home with their two young sons to Berlin, New Hampshire, where they would live with Molly’s parents. Halle’s father became a firefighter at the Berlin Fire Department and eventually became the deputy chief. In 1942, the Halles moved to Detroit, where Halle’s father worked as a security guard at Ford Motor Company’s Rouge River plant, which had been converted for wartime production at the start of World War II.
“My father was a great man,” says Halle. “He was athletic and loved to sing and dance. In his off hours, he trained boxers. All the boys in my family learned to box. In those days, there was no television, so we were the entertainment.”
As a boy, Halle remembers hiking into the nearby mountains. “During blueberry season, my brothers and I would eat berries all day and come home with blue lips and tongues,” he says. “It was a great place to grow up. I played baseball, and when I wanted to earn some money, I shoveled snow and mowed lawns. I didn’t have any strong feelings when we made the move to Detroit. I had lived a small-town existence up to the age of 12, and looking back on it, the more diversified life in the city was probably beneficial to me and my siblings.”
Halle’s father was kind, but he was also a strict disciplinarian. “My father never had a drink in his life,” he says. “He would make sure that, as young men, my brothers and I behaved. When we would go out, he would say, have fun but don’t come home drunk. None of us ever did.”
Shortly after moving to Detroit, Halle got a job trimming grass at the local cemetery. When he was older, he worked in the local drugstore as a film processor and spent one summer working on the Ford production line.
Halle enjoyed school but says he was an average student. About to graduate in 1948, he had no plans for college. The auto industry was booming, and he thought he would simply go to work for one of the Big Three. But in the spring semester of his senior year, Halle learned he was 2.5 credits short for graduation. “Sister Marie Ellen, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order, worked with me to get the English credits I needed, and she used that time we had together to tell me she thought I should go to college,” says Halle. “My older brother had not gone, and until she mentioned it, I really hadn’t considered it. She encouraged me to give a speech at graduation to honor the school’s athletes, and I think it was that little push that got me thinking about a different pathway forward.”
Halle became the first one in his family to ever attend college. In fact, three of his classmates were going to Eastern Michigan University, which is only 30 miles from Detroit. Halle applied and was accepted. “I paid for college working every job I could,” he says. “I cut grass, shoveled snow on campus, worked as a janitor, and worked in the soda fountain at the men’s union.”
In high school, Halle had played football and basketball and had run track, so it felt natural to make physical education his major. He was never an outstanding student, and his grades did not improve in college. He had poor study habits, and after two years at Eastern, he was languishing. His older brother Bob was a U.S. Marine Corps reservist, and when his younger brother also enlisted, Halle did likewise. He and Bob both fought in the Korean War.
Shortly before he was deployed, Halle married his high school sweetheart, Gerry. Their first child, a son named Bruce Jr., was born while Halle was in Korea. “I was lucky in the war,” he says. “I was never hit, but my brother was. Thankfully, he recovered. I grew up fast in Korea. When I returned, I felt ready to go back to school and perform. I had to convince my dean that I could make it at Eastern. He told me if I got two B’s in the summer classes I was taking, he would let me stay. I got an A and a B.”
Halle changed his major to business administration and worked the afternoon shift at Ford to pay his bills. After graduating, he quit Ford and became a car salesman. “I was a very successful salesman,” he says. “The last year I sold cars was 1956—the year I graduated—and I made $11,000, which was a fortune in those days.”
He quickly discovered that he was not as good at selling insurance as he was at selling cars. In 1958, Halle called on an old high school friend who owned a wholesale tire and accessories company. “The business was failing, and I was unable to sell my friend a policy, but I became intrigued with the tire business,” says Halle. “I went to my old boss, Harry Regtz, at the car dealership and borrowed $5,000 from him, which allowed me to buy 25 percent of my friend’s company.”
For the next few years, Halle and his partner worked hard to expand their business. They opened a retail store in an old gas station, but their warehouse was losing money. At that point, they decided to dissolve the business. “I had no job and no money then,” he says, “but I had a taste of the retail tire business, and I wanted to pursue it on my own. I rented an old plumbing warehouse, remodeled it myself, and opened my first tire store in January 1960 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with six tires and no plan.” Six Tires, No Plan became the title of Halle’s biography, written by Michael Rosenbaum in 2012.
Halle’s Discount Tire store had a slow start, but eventually he started making a living that could support his family. He built his company one day at a time and even one tire at a time. In the beginning, he was Discount Tire’s purchasing agent, accountant, salesman, service technician, cleaning crew, and sign painter. Discount Tire became the world’s largest independent tire company and has twice been voted Arizona’s most admired company.
Halle attributes his phenomenal success to hard work, faith, and perseverance. “There were several times over the years when my company could have failed,” he says. “I put in a lot of hard work, hired good help, and served my customers with honesty and integrity. The difference between selling insurance door to door and selling tires is that my customers were coming to me. I discovered I wanted to help them. I like to talk and meet people, and I get along with just about everyone. My customers trusted me, so a retail business was a natural for me. It just fit my personality.”
Passionate about his business, Halle says he has had a good life. His biggest disappointment, however, was the passing of his wife, Gerry.
“We went to high school together and were married for 38 years,” he says. “We had three children—Bruce Jr., Susan, and Lisa—and I felt lost for a long time after she died. But six years later, I met and married Diane, whose husband had also died of cancer. We have been married for 20 years, and her son became the CEO of Discount Tire. God sent Diane to me, which was such a blessing, but having her son Michael also become a part of my life was wonderful. He has worked for me for 14 years and is a great man.”
Asked to advise young people just starting out, Halle has this to say: “There are more opportunities in this country than ever before. Whatever your passion is, go for it. Learn about your passion through education, and then go out there and make it happen.”
In 2009, Bruce and Diane Halle were honored by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. They are knight commanders of the Order of St. Gregory. In 2014, Arizona State University (ASU) named the couple 2014 Philanthropists of the Year. In accepting the award, Halle said that when he started his business, he just wanted to be able to support his family. As his company grew, he felt obligated to support his employees.
Halle sees his financial rewards as tools that allow him and his wife to give back to the communities where they live, work, and have stores. Causes he has supported include the Halle Heart Children’s Museum in Tempe, Arizona; ASU Cancer Center; Mayo Medical School in Rochester, Minnesota; Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix; Childhelp USA; Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix; Center for the Future of Arizona; American Academy of Achievement; March of Dimes; Special Olympics; and American Liver Foundation.
Halle became a member of the ASU Dean’s Council of 100 and an entrepreneurial fellow at the University of Arizona. Wanting to give back to his alma mater, Eastern Michigan University, he made the largest individual gift ever received by the school. “I strongly believe that if I hadn’t returned to college after my service in the Marines, I would not have been as successful as I was with my business,” he says. “A college education is vital for success, and I’m looking forward to being involved with the Horatio Alger scholarship programs.”
The Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation supports efforts concerning homelessness, hunger, healthcare, medical research, and education. It has established a scholarship program that gives all children of Discount Tire employees the chance to attend college.
Halle has received many awards, including the American Academy of Achievement’s prestigious Golden Plate Award, Northwood University’s Outstanding Business Leader Award, and ASU’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In addition, Modern Tire Dealer magazine named Halle its 2014 Tire Dealer of the Year.