ANATOLY “TONY” GERMAN – BELARUS, USSR “I didn’t pick the tire industry,” admits Tony German, claiming it offered the only job that a non-English-speaking 48-year-old male could find. “It chose me.”
Lucky for him. The business that German started in 1994 with $5,500, after getting fired from another tire dealership, grossed $5.5 million in 2010. And now, German says, Tony’s Tires and Wheels in Albany, N.Y., continues to grow “as fast as money will allow me” – despite economic downturns.
German’s unlikely success did indeed arrive through doors of good fortune that opened after less fortunate ones closed. The 68-year-old native of Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union, says he had a good job as a general supply manager for a large iron-casing manufacturer there. But he and his family were living that good life just 45 miles away from Chernobyl, site of the 1986 nuclear power plant meltdown considered to be the worst in history.
“I thought it would be safer at the time for my family and small children to move to a place with no radiation,” German says. So, in 1989, three years after the disaster, he and his family immigrated to Albany, where some of German’s extended family members already lived.
“I did not speak a word of English,” he says, “and, for six months, I could not get a job. After six months, at the age of 48, I got a job as a tire technician, earning $6 per hour. After six more months, I got a raise to $8. I was always very ambitious and was not afraid to work hard to provide for my family.”
Following his ultimately fortunate firing from that company, German scraped up his five grand, drew from the lessons of his past jobs and relied on his work ethic to make his millions. “I was very well educated in Russia and had work experience that allowed me to prosper in America,” he says. “I knew how to run a business from working in a large factory.
“I also try not to be an ***hole and try to treat everyone fairly,” he jokes. “I treat my employees really well and they stay loyal and work hard for me in return. I’m a man of my word, and people trust me and know I have a big heart.”
Not that German is offering advice, of course, at least not to other immigrants. “Immigrants do not need advice!” he states. “They already know how to work hard and come to this country seeking opportunities. They already have the ambition. Hard work and honesty get you far in life. Happiness comes from hard work, and success doesn’t happen overnight.”
But if the blunt Belarusian had to offer one tidbit of advice to potential tire entrepreneurs, it would be an unexpected one. “Don’t do it!” he says. “Manufacturers are making it very difficult for a small business to survive in this industry.” Not that it ever could have stopped Tony German.
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