Tom Gallagher’s dedication to what is right, and the strength of his leadership, created lasting impact at the company he helped lead for more than 25 years. He advocated for the store owners, jobbers, consumers, and the entire automotive aftermarket industry.
Gallagher was born on Staten Island, NY in 1947. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1970 with a B.S. in Marketing and minors in Finance and Economics. A chance encounter with a Genuine Parts (GPC) executive while in college led Gallagher to the company’s management trainee program following his graduation. He remained with GPC his entire career.
In January of 1990, Gallagher was named president and chief operating officer. In this role, he influenced every aspect of GPC’s business and presided over a period of robust growth. Gallagher focused on the viability of the independently owned parts stores that were important to the economic and social fabric of their communities. The NAPA Direct Ship Program, one effort deployed to assure their success, facilitated direct, advantageously quick deliveries at competitive prices. He also initiated and expanded training programs, enhancing the caliber and success of small shop automotive technicians.
In February 2004, after the retirement of mentor Larry Prince, a 1991 Automotive Hall of Fame awardee, Gallagher was named president and CEO. In 2005, he became chairman.
Under his leadership in 2007, GPC formed the Heavy Vehicle Parts Group, supplying parts to heavy-duty trucks and trailers, further solidifying NAPA as a primary parts retailer in North America. In 2008, GPC finalized the acquisition of Altrom Group, one of North America’s leading import parts distributors.
In his 12 years as CEO, GPC’s sales and profit doubled, and shareholder value increased at an average annual rate of 13 percent. As a result, in 2016, Gallagher was inducted into the Gabelli Asset Management Company’s Management Hall of Fame, and Genuine Parts Company was awarded the Wealth Builders Award.
Having spent time working in Europe earlier in his GPC career, Gallagher also led the company’s reentry into international markets with the 2013 purchase of Australia’s Exego Group, renamed GPC-Asia Pacific, one of Australasia’s leading aftermarket distributors. In 2017, GPC purchased UK-based Alliance Automotive Group, a leading European automotive parts distributor.
Responding to congressional consideration of legislation awarding original equipment manufacturers a 10-year monopoly on replacement parts, Gallagher pulled together fellow industry colleagues to defeat the effort. Thus, was born the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE).
“The vehicle owner should be the one to decide when, where and how [their] vehicle gets repaired,” Gallagher said. “It should not be mandated or legislated by the federal or state government. Mandated solutions are most often anti-consumer, anti-small business and anti-competition. All we want is a level playing field.”
The CARE’s solution: the introduction of the 2001 Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair legislation mandating car companies make available all tools and information necessary to service today’s sophisticated vehicle systems. This bill was reintroduced again in 2003 and 2005, but no provisions were adopted until the Massachusetts legislature engaged a Right to Repair Bill in 2012. This binding ballot initiative was approved with 86 percent support and became the de facto law of the land.
Under Gallagher’s long-term leadership as chairman, CARE defended the rights of independent repair shops and their suppliers. In a statement, the Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association hailed Gallagher because he “found time to do what [was] necessary for his company and for the industry. All of this work he [did] not because he sought recognition or the spotlight, but because it was the right thing to do.”
In 2002, Gallagher received the Anti-Defamation League’s Torch of Liberty Award. In a February 5, 2002 entry in the Congressional Record, Congressman Edolphus Towns of New York stated that, “Mr. Gallagher never failed to take a stand to do what is right and just. It has been my pleasure to personally know Tom Gallagher and see first-hand his commitment to America’s consumers. It is with pride in Tom as a fellow American that I place his name in the Congressional Record for others to know the merits and values of one of America’s foremost business leaders.”
Gallagher has continued to support CARE in retirement. He is also a committed volunteer for the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia, which specializes in the medical and rehabilitative treatment of people with spinal cord injuries, acquired brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological conditions. He also serves on the board of the Carlyle Fraser Heart Center, one of the nation’s leading cardiac care centers, named after GPC’s founder.
In 2003, Gallagher was awarded an Automotive Hall of Fame Distinguished Service Citation for his role in CARE’s fight to protect the independent automotive aftermarket.
Gallagher took over a company that was steered by a succession of mentor-to-mentor: Carlyle Fraser, Wilton Looney and Larry Prince, the former CEOs of GPC who hand-picked Gallagher. He retired as Genuine Parts chairman in 2017 but continued to serve as non-executive chairman until April of 2020.
Gallagher is always proud to state that he was just one part of a team that worked toward the same goal for growth and achievement and that recognition belongs to the team.
*On July 22, 2021 the Hall will celebrate its 2020 awardees as the class of 2020/2021. The 2020 ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.