William C. Hatcher

Distinguished Service Citation Award 1991

A “Genuine” Success

No one can ever accuse William C. Hatcher, the retired vice chairman of the board of Genuine Parts Co. and a recipient of a 1991 Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame, of not having a sense of humor or of humility. Hatcher explains away the fact that he spent his entire working career with Genuine Parts with a series of one-liners that would make any comedian proud. “They just can’t get rid of me here,” he says. “I’m a slow learner, and it’s taken me a long time to learn my job.”

Of course, Hatcher’s humility, though appreciated, is unnecessary. The man played an integral role in building Genuine Parts to the lofty reputation and success it enjoys today, and was also a key player in the development of the National Automotive Parts Association (NAPA). The landscape of the automotive aftermarket industry would be quite different if not for the contributions of Hatcher. Not a bad career for someone who began with Genuine Parts in 1940 as a packer. “They needed a packer,” Hatcher says, “and hired me. I was looking for a job, and they were looking for a worker. We got together, and I’ve been here ever since.” In fact, except for a stint in the Army Air Force during World War II, he has spent the better part of five decades with Genuine Parts, with no real thought of leaving. “Immediately after the war, I realized I had an opportunity to work for the government,” he said, “but I just couldn’t see a career of being a government worker. So I returned to Genuine Parts.”

Hatcher moved up quickly through the ranks, hopscotching from the shipping department (1945-49) to managing the Birmingham Distribution Center (1949-52) to a management stint in New Orleans (1954-61) to the general manager of the company’s Atlanta facility (1961-63). In 1963, he was elected to the company’s board of directors, and a year later became its vice president of operations. From 1974-86, he was the president of Genuine Parts, and became its vice chairman of the board in 1986. He also served as president of NAPA from 1964-65, on its board of directors from 1962-86, and on its executive committee from 1964-86. Typical of his humility, Hatcher downplays his role in building another industry giant, NAPA. “That was part of my responsibility,” he said. “And let’s face it. A better NAPA meant a better Genuine Parts Company.”

The development of NAPA was not without its pitfalls. Hatcher recalls the early years, and is amazed at the first, we were accused of having ‘gyp’ parts,” he said. “We didn ‘t have lines like AC-Delco, but as we gained such manufacturers, our reputation grew, too. “Still, NAPA has grown more in the last 20 years than in its first 20,” he said. “It was and is the right program for the industry, and it has simply gained momentum over the years .” One of the developments Hatcher has noted in the industry over the years is a breakdown in its discipline. “In the early days, the parts jobber sold only to professional repair people at a discount; everyone else paid list price,” he said. “Today, with the growth of the do-it-yourselfer, virtually anyone can buy parts at a discount. Now, I’m not saying that’s a bad development, but it’s one that certainly I didn’t anticipate.” Hatcher expects that to abate somewhat, primarily because of the increasing sophistication of today’s cars. “The do-it-yourself market has probably peaked,” he said. “I don’t think it will shrink, but I do believe that the overall aftermarket will grow and the do-it-yourself segment will remain static.”

Hatcher remains optimistic about the market’s future, and is particularly enthusiastic about opportunities available for young people in the industry. “There are numerous opportunities for someone who is willing to work hard and make personal sacrifices to succeed,” he said. “You’ve got to like the business and appreciate what service is and how important it is to the industry. Like any service business, ours is a time-intense commitment; you can’t be looking for a 9-to-5 job and expect to prosper in our industry. Likewise, you can’t expect to have weekends and evenings free. Still, the rewards in our industry are many. “In fact, when I retired, I said that I wish I were 30 years younger, because the opportunities in this market are greater in the future than they were in the past,” he said. “I still firmly believe that.”

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