Chief executive officer and chairman, Genuine Parts Company
Born: ca. 1937.
Education: University of Memphis.
Career: Genuine Parts Company, 1958–1977, stock clerk and various other positions; vice president and then group vice president, 1977–1983; executive vice president, 1983–1986; president and chief operating officer, 1986–1990; chief executive officer, 1989–, chairman, 1990–.
Awards: Distinguished Service Citation, Automotive Hall of Fame, 1999; named Notable Georgian, Georgia Trend , 2002; named one of America's Most Powerful People, Forbes .
Address: Genuine Parts Company, 2999 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta, Georgia 30339; http://www.genpt.com.
■ Larry L. Prince spent his entire professional career with Atlanta-based Genuine Parts Company. When he took over as chief executive officer in 1989, he was only the third person in 60 years to hold that position with the company. During his long-term tenure, the Atlanta-based concern was transformed from a local automotive parts distributor to the country's largest auto replacement parts wholesaler and branched out to offer office supplies, office furniture, wire, chemicals, and electronic materials for printed circuit boards. The company was best known for its blue-and-gold National Auto Parts Association (NAPA) trademark outlets, which became its revenue mainstay. Prince played a major role in the growth of NAPA and its classification program as well as in his company's acquisition of the lion's share of NAPA outlets.
Prince attended the University of Memphis before joining Genuine Parts in 1958 as a stock clerk. He steadily climbed the corporate ladder, becoming vice president and then group vice president from 1977 to 1983 and executive vice president from 1983 to 1986. In 1986 he was named president and chief operating officer, posts he held until becoming chief executive officer in 1989. One year later, in 1990, Prince was named chairman of the board of directors.
Both Prince and the former chairman of Genuine Parts, Wilton Looney, had never worked for any other firm. Moreover, Prince, while he indicated that he had no plans to step down, announced that his choice for successor would be another long-term employee, President Thomas Gallagher. The two had worked together for more than 30 years, and Prince considered them to be almost interchangeable. This consistency in upper management, manifesting in a shared vision, contributed to the overall success of Genuine Parts over the years. In 2004 the company was approaching five decades of annual dividend increases and continued growth while still maintaining a low profile. That year it also sat in the top 10 percent of Standard & Poor's (S&P's) 500, owing to a dividend yield of 3.6 percent.
Genuine Parts Company was founded in 1928 to service the automotive replacement parts industry. In the 1970s Prince, as vice president, played a role in the acquisition of the S. P. Richards Company, an office-supply company with sales of $28 million. By 2003 the office-supply group of Genuine Parts was bringing in sales of nearly $1.5 billion. Notwithstanding, Genuine Parts was mostly known for its NAPA parts outlets. Although NAPA was an independent marketing organization that predated the company, Genuine Parts continued over the years to acquire and open NAPA outlets. Through Prince, NAPA distribution stores sprouted up around the country, supplying major repair chains, neighborhood shops, and do-it-yourselfers with quality automobile replacement parts. By the early 2000s almost 90 percent of NAPA's membership was composed of Genuine Parts outlets and jobbers.
Despite the company's steady gains and successes, Prince stayed on top of the market with continually updated market research data that circulated the company's vast computer inventory system. The data was so detailed that on any given day it could advise a NAPA dealer how many new and used Chevrolets or Buicks or Subarus were in his service area and then suggest how many replacement parts he was likely to need for each model. Prince also invested in extensive management marketing and accounting training for NAPA dealers.
Prince told Forbes (November 30, 1987) that nasty winters, along with blown head gaskets, dying carburetors, and aging cars, were great for business. Still, he said, "we can't afford to move into the future with a narrow shot." After sprucing up its own outlets, the company began servicing its competitors, such as Sears, Midas, and Pep Boys, with emergency replacement parts service. In mild weather the company relied on its nonautomotive groups to carry the load.
The company also acquired Oklahoma City–based Brittain Brothers in 2000, which had been a longstanding NAPA distributor in four states, with 178 outlets as well as 14 of its own. That same year Genuine Parts announced an alliance with the online auto repair information subsidiary of Snap-On Tools, Mitchell Repair Information Company. The strategy seemed to have worked. In the early 2000s the company enjoyed one of the longest runs for dividend increases in corporate America, with its stock up 40 percent from 1999 and outperforming S&P's 500 stocks for most of the previous five years. In 2004 Prince again directed corporate attention to expansion, planning for the addition of 50 company-owned NAPA outlets and 50 independent ones.
Prince was a low-key and private person who did not seek the spotlight. Still, he received several awards and honors for his role in developing Genuine Parts, including a Distinguished Service Citation from the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1999. The award recognized people who had significantly improved their industries or organizations. Prince also remained active on the board of directors for several other companies, including Crawford & Company, Equifax, John H. Harland Company, and SunTrust Banks.
See also entry on Genuine Parts Company in International Directory of Company Histories .
Byrne, Harlan S., "More Than Autos," Barron's , December 18, 2000.
Hannon, Kerry, "Grease Monkey's Dream," Forbes , November 30, 1987, p. 193.
Luke, Robert, "Atlanta-Based Auto Parts Maker's Growth Lag Spurs Changes," Atlanta Journal-Constitution , January 18, 1999.
McNaughton, David, "At Genuine Parts, Stability Pays Off …," Atlanta Journal-Constitution , May 12, 2004.
—Lauri R. Harding