“Be humble. Work hard and let your actions prove who you truly are,” said Earl Flack on lessons learned from his former bosses Bob McKay and Jim McKay.
Flack has been honored as this year’s Litchfield Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year. He is currently the president and majority owner of McKay Napa Auto Parts.
The son of David and Rose Flack of Litchfield, Flack graduated from Hillsboro High School with the class of 1979. During his high school career, he worked as a co-op student for Ed Dahler in the parts department of Putnam-Wright Ford in Hillsboro when he was a senior in high school.
“I was undecided what I wanted to do after high school,” Flack said. “But they asked if I wanted to work at McKay. I came to Litchfield for an interview with Bob McKay, who was the president of the company at the time. He told me that if Reynolds Voyles thought I was okay, then I got the job.”
Flack started out working the front counter and making deliveries for the McKay Auto Parts store in Hillsboro.
In 1984, he began working on the road as an outside sales person for the company, calling on repair shops, dealerships, factories and farmers.
“We still have a full-time sales staff, and they’re very good,” Flack said. “That’s one of the things that makes us so successful.”
After working outside sales, Flack decided he wanted to be a store manager, and in 1991, he served as manager of the Hillsboro store.
“I felt like I needed to understand how to manage people,” he said.
He would later work in branch support, overseeing the 12-13 McKay stores in central Illinois and helping to streamline their processes and procedures. He said it was a tough job trying to create unified procedures for so many different stores, but he spent a lot of time learning what worked best for each particular store and building on that.
In 1998, Bob’s brother, Jim McKay came to Flack and four others with an opportunity to buy into the company. Jim bought his brother Bob out, and Flack became a minority shareholder.
“At that time, I was in charge of sales as a regional manager,” Flack said. “We were growing into new markets in the metro area, not just small towns anymore.”
In 2007, Flack was named vice president of the company, where he said one of his biggest challenges was managing his peers.
“The pieces of the puzzle were starting to come together, and I learned it’s okay to disagree,” he said.
Jim McKay would “semi-retire” in 2012, when Flack became president of the company and majority owner with three other partners.
McKay Auto Parts is currently made up of 23 stores and a new distribution center in Litchfield. They have stores in Bethalto, Carlinville, Carlyle, Centralia, Collinsville, Edwardsville, Fairview Heights, Gillespie, Godfrey, Granite City North, Granite City South, Greenville, Highland, Hillsboro, Jerseyville, Litchfield, Mount Sterling, Nashville, Nokomis, Staunton, Vandalia, Virden and Wood River.
They have also added a new retail store front at their Litchfield location this year.
The new distribution center near Interstate 55 in Litchfield was opened earlier this year, and will eventually house the McKay corporate offices as well. Flack said they chose Litchfield because of their history with the community and the quality of people that work for them there. He added that the city of Litchfield was instrumental in retaining the distribution center as well.
Flack said that one of the things that makes the McKay company so special is their support and dedication to the Illinois Make-A-Wish program.
Years ago, the company was supporting a St. Louis-based charity, but the McKays didn’t feel like enough of the money was going to the programs.
“Then Jim found out about Make-A-Wish,” Flack said. “That first year, we donated $5,000, and we were so proud. It was really a stretch to come up with that amount.”
Thirteen years later, the company has donated $592,000 to the organization and helps to grant wishes for local children with terminal illnesses.
“It just keeps getting better,” Flack said with a smile.
Each year, the company hosts a golf outing and raffles off a customized utility vehicle as part of their fundraising efforts. They also invite wish kids and their families to speak at the annual fall Tool Show, giving them a chance to share their story.
“Our goal is to make every wish come true,” Flack said.
Flack currently resides in Hillsboro with his wife, Nancy. The couple share three children, Kelsey Flack, who works for Teamwork Rehab in Hillsboro, Ryan Stitt, who is a police officer in Fairview Heights and Emily Stitt, who is a physical education and health teacher and coach in Arcola.
As he reflects on his career over the past four decades at McKay Auto Parts, Flack said it’s the people who work for the company that make the difference.
“From delivery people to the president, we are one team with one goal,” he said. “I take 225 families home with me every night. Those who work for us need these jobs. They need McKay Auto Parts.”
He said the company has been successful over the past 83 years because of the people. They continue to recognize their employees through trips to St. Louis Cardinals games, days out and a management trip to Lake of the Ozarks each year.
“At the end of the day, McKay Auto Parts is great because it’s made up of great people,” he said. “I’m just the guy steering the ship. Everywhere I go, I talk about our people. Passion fuels our company, and we want our people to feel good about where they work; and be a part of something. Our people make the difference.”
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