When Brian Norko, senior vice president – commercial business operations, NGK Spark Plugs (U.S.A.) Inc., interviewed for the management trainee program at Federal-Mogul, he says he “didn’t know anything about manufacturing and … wasn’t a car enthusiast.” That didn’t slow him down when it came to carving out an incredibly successful career in automotive. Now with roughly 35 years under his belt, Norko says he still lives by the guidance he was given by the mentors he had while just starting out.
“Fortunately, I had an angel in Southfield, Michigan, who was keeping his eye out for me,” said Norko. “His name was Don Thorpe, God rest his soul. He was the national sales manager for the sales division that called on NAPA and every time I would come back to Southfield, he would always look me up and we’d have lunch or have dinner. He wanted me in the sales group. He got his wish and I went into to NAPA sales for Federal-Mogul. I spent some time there and then I went into heavy-duty sales, and then into distribution. Then, they brought me back to be in finance. So, the first eight years, I really got a good dose of being a management trainee in different functional areas from sales to distribution and finance.”
Norko credits another important mentor in his career as helping him learn the key to being a successful sales professional.
“Another strong mentor was Bob Show, God rest his soul as well,” said Norko. “Bob was the national sales manager of heavy-duty sales at Federal-Mogul and really taught [me] the foundation that I still use with my group. The first thing he said to me when I took the job up in Minnesota in heavy-duty sales was, ‘You know, Brian, I really don’t care about writing big orders here. The next three or four months, what I care about is you get to know your customers and establishing a very good relationship with your customers. When I come back up in four months, I’m going to talk to some people and see if they know you,’ and he did.”
The experience Norko gained while working in a variety of roles in the Federal-Mogul management trainee program made him a firm believer in the value not only of relationships, but in having a wide variety of skills as an aftermarket executive. When speaking to students about potential career paths in the aftermarket, this is something Norko is passionate about.
In this episode, Bill and Brian also dive into:
- 8:29 Mentors;
- 10:45 Identify the need and provide the solution;
- 12:10 The value of brands and quality products;
- 12:15 The value of strong brands in making life easier in sales;
- 14:35 The technician shortage;
- 20:30 AMN Drivetime’s NEW “Lightning Round”