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Connect, May 2012 - Jerry Nix - EY - United States

Connect, May 2012

Jerry Nix

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Steadfast and growing: Genuine Parts Company

The Genuine Parts Company (GPC), with US$12.46 billion in revenue, is that rare breed: a business that has not only remained independent since its founding more than 80 years ago, but has diversified and prospered with the changing times. 2012 is GPC’s 56th consecutive year of increased dividends.

  Current position:
Vice Chairman and CFO of Genuine Parts Company (GPC)
  Last EY office:
Atlanta, Georgia
  Born in:
Booneville, Mississippi
  Board/community involvement:
Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Young Harris College; Board of Directors, Synovus Financial Corp.; Board Member of Boy Scouts of America and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre; has also served on numerous nonprofit boards over the years.
  Career highlights:
Has played a pivotal role in GPC's successful diversification strategy.

Jerry Nix

Genuine success

During his 33-years at Genuine Parts Company, Jerry Nix says with a laugh that he's held every conceivable position and sat in every chair within the firm's finance department. He humbly credits his long and successful career to a lot of hard work, relationships based on treating people the right way and a bit of "genuine luck."

Before joining Ernst & Young LLP in 1976, Jerry Nix served five years as a U.S. Air Force pilot, including flying F-5 fighter jets over Vietnam. So, returning stateside and landing a job with the firm's Atlanta office seemed like a pretty safe bet. In doing so, Nix moved from his home state of Mississippi to Georgia, where he has lived and worked ever since. Today, Nix is 
Vice Chairman and CFO of Atlanta-based Genuine Parts Company (GPC). He has been with the company since 1978 and considers himself blessed in the way life turned out.

Nix's time at EY was his introduction to GPC. He served on the audit for the parts-distribution company, as well as for several textile-manufacturing clients. Based on that experience, he believes that young people who are considering careers in business could not find a more effective training ground than EY.

"There's no better preparation for the business world than public accounting." He points out that, "You get exposed to many companies and industries. Then you can either choose one of the many disciplines at the firm or a sector that interests you. It's just an incredible opportunity."

A strong connection

At the time that GPC offered Nix a position in the company's internal audit department, he had served on the engagement for two years and was drawn to the organization, the people and the culture. Since joining GPC, Nix has worked in virtually every finance and administrative role. He also says that his longevity is not exceptional, since many executives are promoted from within. GPC's current CEO, Tom Gallagher, is only the fourth in the company's 84-year history. Nix himself is a 33-year veteran.

“There’s no better preparation for the business world than public accounting.” Nix points out that, “You get exposed to many companies and industries. Then you can either choose one of the many disciplines at the firm or a sector that interests you. It’s just an incredible opportunity.”

When he arrived at GPC, the company had just started to branch out from its focus on automotive parts distribution. Up to that time, GPC was perhaps best known for its NAPA brand, with company-owned distribution centers and stores located across the US, as well as for being Canada's leading automotive parts distributor and one of Mexico's largest automotive aftermarket suppliers. Since then, GPC has steadily expanded its footprint in the distribution market. In 1975, GPC acquired office products distributor S.P. Richards. The following year, GPC bought Motion Industries, a distributor of industrial maintenance, repair and operation (MRO) replacement parts. Then in 1998, GPC acquired EIS, Inc., its electrical and electronic materials business. With these and other strategic acquisitions, GPC is today a US$12.46 billion revenue company.

Looking back

Nix has a high regard for the culture at EY as well. He recognizes the value of the firm's "great work ethic," which has stayed with him throughout his career. "You know, people from EY are smart and work hard. And they are very good people besides." While Nix was at the firm serving GPC, the engagement partner, Jim Murphy, was an important influence. And he made a lasting impression. "Jim was always very professional — demanding, but in the right way. I feel lucky to have worked with him."

Giving back

With his characteristic candor, Nix does not hide the fact of his modest background. "I grew up poor and somebody helped me along the way. Today, I'm fortunate to be able to help somebody else." He is committed to giving back to the community, and this is central to the GPC culture as well. Nix goes on, "I've been blessed to work for a company that not only allows its employees to participate in giving back to the community, but encourages them to do so."

Among his activities outside work, Nix has been involved for more than a decade with Young Harris College, a small liberal arts school located in the north Georgia mountains. He is chairman of the board of Young Harris, which recently expanded from a two- to a four-year institution. He also finds time to support Cobb Energy Performing Arts and the Boy Scouts of America. Cheryl, his wife of 44 years, has also been involved in many community fund-raising and volunteer efforts.

“The world is changing and Genuine Parts Company is changing with it,” says Jerry Nix, company CFO. Despite GPC’s growth — both in revenue and number of entities — Nix says GPC strives to retain its small company attitude.

As people in business reach out to help others, Nix believes that they will gain a greater awareness of what's happening in the surrounding community. He explains, "You can become isolated in the corporate world and not realize what's going on out in the world, and the battles that people fight every day."

In an 84-year-old company, where people who've been there 10 to 20 years are still considered "the new kids on the block," Nix says that GPC takes a certain amount of pride in not having a "big company attitude." For Nix, the long tenure of GPC's employees all comes down to doing what you love. "I just believe that people who are happiest in the long run are going to be the most successful," he reflects. "You need to enjoy what you do, no matter what it is, no matter how you measure success."

Steadfast and growing: Genuine Parts Company timeline

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