Obituary: Larry Prince, GPC’s Third CEO

Larry Prince, who rose from a stock clerk at the Genuine Parts Co. to chairman and CEO over a 47-year career there, died March 5. He was 80.

GPC enjoyed significant growth under Prince’s leadership. During his tenure as CEO, sales rose from $3.20 billion to $9.10 billion, reflecting both organic sales and the benefit of acquisitions, according to the company.

Prince pushed to continue GPC’s transformation from a regional auto parts distributor to a national powerhouse. And, he played a major role in the growth of NAPA, GPC’s best-known brand, by purchasing and opening NAPA outlets across the country.

“Larry was one of the most influential and respected leaders in our industry during a time when the aftermarket was blessed with many great leaders,” said Bill Long, MEMA president and CEO and AASA president and chief operating officer. “He was a man of class and distinction who was generous with his time, words of praise and encouragement. He will be truly missed.”

Prince joined GPC for a part-time job in 1958 while a student at the University of Memphis. He was 19 and accepted a job at the company’s Memphis location, about 80 miles south of his hometown, Dyersburg, TN.

In 1966, he was promoted to a position in GPC’s corporate headquarters in Atlanta. From there, Prince held various positions of increasing responsibility, including as head of GPC’s European operations headquartered in Paris.

During his time with the company, GPC diversified into other markets, including industrial replacement parts, office products and electronic material. Prince was a vice president when GPC acquired S.P. Richards, an office supply company, in 1975, and Motion Industries (MI Industrial), the following year.

He was promoted to CEO in 1989 — the third CEO since the company’s founding in the 1920s — and served in that role through 2004. He was chairman of the board from 1990 through 2005, when he retired.

“Larry had the unique ability to connect all within the industry and understood the interdependencies of our complicated supply chain better than anyone I have ever met,” Auto Care Association president and CEO Bill Hanvey said.

Hanvey was a young product manager with Tenneco when he met Prince. He remembers Prince taking a genuine interest in his career and offering assistance, Hanvey recalled.

“He was a true professional who commanded a room and approached a situation or opportunity from a unique perspective that always made you think,” Hanvey said. “He will be missed, but his legacy lives on for all the countless auto care industry employees who were fortunate enough to have known him.”

Former MEMA president and CEO and longtime GPC executive Bob McKenna met Prince in 1971, and worked with and for him over the next 33 years. “Larry Prince was just that, a prince of a man,” McKenna said.

“He was always in control, and knew what was going on and how to deal with any situation,” McKenna said. “The best part was he was as nice a guy as you will ever know. He was a perfect gentleman, and treated people with respect and dignity.”

McKenna recalls meeting with Wilton Looney, GPC’s CEO before Prince, to talk about his career prospects.

“His counsel was simple,” McKenna said. “‘Look at Larry Prince. He’s one of our finest executives, and he will be the next president of Genuine Parts.’ It was good advice as you would expect.”

When Looney died last June, Prince talked to The Greensheet for an obituary. He praised Looney’s ability to maintain the company’s reputation as a family-oriented workplace with strong continuity of management, which Prince said he had aimed to continue.

Prince “… leaves a lasting legacy of strong leadership, underpinned by the principles of honesty, integrity, fairness and respect for all,” said Tom Gallagher, another long-term GPC employee who succeeded Prince as CEO and is currently chairman of the board. “He was a great role model, special person and friend to many. He will be dearly missed.”

Prince earned a number of awards over the years, including an “Outstanding Business Leader Award” from Northwood University in 2000. A “Distinguished Service Citation” from the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1999 cited the important role he played in the development of NAPA, including its classification system.

GPC, in association with NAPA, developed a well-respected marketplace inventory classification system to determine optimum distribution center and auto parts store inventory levels for automotive parts stocking based on automotive registrations, sales trends, production statistics, and other local market factors.

In addition to GPC, Prince served on the boards of a number of Atlanta’s top businesses, including SunTrust Bank, Equifax Inc., Crawford & Co. and the John Harland Co. He was a current board member of Rollins Inc., RPC Inc. and Marine Products Corp.

Prince also served a term as chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and as a board member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

He was a trustee of the Campbell Foundation, the Tull Foundation, the Shepherd Center Foundation and Westminster Schools, as well as a member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta and Northside Drive Baptist Church.

Survivors include Prince’s wife, Sandra, and son, Larry L. Prince Jr.

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