Driven by Connection

ATD’s Rebecca Sinclair blends her diverse experience with new technology to shift the culture forward

Rebecca Sinclair, American Tire Distributors Photo: Olly Yung

“I take responsibility for our people and our communications, but my role is ultimately focused on our culture,” says Rebecca Sinclair, chief people and communications officer of American Tire Distributors. As the major driver of the organization’s human capital strategy since 2017, Sinclair has worked diligently to manage transformational culture change across ATD’s more than 140 locations throughout North America.

Sinclair has decades of experience in the human resource field, learning virtually every aspect of HR’s role in business from some of the most well-regarded global brands. In each role, she progressively learned valuable lessons that she carries through to her work in modernizing ATD’s unique approach to HR, which encompasses culture, talent management, knowledge growth, and communications.

Sinclair’s formative years were defined by her time at Victoria’s Secret, which provided unique opportunities that shaped her path forward. “I learned the value of focusing not just on HR but the business as a whole,” she notes of her time there, which granted her a window into a premier brand and the importance of innovative thinking that begins with the associate journey.

From there, she went to Starbucks, where she helped develop the divisional HR support model that matched the company’s high growth and transformation by focusing on the next generation of retail talent to fuel performance. Great leaders have mentored Sinclair throughout her career, and she has learned the power of accountability, living by your core values, knowing that failures are opportunities, and that empowering people will accelerate a company’s ability to drive culture at scale.

Given her experience in a wide variety of industries, entering the tire distribution business at ATD was an exciting opportunity. “It’s a different business sector, but my experiences prepared me to be able to architect a strategy that would be agile and support the business transformation,” Sinclair says.

Both ATD and the replacement tire industry itself were on the cusp of unparalleled change. For more than eighty years, the replacement tire industry business had been stable, predictive, and framed in tradition.

“Imagine a world where [HR is] not just training people. They come to us because we’re knowledgeable and can drive business outcomes.”

The perfect storm in an evolving industry advanced plans to modernize the culture and embrace innovative technology to position the company to lead during this unprecedented time of change. “Now we are the most connected and insightful automotive tire provider in the industry,” Sinclair says.

So, how does one start to transform the culture, talent management, and communications for a company in an industry that has been doing things the same way? The answer: Get connected. Connect everything and everyone, through cutting-edge technology and analytics, to the mission, the strategy, the culture, and the values.

As such, digitization has become an integral component of Sinclair’s work at ATD. However, there was one, very big problem—the majority of the associates were field-based, or “deskless,” and constrained by the rigors of a day serving customers.

Shortly after joining, Sinclair set to work introducing the sales and supply chain team to the Spark modern learning platform. Her modern approach, fueled by technology and advanced analytics, allows HR to offer definitive proof points to leadership and board members how increasing seller knowledge is linked to actual sales growth, and to pre-emptively test strategies to see which ones lead to more profitable outcomes. “Imagine a world where HR is not just training people,” Sinclair says. “They come to us because we’re knowledgeable and can drive business outcomes.”

Expanding knowledge was a valuable growth opportunity for not only the associate but also ATD. That clear connection to analytics and results has guided each subsequent evolution at the company.

One of Sinclair’s most ambitious initiatives is to seamlessly align internal and external brands. “It’s a sign of a very modern company to streamline these functions,” she says. The new function allows management to communicate with every single worker at the push of a button, including associates who are deskless. The HR department now plays a vital role in extending ATD’s brand and corporate culture.

All of this work is meant to advance ATD’s knowledge culture, which Sinclair praises the company for prioritizing. “We’re innovators and strategists, but also engineers,” she says. “Everyone on my team is an entrepreneur, always thinking of the next idea.”

“We’re innovators and strategists, but also engineers. Everyone on my team is an entrepreneur, always thinking of the next idea.”

By completing projects like digitizing the entire associate experience and providing more efficient communication across the company, Sinclair and her HR team have played a vital role in connecting every associate to what they need to know, how they need to do their jobs, and their role in the mission and vision of ATD.

“While our products and services are obviously critical to our success, the truth is that our associates are the connection to our customers. So, it only makes sense to ensure that our associates are closely connected to our culture and our vision,” she explains.

Between their innovative enterprise change management initiatives and the integration of state-of-the-art technology HR plays a vital part in that equation. For Sinclair, this comes down to the strong knowledge of culture she has created in ATD. “They’re hungry for opportunities to learn,” she says.

As chief people and communications officer, she leverages modern technology and advanced analytics allowing leaders to know what their people know, what they don’t know, and where there are growth opportunities. And, thanks to these new initiatives, she can drive her team—and ATD as a whole—toward even greater success. When associates are knowledgeable, appreciated, and engaged, they are passionate and create the future of a company.

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