Julien Polk – American Tire Distributors Inc.
As Hurricane Katrina roared its way toward New Orleans in late August 2005, Julien Polk’s mother had a hunch. This would not be like the year before when the city was threatened by Hurricane Ivan until the storm veered east to the Florida Panhandle.
As Ivan approached, the Polk family left to ride out the hurricane and its aftermath with family in Charlotte, North Carolina. While Julien recalls it took six hours to drive 30 miles, the family never made it to Charlotte and returned to an unscathed New Orleans.
On the Sunday morning when Katrina was churning through the Gulf of Mexico, the Polk family left for Charlotte again.
This time, they didn’t return.
Instead, Charlotte became the adopted home for Polk, then a high school senior, and his family. He continues to live there nearly 20 years later as he serves as associate general counsel for American Tire Distributors, responsible for the company’s logistics and supply chain contracts and compliance.
And the upheaval and adversity Polk and his family faced imbue his outlook on life and his profession.
“As an attorney and a person, I’m dedicated to pay it forward,” Polk says. “That’s deeply rooted in my service and the root of what an attorney is supposed to do. It’s how we get better as humans and a society.”
Well stocked for tires
What’s now American Tire Distributors was founded as a tire store in Lincolnton, North Carolina, in 1935 by James H. Heafner. While known as Heafner Tire, the company grew into a national distributor.
Its name was changed to the current one in 2002 to reflect the company’s expanded foot—or tire—print. ATD is now the largest tire distributor in North America, with more than 113 distribution centers and more than 4,500 associates serving about 80,000 car, tire and repair centers, according to its website.
Polk is a part of ATD’s in-house legal team and is tasked with managing the contracts with vendors and customers that enable the company to provide the tires, wheels, tools and other supplies for its customers. He’s also supported M&A transactions and vendor contracts in relation to the company’s annual charitable event.
He helped get a contract for and implemented software that automates the contract process. Polk says educating ATD’s business teams and customers with data and analytics to manage contracts is crucial.
“We needed to develop a more comprehensive approach from conception to consummation of a contract,” Polk says. “What we do daily is optimize how legal counsel can support operations through contract management.”
Supporting deals and causes
In 2022, Polk helped ATD both acquire and divest companies. In June, the company acquired Tires Now, a wholesale tire distributor. In September, the company sold National Tire Distributors, its Canadian subsidiary.
In each instance, Polk worked with outside counsel to review documentation on the company’s finances, its lease agreements and employment structure, and in the sale of NTD, they were provided information to the buyers.
“These projects were really gratifying to complete because we saw it all the way from the conceptualization phase and were able to partner throughout the company to complete the transactions,” Polk says.
Polk has also helped ATD give back by negotiating and managing a contract for the company to host a golf tournament associated with its annual charitable giving campaign.
Hurricane Katrina uprooted Polk from his hometown and the school he’d been attending since seventh grade but as he made a life anew in Charlotte, he graduated high school without any delay in 2006. He then earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Johnson C. Smith University in 2010 and played for the university’s golf team.
After graduating college, he spent a year as a client solutions specialist with Duke Energy Corp., where he previously had been an intern. In May 2012, he joined Wells Fargo as a loan documentation specialist. But Polk, a movie buff who enjoyed “A Time Kill,” the 1996 legal thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Kevin Spacey, had law school in mind, too.
“I’m a person who likes to debate and talk about various topics, and I’d been told I should be an attorney,” Polk says. “I loved how attorneys expressed themselves and put forth arguments to help others.”
He earned his J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in 2017, and then his Master of Laws degree from Temple University in 2020. By the time he earned his LLM, Polk was a corporate counsel with ATD. He was promoted to director and senior corporate counsel in November 2020 and to his current position in December 2022.
Polk returns to New Orleans when he can and remains an ardent Saints fan. Though he no longer lives there, he says it’s still his hometown and he loves its unique culture, food and history.
“One fateful weekend changed my life forever. My parents put me and my siblings in the most ideal situation we could be in under the circumstances,” Polk says. “I’m extremely blessed. I’ve learned resilience and the grit to get through difficult situations. I tell my siblings that people who persevere and withstand challenges in life stay balanced between order and chaos.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall II 2023 Edition here.
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