Wednesday, 31 December 2003 09:00

Young, educated owners inspiring industry change

Written by Mike Kunkel

Thanksgiving… Come and gone. NACE…Come and gone. Hanukkah and Christmas…Come and gone. New Years…Come and gone. 

The New Year is in full swing but as companies, employees, and business owners, are we in full swing? Have goals been established for the coming year and a plan on how to accomplish those goals? Does everyone know what the goals are and how each individual can positively or negatively affect the overall success of the business?

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I recently attended a meeting of salvage yard owners that was made up of a group of young and energetic people. With their enthusiasm came an outpouring of ideas and thoughts making a number of things obvious to me.

One way in which the vehicle repair industry is changing is that younger people are becoming actively involved in management and ownership of the businesses. These younger people are better educated than the generation they are replacing. College degrees are becoming more prevalent, bringing with this education new ideas and the energy to implement change. Part of their formal training emphasized planning and they have goals and 5-year plans with measurable steps. The decisions that they make are not based on emotion but rather on how they relate to the plan.

Group sets blueprint for growth

It was also apparent that these young business operators have a keen definition of what they are chasing. They quickly broke the salvage business into eight primary categories that encompass every facet of the business and began to knowledgeably discuss each of those areas. The weak and strong points of each area were addressed and committees assigned based on the strong points of each participant. The end result of this type of environment is that plans and goals with a formal document will be created that will serve as the blueprint for growth and success for these companies.

My belief is that this process is becoming more prevalent in our industry. The new car dealers have twenty groups that exchange information, the salvage industry has similar groups and the concept is growing in the repair sector as well. When we wonder why our business is struggling or we never seem to be going anywhere, associating with these groups can provide insight to solve those problems.

Another characteristic that they demonstrated was assertiveness. The group members fed off each other and clearly demonstrated that they wanted to redefine the rules with their progressive thinking. This group of young recyclers is in the process of changing from being the future to being the present. They think outside the box and are determined to succeed regardless of whose toes they step on.

While in some ways, this picture is intimidating in others, it is a stark demonstration of why the commitment level for each of us must be high. While not necessarily working harder, we must work smarter and use our precious time wisely. The future requires a map to navigate and the next generation is more than qualified to write the map.

Education vs. experience

What is the older generation going to do to remain a viable option in the repair process? The answer to that question is going to depend on the individual. One of the things that keeps the young aggressive is that they have not had the opportunity to make their money yet. The more comfortable our lives become, the less willing we are to take chances. This can be overcome by merely using our experience to determine when it makes sense to take that additional risk. We do not have to take wild chances on success but calculated risks that provide financial reward.

Embrace the ideas of others that will add benefits to your business. Attend trade shows and local meetings to hear what others are doing and saying. The worst thing that can happen is that you find out what is occurring in your marketplace. The best case scenario is that you pick up on some ideas that improve your company.

Invest in the youth movement. Effective leadership is something that can be taught. All of us have young people in the workplace many of whom can be mentored into becoming the leaders of our industry in the coming years. Actively recruit the young into our industry. Many schools have career days that afford the opportunity to tell of the potential our industry holds. If you do not have family interested in the business, this could be the perfect way to eventually sell your business while helping to advance the next generation.

There is no substitute for training. In any training environment, there is an open exchange of ideas which leads to debate and a better informed and smarter instructor and student. Everyone learns from each other and the more training that is done, the better decisions tend to be made. One thing that experience does tell us is that we must make good choices and plan correctly in order to achieve success.

The future for many is now and the "young ones" appear poised and ready to capitalize. If you do not have a plan on how to be successful, you better hurry and get one before it is too late. If you have a plan, monitor it closely, adjust when necessary, and most importantly work diligently to adhere and accomplish the plan.