Young Leaders: The Building Blocks of the Future

Monday, June 21, 2021

By Ben Brucato, senior director of Engagement, Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA)

Essential, resilient, adaptable and innovative are just a few of the terms used over the past 18 months to describe the automotive aftermarket industry. Thanks to hard working, dedicated and highly capable individuals, the industry has made it through the worst pandemic many of us have ever experienced in our lifetime. And not only have we made it through, the U.S. light duty aftermarket industry is forecasted to grow 11.2% this year (based on the recent Joint Channel Forecast Model produced by AASA and the Auto Care Association). So what now? What have we learned and how can we make our industry even better and more vibrant?  

A great quote from an aftermarket executive, taken from the most recent Modern Industry eXpertise (MiX- AASA’s reverse mentoring council) infographic, summarizes the sentiment for many: “I think that this experience has taught us how quickly we are able to pivot when needed. When you have a team of passionate individuals who care about their work and their company’s success, they will find ways to continue to add value and help the organization achieve the desired results. Many probably couldn’t imagine that so much could be accomplished in a primarily remote environment.” 

Regardless of if you think that fully virtual is the way to go, no one invites a friend to grab some coffee to catch up and then sends them a zoom link. Being together is what makes us human, and even though we can be incredibly efficient virtually, the need for human connection is so important.  This sentiment is shared by 90% of those who took the recent survey on AAPEX indicating in-person events are “irreplaceable.”

Our industry needs comradery and connection, which is where AAPEX comes into play. After speaking to so many colleagues and industry friends this past month, people are ready to meet and catch up, and the latest AAPEX registration report confirms this. Although registration opened later than usual this year, it is astonishing and comforting to know that attendees are ready and excited to return to an in-person AAPEX, and perhaps, we’ll see more than we expected. Understandably so, companies are being much more strategic this year in who they send to the show, which might be a positive change. I am expecting quality over quantity this year at AAPEX and it will be so nice to see so many friends and colleagues; hopefully, I can lose the Covid 15 by then.

Using expertise within our organizations

While AAPEX will provide the face-to-face communication in November, we still have to address returning to the office after a whirlwind of changes over the past 18 months, which has been talked about just as much as supply chain concerns. Although many in the industry have adopted and even flourished with the remote working policies, I believe it will be months of “back to normal” working conditions before we truly feel the effects (even the negative ones) of being back in an office-based environment.  

So where do companies turn when they need insights on returning to the office and attracting new talent to the workplace? AAPEX is one source with its business management training, specifically the classes on Improving Communication and Team Work, Excellence is a Habit, and Filling the Technician Void Through Implementing Career Pathing Programs for Technicians and Service Professionals and Associate Retention. This also is where associations and MiX play such a crucial role. It’s pretty simple really, having a platform where hundreds of companies within the industry can come together and share best practices and discuss future challenges and opportunities; isn’t that what an association is all about?

About four years ago, one of AASA’s board members, a prominent CEO in the industry, made a very interesting comment. He expressed his concern about young professionals in the industry not having a place where their expertise could be voiced and that the industry is doing a pretty good job of mentoring young professionals, but what about tapping into their knowledge? This is how MiX was formed. We wanted to create a reverse mentoring council so that executives within the aftermarket industry could “tap into” the expertise of well-versed, high achieving young professionals.  

So the next time someone needs insights on returning to the office, how to sell brands online, or the best approach to attracting, recruiting and retaining millennials to the industry, why not ask the MiX members? Or start with downloading the latest MiX infographic here. Become a MiX member today or attend one of our reverse mentoring meetings by reaching out to me at Yes, young leaders need mentors for sure, but the industry needs to use and capitalize on their expertise and perspective as well. 

I believe we will see a record number of young professionals at AAPEX this year, including those already in the industry, as well as more students due to participation from Northwood and the University of the Aftermarket. Plus, the industry is vibrant, essential, resilient, adaptable and innovative, and a great place for young professionals to start and build their careers.