Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2001   by Auto Service World

COVER STORY: Clear Sailing Ahead

Sailing is more than just an activity; it’s a mindset. It forces you to go with the flow, to allow yourself to be taken where the winds want you to go. To get there, you also rely on the harmony of the crew. You can pilot your way to a destination, but you fight the weather and the crew’s wisdom at your own peril.

It’s unclear whether that reality has shaped Peter Tekker’s outlook on life, business and his work within the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, or whether his temperament has drawn him to sailing as a pastime. He’s also been known to enjoy some high-speed, dry-land piloting of his Porsche Boxster, after all.

What is clear is that he believes the association is on the right course and sees no reason to shift its direction during his year as chairman.

“The association has gone through a major soul searching to come up with a new organization and a new direction. I look on the role of the chairman as to basically support and to help and to be a sounding board for the executive, the leadership of the association, rather than take it in another direction.”

In the coming year, one of the key changes that will be implemented is a complete reorganization of the AIA’s committee structure. Rather than the myriad committees catering to the special interests of the many groups that make up the Canadian automotive aftermarket, the AIA has instituted a much more consolidated structure, with fewer standing committees, but a wider mandate for each. It also incorporates more working committees: ad hoc assemblies that will be created when there is a project at hand, but which will be dissolved when the work is done. There are fewer councils and committees than there used to be, but their functions have been absorbed into other areas.

Concurrent with this has been a tightening of the number of objectives.

It is all designed to improve the focus of the association and to increase the flow of information among the various sector councils–like the Jobbers and WDs council and the Suppliers Council for example–as well as between the sector councils and the standing committees on Public Relations, Education and Training and Government Relations.

“That’s really what the purpose of this was,” says Tekker. “The committees that are left have an interest in an ongoing responsibility. I think it will work, that it will help focus activities.”

He says that one of the issues that had to be dealt with was a lengthening list of objectives. As part of the strategic planning process, councils and committees each generated objectives. It is an important exercise, but it created a problem.

“A couple of years ago we made a list of the objectives of the committees. I think we had hundreds of actions and objectives. You looked at that and had to ask if we seriously expected to be able to accomplish them.

“It was felt that there was a need to bring this together. Now you have much stronger committees and councils and now you have people focused on real issues and not much duplication. That’s going to be the job this year.”

Externally, there are issues that Tekker is going to have to monitor closely in the coming year. With his background on the Government Relations committee, it seems obvious that one of these is the tool tax issue.

While he views the outcome with trepidation, he does see cause for some hope.

“I’m always a bit nervous about activities with the government, because you never know how they’re going to turn out, but I sense that it’s going better than it ever has.” He says that getting the inside track is the likely route to success, not getting a so-called “tool tax bill” through the House of Commons.

“Realistically, from what we learned during our lobbying, to get a private members bill through all the way is an awful long shot. You get it through second stage, but it’s rare for the government to allow somebody, especially from the opposition, to put something like this through. It just doesn’t happen.

“It’s good for awareness and to get people to talk about it, but the way to get something like this is to get the government behind it and then it will happen. And I think that we’re finally getting there.”

Tekker says that requests for information from the Finance Ministry have been encouraging, and they’re at the stage where the AIA is being asked for suggestions on how to limit the benefits of any tool tax changes to legitimate members of the trade.

“We’re working on that and we think we have some good ways to do that. We have some strong feelings that we’re closer than ever. We’re feeling good about it.”

As high profile as the issue has become, Tekker assures members of the aftermarket that it is not taking an inordinate amount of resources. The association, he says, has many initiatives in many different areas. It’s just that few are as high profile as the tool tax issue.

“There is a lot going on behind the scenes on education, about communications, about government relations other than this, environmental, safety, on and on. But those things aren’t as high profile.

“I wouldn’t think that an inordinate amount of effort or money is being put behind this, but it is an important issue. There are a lot of members concerned and the fact is that the future of the industry is related to the number of people coming into this industry, and there is a shortage.”

He says that one of the side benefits of the strong push in Ottawa, and the event on Parliament Hill in February, was learning about the whole process of talking to members of parliament and high profile lobbying.

“Most of us never had exposure to this. We all discussed what a great experience it was, plus it built the awareness of the industry itself so that if there are other issues that come up, they already know about us.”

He says that the initiatives over the last few years have already had an affect, though the work is not done yet.

“It’s the OEs that get all the attention. Let’s face it. They have a permanent lobby up there. People still don’t know much about the aftermarket.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the average Canadian thinks that the parts all come from the car dealer. It’s an awareness issue.”

Awareness of the trade, and its image, are two key issues that aren’t going away. Tekker believes that more does need to be done to improve the image of the aftermarket, but that there is only so much that the association can do. The association can and does provide resources and initiatives, but at some point, individual businesses need to address things like their appearance and the level of training of employees and management.

“I think the education and the appearance of competency and reliability is very important to the future of this industry. It is important that the confidence, the awareness, and the image are improved to the point where more people will confidently have their vehicles serviced by independent garages.

“People need to feel that they’re getting a fair deal. There was in the past a feeling that garages would take what they can and that’s changing. It’s a much better situation now and there’s a lot more respect.”

In many areas, the legacy of the poor, rundown independent shop remains, but Tekker believes that this situation is on the brink of solving itself.

Increasingly, the successful businesses are becoming larger businesses. Those who can’t afford to invest in their businesses and in the technologies required to perform the service will not survive over the long–and maybe even short–haul.

In a way, it might actually be beneficial to the overall image of the aftermarket if the worst shops went out of business, leaving only those with a strong image and sufficient business to grow. Tekker agrees that it may seem like a paradox–a successful future for the aftermarket built on the rubble of the businesses that couldn’t survive–but that may just be the harsh reality.

No one in the aftermarket is a stranger to consolidation–along with the rising influence of U.S. parent organizations on their Canadian arms, Tekker calls it one of the most important influences on the after
market–and no sector of the aftermarket should consider itself immune to the trends.

“Economics will dictate that we go that way, because let’s face it, those who don’t meet (competitive) requirements aren’t going to be around.”

The association is also not immune to economics and competitive pressures–they compete every day for the dollars of members and to deliver value–and Tekker is pleased to say that the association’s performance has been very strong.

“The AIA, I have come to learn over the years, does a very good job of finding out what members are looking for and helping members achieve their goals. People join the association to learn, and be represented, and to network. The challenge of the AIA is to respond to those needs. The fact that the membership has held up and has actually grown in various areas, and it is in very good shape financially, reflects the fact they have been meeting those needs.”

Over the next year, Tekker sees his role as making sure that the association stays true to that course, that it keeps its heading firm, and that the members and potential members see value in what the association has to offer.

Mostly, says Tekker, he is confident that the AIA’s crew will keep the association pointed in the right direction; he’s happy to be along for the ride.

Peter Tekker, currently the president of Gates Canada, is a relative newcomer to the automotive aftermarket. Most of his professional life was spent in the industrial market with Uniroyal’s power transmission business. He joined Gates when Uniroyal’s belt and hose business was purchased more than a decade ago.

In his career, he has worked in Canada, in the U.S., and for a number of years in Europe. He returned to Canada 13 years ago after the Gates acquisition and worked to get Gates’ Brantford, Ont., manufacturing facility up and running.

Seven years ago he took over as president, and it was at that time that he became much more involved in the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, primarily working with the Government Relations Committee.

After a few years on that committee he was asked to join the Executive Committee and begins his one-year term as chairman of the association at the annual convention in Penticton, B.C.

Since he joined the association, his own company’s experience has mirrored that of the aftermarket.

When free trade came into existence, an 83-cent dollar called the viability of the Brantford manufacturing facility into question. Significant investment turned that around and today the plant is a world producer of certain products for the company.

Through acquisitions over the last few years, the company has gone from a belt and hose supplier–with a few other products–to a supplier of wipers, fuel system parts, temperature control parts, and components for a wide variety of other vehicle systems in addition to the belt and hose market.

Changing economics have dictated much of this and he brings this experience, and this perspective, to his role as chairman of the association.

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