Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2014   by Andrew Ross

Making Connections

Robert Pitt, Incoming Chair, Automotive Industries Association of Canada

Automotive Industries Association of Canada incoming chair Robert Pitt believes that the most important part of his commitment to the association over the coming year is to solidify the connection for the wholesale members on a local level. A large part of this connection will be built on how well they see the value of the association.
“Over the last several years, the AIA has built a great team and focused on a platform of information, education, industry image, and government relations. This has proven to be a successful model, so much so that AIA is now managing the Canadian Collision Industry Forum as well as the Heavy Duty Distributor Council as part of their port­folio.
“There is no doubt that the AIA has a lot to offer, particularly on the legislative front, but from the members’ perspective, it often comes down to a ‘What’s in it for me?’” A prime example of this initiative will be the ability of the association to communicate the data and detail of the association’s work with various provincial management programs that are dealing with waste management and environmental issues. This is important to the industry, as new regulations pertaining to this new strategy will have an effect on the supply chain that AIA serves.
Over the next year, Pitt will be working hard to communicate face to face with as many members of the aftermarket as possible. It’s an approach that is pretty close to home for Pitt, who has spent a career working to create personal associations, understand where needs are, and working out ways to fill those needs. He calls it “connecting the dots.”
He first came to the automotive aftermarket some 17 years ago, when he was plucked from the industrial segment of Federal-Mogul’s business. Then later it was off to Affinia, where he worked as vice-president and GM in Canada, before moving to Specialty Sales & Marketing last year.
Whether it pertains to their customers, their sales team, or their vendor partners, “We have a saying around here: ‘We’re working for you.’ That’s the same approach for me for the next year when it comes to representing our industry and meeting with members.”
Pitt says that the AIA really has its house in order in terms of direction and the ways it is communicating with members, but to his mind you can never have too much contact with the members.
“Certainly the AIA has accomplished a lot of its strategic objectives. Issues such as emissions testing, waste management, and government relations are very important to the industry and to us all. Getting the message of what the AIA’s work means to those at the local level is key.”
It is, he says, a case of a large country, but a small community. And with that in mind, he says that a series of town hall meetings across the country is being planned to both facilitate the downstream communication of activities in which AIA has been involved, as well as to provide a venue for Pitt and association colleagues at the divisional and national level to hear the needs and desires of members, and to ensure that the strategy and direction of the association continue to match up with what members and the industry see as priorities.
“There is a tremendous amount of change in the industry,” he says, “with challenges and trends connecting to produce change.”
The baby boomer generation is getting ready to take a step back, which is driving succession planning and creating increased consolidation at the jobber level. Downward pressure on margins has also had a dramatic effect within our market, as many manufacturers and distributors have gone global in their search for lower costs. This globalization of the aftermarket, combined with the strained economic factors of a few years ago, has created a need to become ever more sophisticated about how organizations, even at the local level, forecast for their business needs, manage their ability to serve their customers, maintain adequate inventory, and improve their profitability.
According to Pitt, “All this change has brought in a whole new set of parameters for decision makers and owners that are intent on growing their business, and they are finding new ways to do that even in what some might consider a slow or depressed market.” It’s a very exciting set of circumstances, he believes.
Reaching that increasingly sophisticated market will become part of the message that he hopes will attract a new generation of professionals to the aftermarket. “We have assembled a committee of HR professionals to look at what we need to do to attract people into this industry – and not just in terms of what sorts of skills the members need, but also of image.”
He recognizes too that just because many members of the aftermarket community are following in the previous generation’s footsteps, that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences.
“That second and third generation doesn’t necessarily want the same things as the previous generation. We need to be sure that we are positioned to provide those attractive and positive traits.”
Pitt provides the oft-quoted phrase that the automotive aftermarket is a “man’s world,” as an example of where the outside impression lies – in stark contrast to the reality that a great number of women have done very well in this industry. In many ways, and with many examples, Pitt says that these professionals are lauded for their success and valued for what they bring to the industry and to their companies.
To help address topics and industry dynamics that are relevant to the women working in the industry, he points out that the AIA will hold its first Women in Industry Conference this June.
“Women working in the aftermarket today are valued because of how good they are, but as long as there’s that outside impression that it’s an industry dominated by men and that all of the jobs are strictly in the service bays, we’re going to lose some of those potential newcomers to the industry. This industry offers much more diverse careers than most people realize. It’s important to get that message out.”
Overall, Pitt expresses real enthusiasm for the industry, and a great respect for its ability to change in changing times. “Even with all the challenges and changes, when I look up and down the roster of members who represent the entire supply chain supporting our industry, I really see the same people and the same companies. They have all been able to adapt to new circumstances, adopt new ways of going to market where necessary, transition to new technologies, change and then change again when required.”
“As with every year for the last decade, it’s going to be another year of challenge, change, and a need to adapt and to adjust. It’s encouraging that we have a very strong association to help people do just that.”