Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2009   by Andrew Ross

The Detail Guy

why Brad Morris Is The Perfect Incoming Chair Of The Automotive Industries Association Of Canada For These Times.

To say that Brad Morris, incoming chair of the Automotive Industries Association of Canada, is detail-oriented does justice neither to his dedication to getting things done right, nor to the many other interests he has.

With a history as an avid painter and sketcher, he also remains a tireless journal-keeper (he has been keeping a daily journal for more than a decade). He also possesses an impressive record collection.

Most importantly, he is a committed volunteer both for his family events and his community. He is, unequivocally, not a passionless technocrat.

On the contrary, he has a remarkable ability to get excited about such excruciatingly detailed tasks as the AIA’s recent governance review–162 pages, comprising dozens of hours of interviews–and can even get others excited about them. And that sets him up very well to take the helm of the national association over the next year.

Morris, who at 38 is the youngest ever to take on the association’s top volunteer role, does so at a time when the aftermarket, the association, and the automotive industry at large are undergoing tremendous change.

“It’s an exciting time. There is a foundation and a sense of direction that you can touch at the AIA, whether it’s specific to issues, or more importantly the membership’s recognition of the AIA, the industry at large, and knowledge of AIA. We have come so far in the last two to three years.

“A foundation forward is what I see now.”

Having served on the executive board with three previous chairs, he understands that many of the crucial elements that will take the association into the future are already in play; all that remains is to bring them together under a new strategy and a new set of bylaws that acknowledge how the industry is changing–and the association is changing with it. “I had the privilege of serving under John Cochrane, and what he did was create a baseline of technical understanding and the foundation of Right to Repair. He brought an element of that to us that we hadn’t dealt with for a really long time.

“And I had the privilege of working with Larry Raymond, who really focused more internally. What Larry did was build a good strong foundation for an AIA culture and, quite frankly, [put] a great staff together.

“And what [current chair] John Watt has done is bring in something completely new again: to bring awareness to, and integration around, the service segment.

“What was maybe missing, or needed to evolve more, was the foundation for all of that. To me, the task of my stewardship is to help create the AIA structure and process (a lot of that flows from the governance review), and a really defined and integrated strategy supporting all that to move forward.”

Of course, all this must be executed during a time of unprecedented changes in the automotive industry in general, and the automotive aftermarket in particular.

To this challenge he brings a lifetime of context. As a toddler he watched his father, Grote Canada founder Eric Morris, at the loading dock of the fledgling lighting company, and has worked in the industry for 20 years. He was also instrumental, working with Mevotech’s Ezer Mevorach, in founding the Young Executive Society, which today is one of the most vigorous groups within the AIA.

Still, he understands that virtually no part of the four-wheeled world is expected to be the same coming out of the current economic shift.

“Relative to scope and size, it is probably without precedent. There is no question at all about the financial fragility that is out there. I don’t think anybody has a specific answer as to the rate of recovery.”

Canadians are still feeling the pinch both in business and personal finances, he says, and it’s having a clear effect on their choices regarding automotive maintenance and repair. J.D. Power and Associates reported a 2008 decline of 7% in overall maintenance, along with a ramping of price sensitivity.

“The automotive sector has seen an unprecedented and unparalleled lack of activity in the last year. One of our core markets at Grote is the heavy-duty truck market. The heavy-duty market has been going through this down cycle for arguably the last three to four years, possibly five years.”

He says that if you look at it a certain way, the automotive industry is catching up to where the heavy-duty side has been for the past few years.

“Overall production of trailers and class 5, 6, 7, 8 vehicles, the tightening capacity, and the lack of demand is exactly what the heavy-duty world has been dealing with for the last three or four years.”

He says that no one should expect to wake up one morning to a magically recovered market.

“The problem is that at the end of the day, in my opinion, this recovery is going to be driven by some economic influences that aren’t direct to our industry.”

The recovery, when it comes, will depend largely on the health of individual consumers’ financial standing, and their access to credit and/or cash.

“I think that we can all agree that we are going to see heightened maintenance. I think every stat we have seen reflects that.

“One of the biggest fears I see is that as we start to see an expedited recovery, is this industry in a position to finance that recovery, through either capacity, capital, and inventory, or with banking and access to cash?”

The danger is, he says, that if the climb out of the financial downturn is too fast, demand could outstrip supply, hobbling the recovery and possibly damaging the reputation of the aftermarket as a reliable parts and service provider. An orderly, steady recovery would be his preference.

In any case, he says, the aftermarket that emerges from this deep down cycle will be smarter, having learned from this experience. Just-in-time methodologies, which had already made their way into the aftermarket supply chain out of necessity, are becoming the norm, and won’t go away when times improve.

“For strong companies with the right systems in place, a downturn is always a wonderful time to gain market share, and understand the market changes, as long as you can find the ability to survive and finance those things.

“The philosophy has to be not just surviving today, but being ready for recovery.”

And, he believes, the aftermarket and the association are both very well prepared for the new scenario that is already beginning to emerge.

“If you take the facts of J.D. Power and Associates’ recent Customer Commitment Survey”–which put independent service providers at the top of the list in terms of customer satisfaction– “I would say that from that level we are well positioned in terms of brands and the infrastructure that our membership has put into place.”

“A point of pride if you look at the rankings is that eight of the top 10 are specifically AIA members. That’s fantastic.

“That is an incredible vote of confidence to the business models that our members have put into place, and quite honestly, the opportunities that they have jumped on, as you continue to see dealers either physically disappearing or suffering from the public’s perception of the troubles they are having.”

“When you look at our membership, their maintenance and installer programs and their physical coverage–bricks and mortar–and the J.D. Power results, the consumer is telling us we are well positioned and we are making good business model decisions.

“Not only that, [but] we are competitive profitably.”

This is no mean feat in a market that has become increasingly complex and less defined. And to keep pace with this changing industry, the AIA has evolved to meet the needs of what Morris refers to as the “convergence of the aftermarket.”

The classical model was easy to understand, he says. “If you were a distributor, everybody knew what that was defined as; if you were a supplier, it was very clean and clear, and you fit.

“Now, you have automotive playing in heavy duty, you have heavy duty playing in automotive, you h
ave wholesale playing in retail. You have them all trying to protect or deal with the service provider and they are also trying to do what they do on their own. And then you have OES players becoming a part of what we call our aftermarket and joining our member organizations.

“So when you ask me to define our members, that is one of our biggest challenges. One of the things that we are doing as an association is reviewing the needs and definition of members.

“At the end of the day, there is a direct relationship, or an indirect one, with all these different elements, including automotive service providers, and including dealers.

“I look at it this way: we share the road with everybody. If we define ourselves as the aftermarket association, what is our relationship with them?

“We have to define is what that relationship is, but I don’t think that the day and age of having no relationship exists anymore.

“It was no different than at one point when we knew we had to have a relationship with the retail sector, and today that is a dynamic part of the association. We have to define what that relationship is with the dealer segment, because it is a legitimate part of the aftermarket.

“These are all conversations we are having right now, and to define the extent of that relationship and to never compete with the expectations of our membership but to complement them.

“Our membership will define first where that relationship will land, but if nothing else, will come an evolution of recognizing the entity they are in the aftermarket.

“That’s where our strategic plan is right now. I don’t have a specific answer other than to know that it has to be explored. It would be irresponsible not to.”

What it all boils down to is a very different aftermarket and, in the midst of this change, a very different AIA than what was the case only a few short years ago–some might argue even a few short months ago.

This is, at least on the surface, due to a few key moves.

“Number one, I think that the Right to Repair is something that was an incredibly important rallying point for the AIA. I’m not sure you will find anything in our history that brought together this association, from staff to the volunteer network right through to the membership, like Right to Repair.

“When you look at the emotion that was created and the response that was initiated–10,000 letters–going in, I’m not sure that we have even done a good enough job ensuring that our membership knows how well they have been represented by our staff. It has rallied our membership like nothing ever before, and potentially as important, it put us on a map with government–at any level, but notably at the national level–that we weren’t on before.

“I think there is a better (though not perfect) understanding of the AIA’s scope, its breadth, its size, and what it represents. We can only take positives from that.”

While the Right to Repair Bill, before committee as of this writing, may potentially fall by the wayside should there be an election, Morris does not believe the bill has any real chance of being defeated. If not now, then soon, is his belief.

“There is actually an exciting part if there is an election,” he says. “We have to assume that there are 100% of the MPs running for their spot, and those running against them. The election affords us an opportunity on the national level, based on the AIA’s scope and legitimacy and the history of this bill, to actually push this through the parties in an election.

“That is an important perspective. We’re not unprepared if the election comes because we have a fantastic opportunity to put this on a national platform and get the parties to continue to restate their position.

“I would tell you that we’re actually [closer to] solving this than ever; it’s just continually managing the timelines of what is presented to us.”

Even when a solution is reached, real change will persist.

“At the end of the day, there is also the legitimization of the AIA and our next issue, our next political struggle. We were [recently] asked for our opinion on Cash for Clunkers. Would that have happened five years ago? I’m not so sure.

“The peripheral successes that have also come will benefit the members forever. So we keep communicating who and what we are, and not just on Right to Repair.”

Of course there is more to the evolving AIA than the Right to Repair issue.

“One of the things that we are extremely proud of is that we were the successful bidder for the I-CAR integration in Canada, and that’s no small thing.”

I-CAR, recognized as the leader in collision repair training information, opted to leave direct Canadian training in 2008 and was seeking a licensee to provide a training infrastructure for them.

“They came to the conclusion that we were the right entity. I think the idea of a very integrated entity, something that is branded, is very exciting.” And then there is the issue of market research, a continuing pillar of the organization’s strategic plan; the networking aspect; image-building initiatives with youth and “youthful thinkers” that the AIA needs to play a role in encouraging; and the au courant issue of where the car dealer and the original equipment service sector fits in.

There are myriad important issues, but he is careful to insist that a key goal is to focus on the achievable, not to just build a mountain of projects that the association could never climb.

And what brings all those initiatives together is the governance review, which will form the basis of a changed, stronger association.

“Yes the governance process first, but more importantly we knew from the membership that this was a necessity for the AIA to continue to bring value. That was a very clear message. The one advantage of the governance review is that we tried very hard to ensure that there was nobody we didn’t talk to.”

If, as they say, the devil is in the details, then this is truly devilishly detailed work.

Pulling also those disparate elements together over the next year requires a certain kind of mind–the kind of mind that revels in the details, looks forward to extended fact-finding, can pull disparate facts together into a common theme, and has no trouble seeing a process out to the end, even if that’s not for months or years. And, it needs someone who can get others excited about the process, too.

All evidence points to the fact that Brad Morris is just the detail guy to handle it.


“One Of The Biggest Fears I See Is That As We Start To See An Expedited Recovery, Is This Industry In A Position To Finance That Recovery, Through Either Capacity, Capital, And Inventory, Or With Banking And Access To Cash?”

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *