By Shan Lathem • ARA President
This year we celebrate ARA’s 80th anniversary. It is remarkable that our association has been protecting our rights as automotive dismantlers for eight decades, which spans about four generations. That’s a long time. I’m humbled and proud to be written into the history of this great organization, having served this year as President and only the fourth woman to ever hold this position.
During my time on the ARA Executive Committee, I came into each year as a student of the industry. In this process, through asking questions and listening to all sides of an issue, I have been able to contribute to the process and decisions that make sense for our industry. I’ve never claimed to have the answers but instead dedicated my time to learning so much more than I ever thought I’d ever know. In part, I have learned the qualities of well-run and managed facilities, the best practices for association management, and how much daily effort goes into keeping us in business.
By working on this team where the playing field is level, I was able to gain more confidence in myself as a businessperson. I have realized now how continual growth is a requirement for future success. There is no end in sight to learning, especially as vehicle manufacturing is changing at a rapid pace and impacting our future business model. Change isn’t happening at the passing of the generational torch anymore. As owners, some of us will be faced with significant changes in the middle of our careers.
For most of us, in our daily business we have the final say. We are used to making decisions that we think are best for our company. We are so used to it that I’ve heard Mike Kunkel tell us in PTC meetings, “You are UN-employable!” I’ve always felt he was right, because he usually is, but we would not be able to take direction from someone else. Yet, there is something to be said for the art of collaboration.
Working on the EC has impacted me forever. It provided a unique team experience to work with other dedicated automotive recyclers to move our industry forward on a larger scale, together. We are asked to collaborate with personalities, visions, and often very strong opinions that are so different that sometimes we wish we could fire each other! But, alas, that is not how associations work. They work best when we put the industry’s best interests over our own personal ideas, and work to find the best solution from all ideas and thoughts presented.
I am proud to report that we have made significant accomplishments in the last four years, and especially this year. They include:
• Automotive Recycling Training Institute (autorecyclingtraining.com): ARA University released new and improved training. This includes new modules and Spanish-language modules. We are also seeking U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory grants for possible collaboration on new training.
• Certified Automotive Recyclers (CAR) program: Endorsements from eBay, as well as the recently announced new ARA member benefit, called SHiFT and found at shift4tomorrow.org. CAR participants receive priority in accessing additional vehicle inventory, at best pricing.
• Communications: Identifying weaknesses in strategy, both inside and outside of the industry, ARA has initiated a marketing and digital audit to help understand how to facilitate and grow participation in ARA and utilize all that media and technology offers to cast a positive light on automotive recyclers.
• Fiscal Responsibility: With a change in accounting personnel and procedures, we ushered in a higher standard of accountability to ensure ARA maximizes its budget and invests wisely in initiatives and resources for member benefit.
• Strengthening Industry: We have diligently sought to strengthen communications with state chapters, and mended some relationships to be stronger, together.
• Grow Repair, Reuse and Recycle Message: We continue to collaborate with the OEMs and others to find working solutions to benefit the growing need to meet environmental demands of consumers and government.
• Industry Relations: Recently, ARA hosted a successful 2023 Legislative Summit. ARA has formed a new committee focused on fostering better working relationships with the salvage pools.
• Environmental Impact: We authorized a national carbon study with WPI – the Worchester Polytechnic Institute, a university familiar to automotive recycling. This will prove the carbon-neutral impact of auto recycling to the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) story.
• Networking: As part of our goal to offer smaller events for auto recyclers to enjoy time together, we have held the first two – one-day social events, allowing us to fellowship in between national meetings.
I am fortunate to have been part of these initiatives that will make a lasting impact on our industry. At times, I felt like I was not making the amount of progress I’d hoped for during my time in this position. Looking back over this past year’s accomplishments, it’s easy to see that no one person or one variation of the EC – those that have served before or will serve after – can take credit for what has been done or what is yet to come.
I would be remiss if I did not emphasize how incredibly dedicated the staff and consultants are to ARA. They take care of the details and keep us straight. It sometimes feels like a full-time role volunteering on the EC, but it isn’t. We are all still hands-on operators, so it becomes a juggling act that we certainly couldn’t manage without our home office heroes. I want to thank them for their continual efforts and guidance.
As I get ready to hand the gavel to Nick Daurio, you are in good hands with your leadership team. I remain on the Executive Committee for one more year to fulfill the remainder of my five-year commitment. It has truly been a pleasure serving our industry in this capacity. Thank you so much for this incredible opportunity.