International Newsmaker Q&A Denny Welvaert

April 30, 2014
As chairman of the May 20-21 Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS), Denny Welvaert has applied his military experiences to connect with success in the business world.

As chairman of the May 20-21 Global Automotive Aftermarket Symposium (GAAS) being held at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill., Denny Welvaert has applied his military experiences to connect with success in the business world.

Welvaert enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in May of 1970. Set to graduate that June from Wayne State University with a degree in chemistry, “I wanted to make sure I could serve my country and further my career at the same time,” he recalls.

A stateside stint as a military police officer with the 447th MP Co. followed. “The Vietnam War was winding down when I joined, and as a result my unit was never activated to fully active status, so I never was in a combat theater nor saw action. I did get a lot of useful knowledge out of my service, however,” Welvaert says.

“The military is a big believer in organization and organizational structure. Every unit has a role in the overall scheme and every MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) has a role in the unit. We were taught our jobs well and taught in a way that no matter what unit you were assigned to, that MOS functioned the same way. The chain of command is a big deal, and following the chain of command is the way the needed information gets down to the operational level,” he says.

“I also learned that the people that implemented the ‘mission’ were the sergeants and not the generals. That’s an important lesson that I learned in the Army that I took with me to the private sector in that the company’s top management (generals) can develop strategies all day long, but if the mission is not implemented by the line supervisors or first-line management (sergeants) nothing will ever get done,” says Welvaert.

“The military was a great experience for me also in that it gave me the confidence to do things that I never thought I could do on my own. The drill sergeants didn’t listen to any bellyaching, so ‘let’s just get in shape and get it done.’”

He observes that “nothing is more important than being connected in the military. The ability to see through the ‘fog of war’ and understand what is really going on and act on that intelligence separates a fast-moving unit from a unit under attack. It’s no different in business. There is a ‘fog of business’ also. It manifests itself more into things like, what do my customers really want? How are we doing in meeting the needs of our customers? Is our competition doing a better job in meeting customer needs than we are? Are we really implementing the actions we need to improve our company, or are our sergeants not implementing the mission?”

Welvaert continued with Aftermarket Business World by answering an additional series of questions:

Q: How have you applied your military experience in the business world?

A: My military experience has become a part of me and my total outlook on how to function and lead a business organization. As I have said before, the generals don’t implement the strategy – the guy on the line does. The military taught me how critical it is to get the mission down to the floor and realize that no matter what you strategize at the top, it needs to be put into practice by the entire team.

Q: How would you assess the skill sets that veterans have to offer to the aftermarket?

A: While there are some very specific specialties that are logical ties into the aftermarket like vehicle repair and maintenance, computer skills, electronic repair skills, etc., the organizational skills, discipline and professionalism learned in the military carries over from all MOS’ to all aspects of business in the private sector.

Another critical job in the military is the need for logistics and logistic skills. Food, ammunition, medical materials, fuel, water are critical in supporting an army on the move. The military are masters of getting the stuff to the “front.”

The aftermarket is really a logistics business. The ability to get any part, for any car, anywhere in the U.S. in 30 minutes or less is a real logistical challenge. Military veterans with logistics expertise are very useful to the aftermarket.

Also, the independent aftermarket we know today was really started and perfected by returning vets from World War II and the Korean War. Many of these vets, who learned how to repair vehicles in the military, started the two-bay service stations we all grew up with in the 1950s and 1960s. Unfortunately, many of those “Service Stations” have gone away as the World War II vet has retired, but the professional technician is still the key to the aftermarket.

Q: Does GAAS offer any programs aimed at veterans?

A: Veterans are certainly encouraged to apply for scholarships offered to people trying to learn skills to get into the aftermarket industry. The proceeds of the symposium all go toward these scholarships.

Q: What can the industry expect to experience at GAAS?

A: The symposium offers 14 sessions over a day-and-a-half that will give attendees the latest information on the economy, industry trends, the voice of the independent repair shop, how to train and develop associates and many more timely topics. The symposium also offers ample opportunities for the attendee to “Connect” with peers and develop relationships that last forever. GAAS is a meeting that aftermarket business leaders cannot afford to miss.

Q: What is the theme of this year’s GAAS?

A: GAAS 2014’s theme is “Connected.” This theme has several meanings. First of all, GAAS 2014 is a way that the attendee can connect with other aftermarket experts from all aspects of the industry. Secondly, the participant will be “Connected” to the latest information about the industry and learn about some of the key issues and how to handle those issues in your own business. Thirdly, our featured session on “Telematics and the Connected Car” will give all attendees the latest on how the independent aftermarket will “Connect” with our ultimate customer, the vehicle owner and learn how to service that owner better with the latest electronic connectivity.

Q: What is the driving purpose behind GAAS?

A: The driving purpose behind GAAS is to provide useful, timely information to the attendee on how to better operate their companies and get input from experts that they normally wouldn’t interact with. The net proceeds from the registration fees, sponsorship fees and donations all go toward scholarships for deserving young people that have expressed a desire to get into our industry.

One of the biggest concerns to industry leaders that appears over and over again is, “Where will the new employees for our companies come from and will they have adequate training?” GAAS helps address that concern through its scholarship program which has provided $1.8 million in aid benefiting more than 1,800 students.

Q: How can veterans benefit in particular by taking part in the event?

A: I’ll answer that question in a little different way. The unemployment rate of returning vets is a lot higher than any of us want to see. It is a shame that a vet will serve his or her country and protect us all and then come home and not be able to find a job. Well, I can say with 100 percent certainty that there is a shortage of trained mechanics in our industry and getting that training via a GAAS Scholarship is a sure way of getting a job. I will also say that four-year college programs like Northwood University’s aftermarket degree is a great way to get a job since all the graduates that want jobs get them. GAAS scholarships can be used for students learning to repair vehicles, as well as toward tuition at a four-year university.

Q: What are some of the key topics to be discussed?

A: The Symposium Schedule of Events is very strong this year. It is put together by a cadre of industry experts that volunteer their time and expertise. The program is designed to cover all key aspects of the aftermarket industry. Our keynote speaker is Bob McKenna. Bob is an industry veteran that has led a great company, NAPA, and a critical industry association in MEMA. Bob will give us the benefit of 40-plus years of industry experience. The program will also give us insights into the economy with Bill Strauss of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. We will also look at mergers and acquisitions, the latest demographics and industry trends, the voice of the professional technician from those in the tire industry and a wrap up from Derek Kaufman that will tie all this together and give us insights into what we can expect in the next five years.

Q: Who are some of the panel participants and what types of insight will they be sharing?

A: Our featured presentation this year is a discussion on “Telematics and the Connected Car – How Does the Aftermarket Respond?” This session features experts that will talk about this critical topic in a “TED Talks” format. It will be facilitated by Mike Buzzard, vice president of marketing and sales strategies for Uni-Select USA. The four presenters are Fred Blumer, CEO, Vehcon, Inc.; Jim Dykstra, president, Aftermarket Telematics Technologies, LLC, and CEO, Dykstra”s Auto Service; Charlie Gorman, executive manager and COO, Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI), and Malcolm Sissmore, North America sales director for telematics, diagnostic tools, service data and training and country director for Canada, Delphi Product & Service Solutions (DPSS).

We also have a panel that will look at the professional technician in a little different manner. It will look at it from the tire store perspective. The tire store does a lot of repairs that don’t have anything to do with tires. Stu Zurcher, president of Strategic Alliance Group, will lead the panel. Panelists are Brian DeRe, co-owner, DeRe Tire and Auto; Trevor Rezner, general manager, Matthews Tire; and Darrell Rowe, chairman of ATMC and a long-time employee of Bridgestone.

Q: What can attendees expect to learn during the breakout sessions?

A: The breakout sessions are designed to go into deeper detail on very critical topics facing the industry and industry leaders today.

We have three breakout sessions and each attendee can pick two of the three. Each breakout is presented twice. We have a breakout dealing with how businesses develop a strategic plan and how that plan doesn’t, in many cases, match up with reality.  Charles Dayton, president, ActionStrategy, will help participants elevate their current plans to develop real strategy that will lead to real results.

We also have a breakout session that deals with the heavy-duty market and how the attendees business can take advantage of this key industry segment. Molly MacKay Zacker, vice president of operations, MacKay & Co. and John Blodgett, vice president of MacKay & Co., will give us their insights on the heavy-duty industry.

We also have a great segment on the “Development of Employees” that will be led by John Passante, president and CEO of the Organizational Development Group and Tom Stockham, CEO of eXperticity. John and Tom will look at management and development training that can transform your employees into focused, trusted advisors.

Q: What are some of the logistical details of GAAS?

A: Our 2014 Symposium will be held on May 20 and 21 at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare in Chicago. Information and registration information can be obtained at our website,

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