Exclusive interview: Daniel Ninivaggi, Federal-Mogul Motorparts CEO, talks training, Garage Gurus

April 14, 2015

Federal-Mogul Motorparts is moving beyond the focus of parts and into the training realm, bringing hands-on, local training to technicians around the country. The first of its Garage Gurus training facilities is set to open in Skokie, Ill., the evening of April 14.

Ahead of the first location's grand opening, Dan Ninivaggi, CEO, Federal-Mogul Motorparts, spoke exclusively with Motor Age about the training platform. Garage Gurus is a first-of-its-kind, nationwide technical education network for vehicle repair technicians, shop owners and other professionals, growing to many more locations by year-end.

When did you identify the need for a new training platform to serve front-line vehicle service professionals?
At Federal-Mogul, we pride ourselves on product expertise and innovation. But we are also aware of the impact of increased vehicle systems complexity on the professionals at the front lines of the industry. They need and deserve the best possible technical training and daily support as they confront each new diagnostic and repair challenge associated with these emerging technologies. As a result, our “Tech First” initiative, which includes Garage Gurus and other important technician-focused investments, was one of my first strategic imperatives for the Motorparts business.

How does Garage Gurus overcome the traditional barriers to training that many technicians and other professionals have faced?
The traditional paradigm for training delivery is built around supplier-owned “national” training centers and regional field training specialists who offer clinics at distributor and jobber locations. It’s a lot to ask of a technician to take two or three days off from work to fly or drive to a training center. It’s also a challenge for the shop owner, who loses that tech’s services for a period of time and who might not have first-hand knowledge of the value of a given training course.

Many supplier field clinics are great, but if you miss the one in your area, it might not come around again for another year or more. In my view, we need a much more consistent, aggressive and, above all, accessible approach. That’s what Garage Gurus delivers – we’ll be within a fairly easy drive of more than 67,000 repair businesses by the end of 2015. Our curriculum encompasses over 100 courses. And when techs and other shop professionals can’t come to us, we’ll come to them through our Gurus-On-The-Go product technology vans and our extensive eLearning resources.

How does Garage Gurus benefit other members of the aftermarket parts and service channel, including distributors?
I think every aftermarket supplier and parts distributor would agree that well-trained technicians and successful service shops are the lifeblood of our industry. We can never do too much in terms of providing training and other technical and business support to help keep them competitive. And so, in supporting the technician, service writer, shop owner and parts counterperson, we are investing in our own business and in the businesses that stock and sell our parts. An important additional benefit of Garage Gurus will be increased awareness of the importance of protecting our ultimate customer, the consumer, with parts and services that provide superior quality, safety and performance.

How will Garage Gurus support your quality, safety and performance message?
We are intensely focused on the success of our customers and we know that their growth is based in part on our ability to effectively communicate the value proposition of our products. Quite frankly, we haven’t done enough in recent years to tell that story, to help the service professional understand how a MOOG ball joint, for example, can solve a chronic problem and prevent an expensive comeback. Conversely, the technician needs to know the potential risks involved in installing a low-quality alternative.

This dynamic is true in virtually every category in which we compete – brakes, chassis, gaskets, ignition, filters, engine and visibility. Our Gurus will tell this story – not simply in the context of our own products, but premium products in general – each and every day.

How do you expect Garage Gurus and other “Tech First” initiatives to ultimately benefit the vehicle parts and service industry?
I think one of the most important benefits will be a growing awareness among current and future technicians that key suppliers like Federal-Mogul Motorparts are willing to invest in their success. Vehicle service can be a great career choice, particularly in an era of increased electronic content and other advanced technologies. If you’re a kid looking for a job that will challenge you both intellectually and physically, and ultimately be the basis for a satisfying career, I believe our industry would be a great choice.

We want to support the next generation of technicians and everyone working on the front lines today. That is what our Tech First initiatives are all about. And we’ve taken the additional step of offering $30,000 in annual scholarships to students who are enrolled in accredited automotive technical schools. Make no mistake; they are the future of our industry.

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