A conversation with GenNext’s 2019 4 Under 40 Award winners

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On Sept. 16, 2019, GenNext announced the winners of its second 4 Under 40 Awards at the Commercial Vehicle Solutions Network (CVSN) Aftermarket Distribution Summit in Banff, Alberta.

Sponsored by Trucks, Parts, Service, the 4 Under 40 Awards were created to honor young aftermarket professionals for their enthusiasm, personal growth, corporate achievements and contributions to the independent heavy-duty aftermarket prior to age 40.

This year’s winners were Kate Diecks, eastern regional sales manager, Kit Masters; Sean Ryan, president and treasurer, Point Spring & Driveshaft; Megan Vincent, marketing manager, Phillips Industries; and Jerry Conroy, North American regional vice president, aftermarket sales, Bendix CVS.

After the award presentation, TPS had the opportunity to speak with the four winners about their time in the aftermarket, and the future of the industry.

How long have you worked in the heavy-duty aftermarket?

Jerry Conroy: 16.5 years.

Kate Diecks: Four years.

Sean Ryan: Six years.

Megan Vincent: 15 years, all marketing positions held at Phillips Industries.

What prior positions have you held in the aftermarket? 

JC: I’ve worked in all channels of our sales department (OE/fleet/aftermarket). My last role was as the sales manager of our specialty and engine OEM team. I’ve also spent over five years managing various product lines with Bendix Spicer Foundation Brake.

KD: Sales and marketing – Tudi Mechanical Systems (HVAC); Sales management – U-Line.

SR: Five years, senior financial analyst – SPX Corporation.

MV: Marketing supervisor, specialist, coordinator, assistant – Phillips Industries.

Why did you choose a career in the heavy-duty aftermarket?

JC: During my two terms as a co-op at Bendix back in the early 2000s, I was impressed by the technology that Bendix could deliver and I really enjoyed the people I worked with. So when they offered me a job, I happily accepted. This fondness for Bendix opened the door for a better understanding of the aftermarket business. From there, the relationships, the opportunities, the strategies, and the excitement in the industry pulled me in.

KD: The industry choose me. I met the owner of Kit Masters at HDAW one year when I was attending with my husband.  We struck up a conversation about sales management, sales development and our personal sales styles.  Two weeks later he called to offer me a job.

SR: It is a family business and a great opportunity.

MV: I entered the industry at a young age and had no previous knowledge of it beforehand. Phillips is big on hiring from within or through an employee referral. I was lucky enough to have known an employee at the time who referred me as a candidate for an open position.

What did you know of the heavy-duty aftermarket before entering the industry?

JC: Before entering the industry I knew very little about the heavy-duty aftermarket. My dad and uncle were route drivers for a bottling company, but personally, I had rarely been in and never had been under a commercial vehicle, so there was a lot of orientation required early on. When I was getting my degree at Ohio State, I thought for sure I would end up in consumer products since that was really what I had grown up studying but I think this industry suites me very well.

KD: Nothing. I knew my husband worked for a distributor and he loved it, but I had no idea what the industry had to offer.

SR: Not very much.

MV: Same as above, I didn’t have any prior knowledge of the industry initially.

What is your favorite part about working in the heavy-duty aftermarket?

JC: Hands-down, the people. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. I work with good people. Whether it’s colleagues from Bendix or our customers, I feel fortunate to have built good relationships with so many people from so many different backgrounds.

KD: The future. Coming from outside the industry and knowing how other industries progressed and evolved makes me excited to see where this industry will go and to be a part of the steps it takes it to get there.

SR: The people are the best part of this industry. It feels like an extended family.

MV: The industry’s ability to evolve and adapt has always fascinated me. There are areas of the industry where we are quick and agile, but then there are areas where we are seemingly slower to adapt. The new technologies and marketing tools being introduced as of late are very exciting to see. Mostly, I’m happy to see the growing number of women joining the industry and the vast array of positions they hold. It’s refreshing.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the heavy-duty aftermarket?

JC: One of the biggest challenges is to ensure we have knowledgeable people in the industry in the long run.

KD: The most obvious is people. It’s hard to find good, hardworking and reliable people. This is true for most industries, however, this industry faces a bigger challenge, which is being noticed as an industry. It’s overlooked, because we aren’t in everyday American homes, like HVAC, auto or pharma. Therefore, I think is the bigger challenge is being recognized as an industry full of opportunities for individuals entering the workforce.

SR: I believe large dealer organizations pose a very significant challenge to the independent heavy-duty aftermarket industry.

MV: There are many challenges that are front-of-mind to most, like driver and mechanic shortage.  I think succession planning is a big deal.  We have many companies in our area of the industry that are going through a “changing of the guard,” either now or soon.  With these changes, we have the potential to lose important information, processes, industry knowledge, and well-connected relationships.  Therefore, mentorship programs are so important. It’s vital for those people coming in to soak up this knowledge, gain those relationships, and help lead the industry into a new future.  I’m most excited to see a shift in culture and mindset.  There is no better time than now to enter this industry and help shape its future.

How are you working to address that challenge?

JC: As a company, Bendix is a leader in providing training to our customers. We do this in a number of forums and media, and we invest a lot in it because we find it very important that the customers who consume our products and the distribution partners that sell our parts, need easy access to this info as the vehicles on the road continue to get more complex.

KD: Trying to be the best role model for the industry. I have been approached by many people, mostly women that ask how they can get in and I’ve given advice on how I’ve handled challenges that only minorities would face in a male dominated industry.

SR: I am a firm believer in unity and solidarity within the entire independent aftermarket and keeping lines of communication open.

MV: Change is uncomfortable for many; being transparent and staying curious is my strategy.  Continued education and growth are a significant focus for my team here at Phillips.  As the industry evolves, we will be empowered, motivated, and excited for change.  Organizations like GenNext are also a great way to help the industry transition, and mentorships will be essential.

Why did you become involved with GenNext?

JC: GenNext is a selfless organization that paves the way for professionals of all ages that want to grow and connect with the industry. I’m happy to be involved with an organization that offers so much for its members.

KD: As a supplier we support anything that involves growing and educating our industry, so I was in it before I knew I was. However, as I learned about the goals of the organization I fell in love with their vision to mentor and recruit young people into this industry. I think this organization has the same outlook on the industry as I do and their forward thinking makes them such a dynamic group. This industry needs a group of young forward thinking people that will help it to evolve, grow and thrive. I think GenNext is that group.

SR: GenNext had become the defacto leader in the industry with regards to training at the DTE and it was adding significant value to all facets of our industry.

MV: Phillips has supported GenNext for several years now.  A good majority of our sales team has come straight out of Northwood University because we understand the importance of bringing a new generation into the industry.  I think GenNext helps many companies realize the importance of recruiting the next generation of leaders.

Why is GenNext important to the heavy-duty aftermarket?

JC: GenNext creates opportunities for current and future leaders to learn and network with one another and therefore supports the sustainability of what we do and what we will be doing in the future.

KD: Same as above.

SR: It is important because it allows the younger people in this industry to come together to work on important topics and accomplish meaningful goals. In a short period of time it is already clear that this is a successful initiative.

MV: As previously mentioned, I believe succession planning and mentorship is important.  GenNext’s core goal to educate, mentor, and recruit is something we practice so heavily here at Phillips.  Having spent my entire career here, this similar philosophy is woven into the fabric of my experience and knowledge as a professional.   There is so much value in what the team at GenNext is accomplishing.

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