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From witnessing inspirational talks to walking the halls of Congress, the National Automobile Dealers Association’s conference in Washington, D.C., from Sept. 8-10 was an enormous success, especially for our industry’s emerging leaders: the “NextGen” contingent.
NADA has a legislative conference each year dubbed, appropriately, the “Legislative Conference.” It is represented by a “Who’s Who” of the NADA: the board of directors, state association presidents, influential dealers, and the association’s executive team.
But this year came with a twist.
For the first time in the conference’s history, NADA changed the event’s format to specifically include the NextGen group – the emerging leaders in automotive retail. Since this was truly a special occasion, and because I was fortunate enough to attend, I want to share my memorable three-day experience with others in the industry.
The inaugural NextGen event was named the “House of Cars,” a pun on Kevin Spacey’s hit TV show House of Cards. While it tied in with the legislative conference, it also had its own NextGen agenda that included a NextGen-only cocktail party, tour of the city, half day of presentations, another cocktail party, and a day on Capitol Hill. The NextGen attendees were dealership managers/dealers from ages 21-40 who are, or will likely be, dealer principals. This included multi-generation family dealers and people new to the industry – like me. Each NextGen attendee was invited and chosen by their particular state/metro association’s president in July.
Day 1 – Like any automotive conference, it began with a cocktail party…
NADA kicked off the event with a cocktail party at a law firm’s outdoor patio that overlooked the White House; this was the initial meet-and-greet for many of the attendees. It was here where I met many of the future leaders of
|While not the entire group, many NextGen reps participated in the White House photo. 9/8/14.|
automotive retail. The attendees included NextGen members from varying dealer groups of multiple sizes, ranging from a single point to groups with 20-plus stores, and with very diverse backgrounds. I met accountants, lawyers, financiers, video game programmers, and even a TV talk show host – all individuals who’d left promising careers to work in automotive retail. After the cocktail party, NADA led the group on an interactive tour of the city.
Day 2 – Lots of meetings…
Peter Welch, NADA’s President, began the day with a talk that resonated well with the group. While the NADA Convention is the industry’s main event of the year, the legislative conference is the most important event of the year. Mr. Welch explained that the tentacles challenging
|The group participated in mock Congressional meetings with NADA staff,|
and threatening our industry are controlled from Washington, and the importance of dealer participation to thwart these threats cannot be stopped by NADA alone. He went on to say that NextGen participation, now and in the future, is critical to our industry’s continued success – in protecting both the consumer and the dealer.
We also heard from Patrick Calpin, NADA’s Director of Grassroots Advocacy. In other words, Mr. Calpin is a lobbyist for NADA who specifically works with dealers. In addition to an impressive background that includes working for American Honda, Mr. Calpin conceived the idea of “Cash for Clunkers” after learning about a similar program in Germany.
Laura Perrotta, NADA’s Senior Director of Legislative Affairs, also addressed the audience. Ms. Perotta is a very powerful lobbyist who serves on the board of the American Society of Association Executives – the lobbyist community’s industry association.
The last key speaker of the day was Erin Fernandez. Ms. Fernandez’s official NADA job title is DEAC Coordinator. She was responsible for arranging the entire “House of Cars” NextGen event. Ms. Fernandez, Ms. Perrotta, Mr. Calpin, and others presented the NextGen group with a crash course in lobbying, as well as a debriefing on NADA’s key legislative issues.
The NextGen’s key lobbying initiative was the passing of HR5403, a bill in the House of Representatives that amends the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s guidance to be more transparent. NADA’s experienced lobbying team prepped us on the importance of getting this bill passed, including the benefits for consumers and dealers. After our lesson, the group participated in mock Congressional meetings with NADA staff, in preparation for our actual congressional meetings the next day.
Day 3 – The big day in Congress…
I don’t think anyone can fully understand the concept of “walking the halls of Congress” without actually doing it. There are literally hundreds of congressional offices spread across various buildings, and in seemingly no particular order.
|Congressman Paul Tonko & Representatives of NYSADA and ENYCAR. 9/10/14.|
As we headed toward Capitol Hill, NextGen attendees split up and joined the leaders of their respective state/metro associations. As a New Yorker, I joined the experienced team of the New York State Auto Dealers Association (NYSADA) and the Eastern New York Coalition of Automotive Retailers (ENYCAR). Our agenda included meetings with seven congressmen and one senator.
Instead of a meeting play-by-play, I’ll sum up my congressional experience. Meeting with a lawmaker is generally sitting on a couch in the congressperson’s office (or at a conference table, in a senator’s case), and “chewing the fat.” Legislators are interested in the perspectives of constituents and want to know how they can help. In nearly all of our
|Bruce Bendell, owner of Major World, chats with Senator Charles Schumer in the Senator's Conference Room. 9/10/14.|
meetings, lawmakers from both sides agreed with our points. Despite the partisanship and negative comments we often read about, meeting with lawmakers on both sides, at least in my case, proved cordial and enjoyable.
Whatever the outcome of HR5403, I was able to experience firsthand, the freedom of the lawmaking process that makes our country so great. I did my part to improve automotive retail. It was a very rewarding experience.
Boo, Kevin Spacey! As disappointing as it may seem, lobbying is nothing like House of Cards. At least from what I experienced, it is simply sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of
|NADA Vice-Chairman Bill Fox, Senator Charles Schumer, and ENYCAR Chairman George Whalen pose in the Senate Office Building with New York Dealers. 9/10/14.|
current legislation (or lack thereof) with politicians and their staff. Essentially, all politicians will listen to a lobbyist’s issues and, quite often, they agree. But for a politician to put his or her signature on legislation, the legislation generally needs to pass a serious vetting process. Thus, effective lobbying requires honest and favorable relationships in Washington so that politicians will consider your legislation for approval, but also provide you with candid feedback when they don’t approve.
NADA wants to engage more NextGen, and now is the time to do it….
The U.S. automotive marketplace is the safest, most efficient, and most transparent in the world. But, though it’s still the best, our industry must continue to evolve with the changing consumer. With many changes on the horizon, now is the ideal time for a new breed of talent to collaborate on the industry’s course in the years ahead.
With more NextGen participation, NADA aims to benefit from the diverse and progressive insights that will shape our industry’s future. To this end, NADA is actively seeking greater NextGen participation, and here is why you should be involved :
If you’re interested in NADA’s NextGen efforts, please e-mail Erin Fernandez (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your contact information and she’ll be happy to share more information with you.
See you at the San Francisco Convention!