Editor’s Note: Ben Stern, Director of Business Strategy at ETE REMAN and ATSG General Manager provides this look into Transmission Digest’s evolving technical content partner, ATSG:
President Theodore Roosevelt said, “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” This is as true for the transmission industry as it is for the world of politics. During the last sixteen months since ETE REMAN acquired ATSG, I have been honored to become one of the foremost custodians of ATSG’s rich history.
When ETE acquired ATSG, it was important to us that we maintain ATSG’s mission, retain its identity and continue to create value to the industry. All while safeguarding the future and refining ATSG operations to meet the changes and challenges of the industry and the world over the last three decades. During this time, I’ve studied Techtran manuals, attended countless—ok, 13—seminars, analyzed tech call data, watched videos, listened to generously shared stories from members, vendors, employees; read articles, compared fonts, studied vector drawings of valve bodies and hydraulics…. in short, it’s been an education. But it’s also been a pleasure and an honor to be trusted and accepted to help carry the torch forward for two important reasons:
• I believe ATSG provides a unique service to the aftermarket that is critical to the success and livelihood of rebuilders, parts suppliers, and remanufacturers.
• The sterling reputation of ATSG and the men and women who have built and maintained it over the years is an important component of the business landscape. Brands and people with this level of integrity and ethics are not as commonplace as they should be and certainly should be nurtured whenever possible.
Bob Chernay and Dale England founded ATSG in 1985 with a mission to provide a different model of service to the automatic transmission industry. In many ways, they were pioneers and visionaries. From humble beginnings, the service group they founded has gone on to support two generations of transmission technicians who have relied on their manuals, seminars, and technical support hotline. Perhaps the most significant part of their legacy is mentoring and developing the next generation of technical geniuses. As a regular reader (or even an irregular one), you have undoubtably relied on the work of Wayne Colonna, Peter Luban, and the many others who’ve carried the ATSG torch over the years.
As one of the newest bearers of this torch, stewarding this passage of knowledge is one of the primary responsibilities. Sharing not only technical information, but also an appetite for learning, collaboration, and problem solving remains a core value for the Automatic Transmission Service Group.
Glenn Troub, ATSG’s Seminar Presenter states ATSG’s role, “ATSG to the auto industry means information, it means solving problems. We’re an information source. We really don’t sell a product per se. We might sell a book but that’s just information. A seminar? Still information. Same thing with the membership – they can then get our bulletins and use our hotline, still information. We’re in the information business, the knowledge base business.”
It’s also one of the most critical and difficult challenges facing us all at present. The world is a very different place than it was 35 years ago – the presence of the internet, easily digitized content and rampant piracy means that ATSG can’t just continue to operate the way it has for so long. The same solutions that founded a great company and a great resource are insufficient to the challenges before us.
So, preparing to learn from the past and, more importantly, those who have lived and learned through it, the first annual ATSG Summit was called. In mid-December, with the help and support of ETE REMAN, ATSG was able to assemble all of its employees in Milwaukee for three days of collaboration, learning and (at my insistence) some story telling.
It was the first all-company meeting since the earliest days of ATSG when every employee worked together out of the Miami, Florida office. Over the years, as the company grew, it attracted top technical talent from across the country and the result was a workforce spread across more than a few states.
The agenda was absolutely packed! Together we discussed:
• The challenges of the transmission service industry
• ATSG’s impact on ETE Quality and Service
• The synergy between ATSG’s and ETE‘s mission and values
• The relationship between rebuilders and remanufactures (and how the two compliment each other to serve the demand of the market)
• The role data and analytics play in the past and future of transmission service
• The convergence of technology infrastructure
• Digital content delivery and the associated risks of Intellectual Property Theft
• Best practices for tech support and diagnostics
• Professional development and continuing education
• Hell, even a condensed run through of the 2020 ATSG seminar content.
We did cover a ton of ground during this assembly, there’s no doubt, but we all left feeling like it was merely a starting point for a re-invigorated ATSG. There are very real problems that we must overcome. As the premier company in service of (and supported by) Transmission Specialty Shops, there is a harsh reality that we have come to recognize: the reduction in shop count, the reduction in rebuilders, and increased access to technical information have all hampered ATSG’s ability to grow, adapt and remain viable.
Al Sanchez, ATSG’s Spanish-speaking tech says, “I see the industry reducing in numbers in transmission shops as we’ve seen the trend for many years now… but I see a bright future in it for those who want to stay aboard and do their homework and contribute to the industry; if we don’t contribute to the industry we’ll fall behind.”
“Young people are not getting into the automotive industry and because they’re not getting into it; there are less and less mechanics,” President of ATSG, Wayne Colonna, points out. “There are going to be automatic transmissions easily for the next 10 years; but we’re going to have to see more remans – it’s the only other way to supply the demand for transmissions in the aftermarket. We’re the Automatic Transmission Service Group; we service or assist in the technical support in diagnostic and repair of automatic transmissions. We need to be more in front of general repair shops to help them diagnose because the powertrain of a vehicle now is so complex and interconnected that you can have a bad brake bulb or the wrong brake bulb making the transmission not function right…We need to support and assist the drivability technicians to help them determine if it’s the transmission or not.”
Less potential customers with lower engagement in a market of increasing complexity is, at surface value anyway, a recipe for demise. Fortunately, the relationship with ETE REMAN has allowed ATSG to realize value outside of their previous market. In addition to servicing the specialty shops themselves, ATSG has started to play a more significant role in the upstream sources of transmission repair as well. ATSG has provided ETE REMAN with:
- Internal quality improvements
- Increased brand equity
- Shared tech support resources
- Enhanced ability to recruit technical talent
All of which have bolstered ATSG and allowed us to maintain and enhance our value to the industry. Our affiliation with ETE over the last year has allowed ATSG to add three full time technicians (including a Spanish speaker – si, se habla espanol!), onboarded and trained three new friendly faces in our contact center, released three Techtran Manuals, updated our marketing collateral, improved warehousing fulfillment, coordinated a seminar in Puerto Rico, and began testing and development of new technical and diagnostic tools – and that’s just in the first year alone!
In many ways, ATSG is not the same company we were a year ago. There are changes happening that you are sure to notice. But change is necessary and inevitable for anyone to succeed. Our commitment to the Transmission Specialty Shops of the world remains no less strong, and in fact, we are able to provide more support now than we have been able to for a long time. The future of ATSG, and the transmission repairer, is bright indeed!
ATSG General Manager Ben Stern (Author of the story)
“We have a really great team at ATSG; I’m thrilled with everyone who works at ATSG. None of them think they’re God’s gift to the transmission industry if you will, they just work really hard, really care, and want to help fix transmission problems. We’re losing rebuilders, we have a shortage on automatic techs across the board.” – Colonna
“My greatest passion is when there’s a problem I want to be the one helping figure it out and I want to know what that final solution was. ATSG helped me out throughout the years I was working as a mechanic, in turn I helped them out with feedback about what fixed the problems.” – Partilio
“I have been a member of ATSG, I started going to seminars back in the 80s; when I owned my own shop, I attended every one of them – they’ve always been my support group for technical aspects. I spend a lot of time studying just to keep up – you have to.” – Sanchez
“My favorite thing about working for ATSG is helping people. They’re already having a bad day, because obviously they’re putting a transmission in that doesn’t work. So it’s nice to help them get it fixed so they can move on.” – Gott
“In all industries not just the auto industry there is always someone around who knows more about what you’re doing than you do. And you always find yourself needing advice from this person. And I think that’s what ATSG is. We’re the experts.” – Glatstein
Glen Troub presents about two dozen ATSG weekend technical seminars throughout the country.
It wasn’t strictly an agenda item, but during the ATSG all company meeting the team worked in time to visit a German Bier hall and enjoy a fish fry!
Sam Loshak’s ETE Reman acquired ATSG last year and is expanding the mission for that industry technical support team.