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How to Have a Successful Heavy-Duty Parts Career

Learn the secrets to having a successful career in the heavy-duty parts industry.

Episode 305:  If you’re looking to join an industry and have a career, you should consider working in the heavy-duty parts industry. In this episode, we interview two industry veterans, Joe Mejaly, former Vice President Aftermarket of Cummins-Meritor, and David Seewack, CEO & Founder of FinditParts.

Both of these men have decades of experience, and they emphasize the importance of mentorship and that success hinges on resilience, embracing challenges, and learning from mistakes. This is a conversation that you will not want to miss if you want to learn some secrets to success when building your career.

Learn the secrets to having a successful career in the heavy-duty parts industry.

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Sponsors of this Episode

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Disclaimer: This content and description may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, The Heavy Duty Parts Report may receive a commission. 

Transcript of Episode

Jamie Irvine: 

You are listening to The Heavy Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine, and this is the place where we have conversations that empower heavy-duty people. 

This is a very special episode of The Heavy Duty Parts Report. We are going to have a in-depth conversation with two industry veterans who are going to join me in a round table discussion focused on the different paths you can take in the heavy-duty parts industry to have a very successful career.

Now I’m going to represent the entrepreneurial path, and we have Joe Mejaly. He is going to talk really from the perspective of the corporate path and David Seewack, he’s a bit of a hybrid of both. He’s got such a wide range of experience. He’s been on the entrepreneurial side, he’s been on the corporate side, and he’s also on the technology side. So he’s got a really unique perspective.

Enjoy this candid conversation where we talk about what it takes to truly be successful in heavy-duty parts. My guests today are Joe Mejaly. He’s the former Vice President Aftermarket of Cummins Meritor and David Seewack, the Founder and CEO of Find It Parts. Joe, welcome to this special round table discussion. Really great to have you here. 

Joe Mejaly: 

Hey, very good to be here. Thanks for the invite. 

Jamie Irvine: 

And David, welcome back to the show. Always nice to see you. 

David Seewack: 

Thank you Jamie. Thanks for having me. 

Jamie Irvine: 

So gentlemen, today we’re going to talk about our journey in heavy-duty parts with the objective of trying to help the younger generation to show people what it takes to make it in this industry. One of my favorite quotes from Brian Tracy is that success leaves footprints. And I certainly believe that if you follow the footprints of those that have gone before, you can be successful as well. And both of you have been very successful in this industry.

You’ve had very long careers in this industry, and so I thought it’d be great if we had the opportunity to come together and to discuss exactly what transpired that helps you get into the industry, what helps you to be successful, how did you overcome certain challenges? We’re going to talk about all of this in today’s conversation. So Joe, I want to start with you. How did you get started in the heavy-duty parts business? 

Joe Mejaly: 

I didn’t choose the industry. The industry chose me and it all had to do with relationships and connections, right? I was getting out of college in 1982. All I had was a burning desire to get started somewhere and get my feet wet somewhere.

And I happened to come across who happened to be a very good mentor of mine, Harold. Harold was a marketing VP at Rockwell International at the time. He went on, ended up being President of the European operations and so forth.

But for some reason Harold took a liking to me and I stuck to him like glue. And before I started working for them, I would call Harold every morning or once a month at eight o’clock in the morning because I knew he would answer the phone and not his secretary at that point. And we just had a 15, 20 minute talk and this went on for about a year.

And my whole desire was when that opportunity came and he had to make decisions on who to hire that I was at the top of his list because I didn’t have the big college name behind me or the master’s degree or any of that, those credentials. It was just me and it was my desire to get moving into something. 

Jamie Irvine: 

David, tell us a little bit about your entrance into the heavy-duty parts industry. Let me guess, right from the time you were a small child, you were destined to be a heavy duty parts star. 

David Seewack: 

Being in Los Angeles, I thought, God, I was going to grow be a truck parts guy and I couldn’t wait to do it. And that’s why I did everything possible to get in the business. No, actually I was a hustler. I didn’t go to college, so I had a bunch of just odd sales jobs. I was doing all these various different things and I really was a little misdirected not knowing what I want to do with my life.

And I was lucky enough, like Joe, that I had a mentor and my dad’s best friend Leo was in the truck parts business and he was someone I looked up to. He was very successful and I wanted to be successful and he was looking to grow his business. And again, I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I said, well, I can help you grow your business.

And I didn’t know anything about the truck parts business, but I figured, you know what? I can do anything. And if I have someone that can direct me and teach me the business, I wanted to be like him. So I was lucky enough that Leo hired me and brought me aboard and the rest is history. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Your stories both really resonate with me, David, like you, I didn’t complete a college degree. I was right at a high school and I needed a job. And I remember applying for this job, I heard about it through a friend and it was remanufacturing parts.

I didn’t know what those parts would be. I didn’t even know what remanufacturing was. They stuck me on a sandblaster for three days and I didn’t break. I kept coming back every day. And so I guess they decided that I was worth taking a shot on and like both of you.

There was a mentor there that really quickly stepped in and started to have an influence on me and my career. Alan Felling was the co-founder of Canadian Brake Supply, which later became CBS parts. He had sold his shares in the company, it was the general manager of this remanufacturing plant. And yeah, he took an interest in me and he showed me that there was a career to be had in heavy-duty parts.

It wasn’t just going to be a job. And so if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know that I’d be here today. So mentorship is really an important piece to all three of our stories. Joe, how do you approach mentorship today? 

Joe Mejaly: 

Over the years, I’ve put a lot of focus on college and college educated individuals, the University of the Aftermarket at Northwest University. I’ve been up there to speak on a number of occasions.

We also hosted students at HDAW every year and we tried to get them very involved in what we were doing right underneath, right in the meetings, prep meetings, follow-up meetings, say really had a good understanding of what the business was about and the relationships that are created and that are important between your fellow teammates and between you and your customers.

It’s interesting with college or students wanting to get into the industry, that desire in their mind and that energy level, it’s quite intoxicating for us older guys. Other than that, I’ve always taken the approach as a leader to be a mentor, be a coach, be a counselor to a number of levels of the organization where I saw talent and potential. 

Jamie Irvine: 

David, you’ve been an employer of people for a very long time. How have you approached recruiting people? How have you passed on that mentorship that you received to help others? 

David Seewack: 

I think my journey was a little bit different as I was growing up in the business, it was less about mentorship than climbing the ladder. So I did anything possible to be able to get to a point that I can elevate myself in the business that I would be worthy of hopefully buying the company from my mentor.

I think as I went through that journey, I started learning about the business. I really worked every aspect of the company, and as I got older, I started bringing in salespeople and I’d really work with them and I would make sales calls with them and I did everything I could to motivate the people working for me.

Fast forward, when I reinvented myself in the online space, it was a little less than mentoring than it was taking really bright people that had skills that I never did have and teaching them our business. So what we’ve really done is I’ve taken what I’ve learned in the truck parts business and have taught people about our business, about our space and products.

So it’s a little bit different. So I’m really teaching them the business more than just mentoring them as coming to work for my company. So I think it’s really transitioned, but still I work with the folks that are really bright in their areas and I teach them what I know. So I find it really fulfilling and that’s one of the things I love about my business. 

Jamie Irvine: 

That really resonates with me. I know with the team that we’ve built here at the heavy-duty parts report in our consulting company, none of them have really a background. Most of them don’t have a background in heavy-duty, but they’ve got that skillset that I was looking for and I’ve been teaching them the business as well.

And I think that’s great because this industry can be a little invisible to people who aren’t raised around it. They don’t see it necessarily as such a great opportunity for a wonderful career.

So the more of those kinds of people that we can introduce to the industry, the better. Let’s keep going with your story. So Joe, you got into the business, you took advantage of mentorship that was there. Where did it all almost fall apart and what did you do? 

Joe Mejaly: 

I mean, you got 35 years of falling apart, so let’s pick one, but you can get inundated with issues. It can sidetrack you and put you in a very negative light. And early on in my career, when I really started getting into some very kind of meaty projects and things that really had me engaged, I stopped worrying about what I couldn’t control.

I focused on what I could control. And when you do that, you find out that most of your problem is can be resolved. It really can because most people get sidetracked thinking about all the things that they can’t impact and they allow that to influence their thought process.

So early on in my career, I really picked up two really good traits. Number one is learn from your mistakes but don’t live in the past. That was one of the big ones for me. And then of course, just making sure you focus on what are controllable items for you, 

Jamie Irvine: 

David, you strike me as the kind of entrepreneur that has the ability to build something large, wreck it all and then rebuild it all again if you had to. I’m not saying that’s what happened in your career, but I sense that from you, you have this ability to build some pretty amazing things, but if someone just looked at you today, they wouldn’t see the whole journey.

So tell us a story maybe early on in your career where things didn’t necessarily go as planned and you had to do something to recover. 

David Seewack: 

Oh, that’s a tough one because I’ve made a ton of mistakes and I think what I’ve learned through the years is I kind of tell people that life is like a global plus minus board and no one’s got all pluses on one side. And if you don’t have any minuses, you’re not taking risks.

So along my journey, man, I’ve screwed up so many different things, but I had the self-confidence and the thing that as I mentor people is own up to your mistakes. If you screw something up do what Joe said, you have to learn from your mistakes.

If you keep making them over and over again, then you got a problem. But I remember we were growing our business and a recession happened and everyone starts pulling back and our competitors started letting go of salespeople and they started retrenching and lowering their inventory levels. 

And when I was driving to work every day, I’m like, I see nothing but trucks on the road. And I really thought of doing things opposite of other people. And it was then that I realized I’m going to put in more inventory of new products and hire salespeople because there’s still so many trucks on the road.

I probably can grow my revenue in a down market that was in the brick and mortar world. In the online world, wow, that’s been like more mistakes than I can tell you. I’m a truck parts guy that’s gone in the online space.

So I really didn’t know what I was going to do. So I funded the business and I made just a ton of mistakes, but I never give up. And if I were to teach anyone, if you have a passion and a dream, you have to stay with it. And you have to know that your will fail and you’re going to have really dark days and you’re going to question, what did I do?

And you just have to know that your intestinal fortitude will come out and if you work hard and if you’re honest and if you treat people right, things work out. So I just encourage anyone in whatever you do is to stick with it. And not every day is perfect, but life is like the weather and you have good days and bad days and you just got to stick with it. 

Joe Mejaly: 

Yeah, I would add something to that is that you got to give people the flexibility to take risk and your job is to manage risk. I’ve always said you learn 10 times more from your mistakes than you do your success.

So us old guys, we’ve have a lot of mistakes in our past. We’ve learned a lot over the years so that now we have to give people the ability to create and take risk. That’s the only way you keep moving your business forward. A business not moving forward is one that’s moving. 

David Seewack: 

And you know what? It’s funny, Joe, that you say that I still look at, I had a mentor, Leo that I mentioned, but I pivot and I’ve had a lot of mentors. I consider Joe one of my mentors, even though Joe’s worked and managed very large companies with thousands of employees, and I’ve never had that.

So even today, I mean I’m 64 years old, I lean on guys like Joe. I call ’em up and say, Hey, I’m having a struggle or a challenge. So I think that you always, if you have the self-confidence, reach out to people that you respect and you can ask ’em their opinion.

So I think this mentorship never ends. I think if you’re open-minded, you always want to lean on someone that has experience, you don’t, and they’ll help you through the tough times. It doesn’t matter what job and what you do, I still think you should always look for that person to help you. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Joe, when you think back on your career, what would you highlight as one of the pinnacle moments of your career? Tell us that story. 

Joe Mejaly: 

There’s a lot of examples that made me proud of my accomplishments and I could name components of working for Meritor, working for Denzo, working for General Dynamics. They all presented a problem in and of themselves or an opportunity in and of themselves, and that was always what drove me. I was always driven by the opportunities that business presented themselves. And so it’s difficult for me to nail one.

The whole career has been rewarding for me. I wouldn’t rewrite anything that I’ve done. And one of the things that, going back to mentorship, one of the things that probably makes me most proud is people I’ve gotten to work with and my team that have gone on to make and run significant aftermarket companies around the world.

I take pride in and that maybe along the way I did something right as somebody who coached and mentored them, maybe corrected them or turned them in a different direction every now and then. But I have a long list of teammates that are now running large companies and that’s a proud moment for me. 

Jamie Irvine: 

David, how would you answer the same question? I mean, you’re still building a business right now. What would be late in a lot of people’s careers and you’re doing something that a lot of people maybe only do once in their life if they ever try to do it, and oftentimes that’s when they’re younger.

So your career is still very much going strong, but when you look back at all these years, just tell us a story of one moment where you say, yeah, this was kind of a defining moment for me. 

David Seewack: 

Well, I have a bunch, but if I were to say the journey that I took for this online business was a really hard one. It’s hard to be first, especially when you’re older. I still think of myself as young, so obviously I’m delusional.

There was a time about five years ago that I had funded my business entirely and I looked in the mirror and I’m like, oh my God, I wonder if I’m going to make it. I worked so hard, I put so much of my time and effort and everything in the business and I just got overwhelmed.

I mean, a lot of times you might get stuck in a rut or you have personal things going on. And I almost gave up and I really got a little discouraged and my wife really helped me through it. And it became New Year’s and I looked myself in the mirror and I’m like, okay, we got a new year coming and I’m going to turn things around. And a lot of times it really is your attitude and how you look at things.

And so I think the pivotal moment is I almost gave up in what it is that I’m doing, but I gutted it out. So I think all of us go through struggles, people lose their job or someone comes over them and whatever happens to be. So I think for me it was not giving up, sticking with it and persevering. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Absolutely something to be very proud of. I know myself in 2009, the company I was working for was closing all their corporate stores and I started to chase a dream. I had done very well in 2008, I sold a lot of parts and I had built up quite a commission check and I used that money and I decided that I was going to start a consulting company.

I knew I was getting laid off anyway, so I thought, what better time to chase a dream? And I spent all my money and it didn’t work out. I chose a partner that just didn’t work out very well.

And all of a sudden I found myself with only a few hundred dollars left. I had like 700 bucks left in the bank and it’s 2009, nobody’s hiring and I can’t go back to heavy-duty parts. And I ended up starting a contracting business and I found myself in late oh nine and early 2010, like cleaning gutters and window cleaning. 

And I’m going, how did I go from being the national sales manager of this company and 10 years with them to doing this? And that was a pretty low point. And not to mention, I had chased my first entrepreneurial dream and it had failed.

And I fast forward to when I sold that contracting business in 2016 and I had a choice to make, and it was a crossroads moment in my life because do I go back to heavy-duty parts or do I try something different? And I really, really missed heavy-duty parts. I miss the industry, I miss the people, I miss the work.

And so I’m so glad that I made the choice to go back. I had no idea what that one choice was going to lead to, which is all of this, The Heavy Duty Parts Report, our consulting company. And all of those years later, my dream of doing the consulting work finally came true. 

So if someone met me today, they would say, oh, look at that. Your dream came true. And it’s like, yeah, but it was over what, 12 years of a winding twisting road to even get close to what I had dreamed about back in 2009 when I made that choice.

So I know for me that determination to never give up and that acceptance of the fact that just because something didn’t work out the way you thought in the timeframe you thought doesn’t mean you should quit. And so for me right now is kind of one of these moments, these highlight moments in my career because I know that I did the right thing, I put the work in, I didn’t quit, and I’ve been able to pass those lessons on to others and I hope I can continue to do so.

But I’m also not so foolish to think that just because right now things are going well, there aren’t some ups and downs or twists and turns I don’t see coming in the near future. So that resilience I think becomes part of the heavy-duty identity that you take on when you become a member of this industry and this community. 

Joe Mejaly: 

I think there’s a common thread here in that successes, in my opinion, is inbred. I mean, it’s something you’re born with and some people strive for certain levels in an organization and others have different visions. When I was talking to my son, I was always telling him, I said, I can’t run anymore.

I can’t throw the ball anymore. But the heart keeps beating and the desire doesn’t go away, never gets old. And I think the two of you are great examples of that. I mean, you’re just not quitters. You’re just built to keep moving forward. The other thing that I think is really important is you can’t live in the past. I mean, your past cannot write your future. And both of you are good examples of that. I mean, your future is brazen.

David getting into e-commerce company, he had to surround himself with talented people that knew things he didn’t and trust them. And with that trust was his determination to make that all well move together in a single motion. And it’s worked out tremendously well. So I think there’s common traits in those attributes that are really four star stuff. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Success leaves, footprints you can follow. We’re going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsors. We’ll be right back.

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We’re back from our break from our sponsors, and I wanted to ask you, David, we’ll start with you. I’ll tell you a quick story to set up this next question.

So I never met my biological father. I did find out when I was 40, he’s a truck driver, go figure. But I still to this day have never met the man. And although I have a stepdad who’s really amazing guy, I always found that I was looking for that kind of father figure to help me along the way when I was young.

And there always seemed to be just like what you mentioned, there always seemed to be the right person to step up at just the right time. And I remember as I was going through my late twenties and my early thirties, one of the questions I always ask people was, knowing what you know now, if you were me at my age, what would you do? So David, knowing what you know now, if you were 28 years old, what would you do? 

David Seewack: 

Go into a different business. No, knowing what I know now, if I were to say you have to pick something that you like doing, if you go to work and you hate your job, your life is just you’re punching a clock and you’re not going to be that rewarded or feel satisfied at work. So I say make sacrifices. I would say that especially when you’re young, you can’t really make a mistake. What’s the worst thing happen? You lose your job and you go try something else.

So I say pick your lane, figure out what you think you’re good at. If you’re in sales, don’t go in remanufacturing. You should be in the sales role. And I say you have to be confident. You have to be willing to fail. You really have to put yourself in a position to be vulnerable because that way you can get ahead. 

For me personally, I always wanted to do better. I wanted another position, even if I didn’t have another job, when I go for a raise, I said, look, I need more money and I’m going to earn it, and if you don’t give it to me, I’m going to have to go elsewhere.

So I had the confidence to be able to say that because I was willing to work harder than everyone else. So I just say, just persevere and do something that you love, and if you do, it’s going to make your day go by a whole lot better and you’ll be better at what it is that you do. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Joe, what advice would you have for young people right now who maybe are considering a career or they’re in the industry and they want to decide what to do next? 

Joe Mejaly: 

My first 10 years, I was a single contributor. I wasn’t a manager. I didn’t manage people, but I watched managers of all different kinds. They were good ones, there were bad ones, there were good communicators, bad communicators. And at that point in my career, I could sit at the water cooler and see how that resonated with people, how good managers resonated with people, how bad managers resonated with people.

And through that simple technique, I picked up what I thought was going to be who I was when it was my turn and how my actions could interact with my teammates. That was really for me, help prepare me for being a manager. And each step along the way is its own challenge in and of itself.

Everybody wants to be the next president, but the first time you have to make the decision and there’s no one else at that table that’s going to make it or you could point to because in the past somebody else was at that seat. And so the first time you have to make that call and be confident in your call. And what that means to the people sitting in this office or outside in the different parts of the building is a learning experience.

As you grow into your organization, achieve maximum effort out of each role, don’t look five rolls ahead, don’t look two rolls ahead. Whatever you’re given in as assignment, do it to your best ability and the rest will take care of itself. I always believed that principle. 

David Seewack: 

And I agree with Joe, and Joe was like he watched people. I think the thing I did that was more annoying was I just ask a ton of questions because I think the important thing is you don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room. And I think it’s okay to say, hey, how’d you do this? And how’d you do this? And what do you think of that and what do you think of that?

Because I think you learn from other people and you take what they did and you put your own spin on it. So I encourage everyone to ask questions, keep asking questions, because we’re like little AI bots ourselves and we’re just learning all the time. And if you stop learning, you stop growing. 

Joe Mejaly: 

I’m 63 years old and to this day, I remember the first time meeting David at Associated Truck Parts. 

David Seewack: 

This could be terrible. 

Joe Mejaly: 

No, I mean outside of the ponytail, which was kind of odd, but his energy level and his thought process, he was always thinking and talking about things that the industry had not adapted to yet. Computers, mainframes, barcoding, all these elements that were really hard for the mainstream heavy-duty parts organizations to grab back. 

David Seewack: 

Thanks Joe. 

Joe Mejaly: 

And so that level of energy was something I remember that very first time I met him and I don’t think he’s ever stopped. I don’t think that process for him is something that turns off. 

Jamie Irvine: 

So you mentioned Joe, about looking forward into your career and how many people do have aspirations for leadership roles. So you’ve both been executives and you’ve got a lot of experience in those roles. So Joe, as an executive, what skills do you need to be successful and how on earth would you go about developing those skills? If you’re someone who has aspirations of taking on a leadership role in the future? 

Joe Mejaly: 

I think there’s some key attributes you got to have. People need to trust you. People need to respect you. When you say something, you mean it and you can get that done. I think communicating is significantly more important today than it ever has been. Motivating through your communication is also really critical. I think you have to try to stay away from politics. Politics will get you in trouble, and you have to have an absolutely burning desire for success.

And success means today’s numbers, the yearly numbers, the quarterly numbers, development of your people, those burning attributes. You don’t get those on the 15th and 30th of every month when your paycheck comes in. Those have to be wired into you. And I think those are the traits that endear you to not only your people but your customers.

I mean, customers get to know you and they know who you are. And if you don’t have those attributes, they want nothing to do with you. And the same thing will be said for your employees. They want nothing to do with you, and then any chance you had to be good at what as a leader is absolutely gone. 

Jamie Irvine: 

David, your perspective has been one of entrepreneurship and business ownership. What advice would you have for people when they are thinking about wanting to take on something like that themselves? How would they go about developing the skills ahead of time to try to maximize their chances of success? 

David Seewack: 

Well, a lot of times I think it’s like when you talk to young families that are thinking about having a child and they’re like, I’m not ready. I’m not ready, and when I’m ready, I’ll have a child. I don’t think you’re ever really ready. I just think that you have to have an idea and you have to have the self-confidence in what you do, and you have to go for it every so often and you just have to put everything on the line.

If you’re going to go into business for yourself, it’s a whole lot different when you go to business for yourself than I’ve met people through the years. I try to lead by example. So in my business, I try to set the tone of what I want to achieve, and I hire really great people. I let them know what our goals and objectives are, and I let them do their thing and I don’t micromanage them. 

But as an entrepreneur in whatever it is that you do, I just think you have to put your heart and soul into it. You can’t do it halfway and you’re going to make mistakes. Restaurants, I think 40% of restaurants fail. You have to be okay failing. Joe brought it up earlier. I’ve learned from my failures much better lessons than I have from my successes. They’re painful, but I don’t make those same mistakes again.

So I know guys that have opened up shops and didn’t really realize how to handle accounts receivable and everything looks great, and all of a sudden you get your money in and you’re not paying your bills, but you get a boat or you don’t really know how to balance everything and you might go out of business and then you’ve learned a very difficult lesson. And then when you do it again, you’re a lot more cautious.

So I say be passionate about what you do and be honest with your customers and your employees and put your heart into it. And in life, everything works out. Someone may say, oh, you’re an overnight success. Overnight successes are a lot of hard work and effort and time, and then it’s finally recognized at some point. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Yeah, overnight success, that’s a minimum of 10 years in the making, minimum. 

So one thing I’d just like to add, I really appreciate both of your perspectives. One thing I’d like to add from my perspective is that if you are going to go into business and you’re just going to try to be like everybody else, you’re going to get the same results everybody else gets. And one of the mistakes that a lot of people make is let’s say they’re a repair technician or they’re a parts person or they’re an outside salesperson.

So the outside salesperson goes and starts a sales agency and the parts person starts a parts store and the repair technician, what does he do? He starts a repair shop. There’s a massive difference between doing the job and owning a company that does that job. So oftentimes I say to people, I remember my brother-in-law wanted, he’s an electrician, you want to start his own company? 

I said, do you love being an electrician? He goes, I love it. I said, well, you shouldn’t go start your business. You’ll probably not be an electrician anymore. And he goes, what do you mean? And I said, well, you’re going to have to manage the accounts. You’re going to have to hire people and manage the HR department. You’re going to have to do the sales and the marketing.

You’re all of these things that you have to do to run a business successfully. So if you’re really passionate about building something about building a business that can operate without you as the only person in it to do the job, then by all means, entrepreneurship is a pathway you should consider.

But if you’re very dedicated to just doing your job and you don’t have that passion to build the company that does that thing, then you might want to take a pause and think about that because you might be much happier if you just excel in your career and go for it in that perspective as opposed to trying to start a company that does that thing. I just see people kind of get those two things mixed up all the time. 

David Seewack: 

Yeah, I agree. I guess I have the personality that I can’t, no one will hire me. So I had to work for myself. So for me in my business, I always wanted to reinvent myself. I think the key to my success is I want to make sure that I do something different so my competitor doesn’t beat me to it. So I remember early on we wanted to route our trucks better.

So we used GPS for routing trucks and we had to file invoices, so I wanted to put ’em on jukeboxes or optical jukebox so we can fax ’em to people. And we had identified parts and I put two way cameras between stores. So I think in every business, if you try to be better and iterate and improve and do something different than your competitors, that it really allows you to be something different.

I mean, you want to be different than your competitors. You might have better service, you might have better pricing. Whatever lane you choose, I think you should always strive to reinvent yourself and keep improving your business because if you don’t, someone’s going to come and beat you at it. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Yeah, absolutely. Joe, you’ve had a career now that’s spanned several decades, which means you’ve worked through really good financial economic times and you’ve worked through recessions and very challenging times. So what advice would you give someone on how to weather a recession or an economic downturn and how to deal with that uncertainty and move forward with confidence and still succeed? 

Joe Mejaly: 

That’s a really good question because a recession actually intensifies problems you already have. So I look at it from the standpoint of the river’s flowing nicely, all the rocks and boulders are covered up and it looks really peaceful.

Then all of a sudden the water level starts to come down and the boulders start to show themselves and the recessionary period, those boulders come forward and you have to address ’em because those are the things that your business processes and your discipline have left you. And they were covered up by business growth or expansion or revenue or whatever it was. So I always found that in a recessionary period, you have to go down to your roots.

What’s your process? What’s your process discipline, and how efficiently am I getting things done? Because in those scenarios, you’re going to find that there’s things you can improve in your business. And so I always looked at those areas as opportunities to reset ourselves. Now obviously the revenues drop and profits become maybe a little bit less important to cash flow.

So you start to work those metrics a little bit more closely. From a business perspective, the opportunities are to streamline your processes and make ’em more efficient, because when the business does come back and it always comes back, you’re going to be that much stronger. Your foundation will be that much better. 

Jamie Irvine: 

And I remind people that the trucking industry is the canary in the coal mine for the economy. So oftentimes the trucking industry takes a dive before the general economy drops, but we also recover first and come out of it faster usually than other sectors. And so from my perspective, I think that recessions are actually a wonderful opportunity for exponentially growing on the other side of the downturn.

And so there’s a lot of times when things are bad, everybody thinks it’s never going to end, and when things are good, everybody thinks it’s never going to end.

So you get this effect where all of a sudden the recession kicks in, it happens, the downturn’s happening, and everybody starts going in one direction. And I have said for many years now, that is the time you need to stop and you need to look in the other direction. Where’s the opportunity?

Because oftentimes you’ve got this window of time for just a few months where you could capitalize and coming out of that recession, out of that cycle when it comes on the upswing, if you position yourself correctly, you can capitalize on that and you can win big. David, does that resonate with you at all? 

David Seewack: 

It does. I was referring earlier when business was down, that’s when I decided to hire some more salespeople and put an inventory. What I’ve learned through the history of being in the business when there’s a downturn, like now, people may not be buying new trucks and older trucks are on the road for longer.

And then when things start when they’re bad, all of a sudden there’ll be parking trucks and then they might not be repairing them, and then they might cannibalize the truck and take parts off.

So it goes through these cycles all the time, and then when things start getting good, they have all these trucks that need to be repaired, and then the parts business starts really picking up, and then people want to order parts. They don’t care how much they’re going to pay, they just need to get that truck back on the road. 

So I think it’s a function of weathering the storm. I think it’s never always going to be good, and it’s never always going to be bad. So I think, like Joe said, when the water comes down and you see those rocks, we kind of always knew they were there, but we didn’t pay attention to them because sales are growing.

And so I think the lesson to be learned is always keep a little bit of money on the side and have a war chest so you’re not all against the wall if things go bad because they will and things will get better. So I’m seeing that today. I think today, luckily we’re not going into a recession, but things are tough, but they’ll turn around. 

Jamie Irvine: 

And one of the things that I think is really important is to understand the underlying causes of the downturn and to understand the implications. So I’ll give you an example. Right now, the Fed has pulled a tremendous amount of cash off the street to try to combat inflation.

But what that means is, is that inventory now, if you don’t have a lot of cash, but you’ve got inventory, or if you have the ability to move inventory, all of a sudden, that is a very valuable thing, and you can negotiate better deals, you can negotiate better deals with suppliers if you can move their inventory for them.

If there’s a business that’s struggling and needing to liquidate inventory to create cash because all of a sudden maybe a loan got called and they can’t cover it, you can make a deal.

So oftentimes people don’t think about downturns as being these golden moments in time for opportunity if you approach them with the right attitude. Joe, is any of this resonating with you? 

Joe Mejaly: 

I mean, in the corporate world, there’s some governance and if your revenue is beginning to take a hit, you have to begin to maneuver your liabilities or your cashflow. So we would always judiciously bring our inventories down. We always would shift from a profit to a cashflow scenario, which became important to us.

So that’s kind of the written rule in the corporate world for the most part. I mean, there probably is some advantage to maybe private equity firms that take advantage of those situations in a little different calculation than maybe a corporate environment would. 

Jamie Irvine: 

But Joe, sorry to interrupt. I just want to ask you something. So from that corporate perspective, as a supplier, if I’m a distributor, and I know that’s your mentality, the opportunity is for me to approach you and say, Joe, you guys planning on reducing inventory right now, trying to create some cash?

And you’re going to say, yeah, that’s our strategy. I’m going to say, great, let’s make a deal. I want to buy some of your inventory. And if you’re a distributor and if you’ve built up cash.. 

Joe Mejaly: 

Well, actually we used to do that with David when he was at Associated Truck Parts. 

So that’s exactly what we would do. But I would tell you that inventory reduction is not necessarily taking things off the shelf. Instead of stocking a thousand of part number X, you’re stocking 800, and it’s only driven on an algorithm that tells you what your demand has been in the previous X number of months and what it’s projected to be, plus or minus a variance.

So it’s not like the inventories are reduced to zero. There’s some percentage that is taken out based on an algorithm or what your demand patterns have been.

The challenge is not taking the inventory down appropriately. My challenge was always, how do I bring it back up quickly? Because we’re all dealing in lead time items. So we’ll deal in lead time items at our 60 days, 90 days, 30 days, 120 days. And our service level commitment to customers was one week. And so we always had to really, it wasn’t the downside element that was most concerning to me, it was the upside element that was the bigger challenge. 

Jamie Irvine: 

And I think that’s why, depending on what kind of a business you’re in and whether it’s corporate or it’s entrepreneurial and it’s privately owned, or you have to understand the people that you’re working with, your suppliers, your customers, what does these cycles do to their business and where does their pain come? And then try to creatively find solutions.

If you approach it from that perspective, then you have the opportunity to actually come out of these downturns on the upside. So let’s talk about where you see the future of this industry and the biggest opportunity.

So David, for you, from your perspective, if that person we’ve been talking to who has aspirations of growth in their career in this industry, maybe they want to be in a leadership role or maybe they want to start their own business, where’s going to be the big opportunities moving forward? 

David Seewack: 

Well, I chose the online space, again I wanted to do things different and reinvent what it is that I was doing. So that’s a really good question, Jamie. I’m not sure I know the answer to that. I think people are thinking about AI, they’re thinking about telematics, they’re thinking about predictive inventory.

They’re talking about maybe streamlining their workforce. You might think about outsourcing your phone calls to a call center. I think the world is changing so fast that I would just look at businesses and say, what’s wrong with this company? What are they doing wrong? What can I do differently?

Maybe a distributor has a bunch of trucks and they don’t want to own their trucks anymore, and you could manage their delivery for them. I just think you should always look for weaknesses in the market and see how you can make changes to that. That just from an entrepreneurial standpoint, the way I’ve looked at it, I’m going to give completely different advice than Joe.

I just have a different perspective. But I just know that no matter what people talk about AI, the world is changing. It’s not going to go back. It’s just going to evolve forward. So I just think you have to look forward and look for opportunities, and I think that’s the best answer I can give you. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Yeah, but I agree with you. I think there’s some wonderful opportunity or examples in our industry. So Find It Parts. You take a traditional distribution model with brick and mortar distribution of heavy-duty parts. You move it online. You take a company like Diesel Laptops who’ve focused in on diagnostic tools and really helping technicians understand the tool and use them.

They’ve built a wonderful business. I think of FullBay. They’ve started a company that’s focused on software for repair shops. So they took a pain point inside the repair shop and they’ve created a really nice business from it.

So there is opportunity in this industry to challenge that status quo and find solutions to those pain points. So from an entrepreneurial perspective, that really resonates with me. Joe, from the corporate perspective, where do you see the opportunities moving forward? 

Joe Mejaly: 

How do I better service a customer, right? We’re a logistics business. That’s what we do. We distribute, we’re logistics companies. Most people think of logistics as how do I ship my part? But there’s so many logistics involved with a connection to a customer today. People hold their computers in their hands every day. As a matter of fact, if you take that computer out of their hands for five minutes, some people go crazy. 

David Seewack: 

They freak out. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Did you ever see someone lose their phone lately? 

David Seewack: 

Yeah. 

Joe Mejaly: 

So the question, the challenge that we have is how do I continue to make my business seamless to a customer? Everything at their fingertips, everything on their computer, how can I get them reliable, accurate, timely information, whether that’s cores or warranty or return parts or invoicing, whatever it might be.

How do I turn that into a seamless environment between us and the customer? And I think our industry is trending that way. I think those that have scale will enact more value to a customer by using that approach with their e-commerce solutions.

I think down the road, sensing is becoming highly technical and you can sense anything. You can sense of friction material, you can sense a crack, the gear set and an axle. You can do your brake by wire sensing. There’s all kind of development work going on, but it’ll be expensive. And with emissions controls and things like that, there has to be a strong value proposition to those.

If you can get predictive maintenance and you can extend your service life out by X number of months or years before you have to do that maintenance cycle, those are some of the things I would think will be more significant developments down the road. 

David Seewack: 

And Jamie, you’ve reinvented yourself. I mean, when you think about it, you could be a YouTube blogger. I mean, you’re educating people in a way that you couldn’t do a couple years ago. So when you think about there are so many opportunities, someone could spin up a YouTube channel and teach how to be a counter person or how to rebuild a differential, or let me show you how to do a brake job and things like that.

So I think if you let your mind wander and you look at those pockets of opportunities, you could have a webcam and a good personality and you’re in business. So I think you just look for these pockets of opportunity and be fierce and try pretty much anything. And I think the world is your oyster if you really think about it. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Well, gentlemen, thank you so much for participating in this extended conversation. I think that we have been able to provide people with a perspective, and hopefully we’ve encouraged them to take chances and to remember that the trucking industry is the backbone of society, and without it, people’s lives hang in the balance.

So what we do is important, and this industry is going to be here for a very long time, and there will continue to be tremendous opportunity. David, thank you again so much for coming back on the show. Always great to talk to you. 

David Seewack: 

Thank you very much. And Joe, it was great being with you. I always love hanging out with you, and now we’re doing it online. 

Jamie Irvine: 

Thank you, Joe. Really appreciate it. 

David Seewack: 

Thank you guys very much. I had a blast. 

Jamie Irvine: 

A couple of weeks ago we were at HDAW in Grapevine, Texas, and very excited to announce that interviews from that show will begin to air starting next week. So if you haven’t already, head over to heavy duty parts report.com, click that follow button, sign up to our weekly email. You’ll get one email a week with all of our content so you never miss out.

If you like listening to the podcast on a podcast player, make sure you hit that follow button. And if by chance you’re on Apple Podcast, make sure you give us a five star rating and a positive review. It helps us to extend our reach. And of course, if you like watching the video version of our show, head over to our YouTube channel and hit the subscribe button.

Thank you for all of your support. And if you ever need guidance in your career in heavy-duty parts, the people who are featured today are all very willing to mentor and help you in any way that they can. So just reach out to us and we’ll make sure you get connected to the right person. And as always, I encourage you to Be Heavy Duty. 

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