In January 2020, GCommerce suffered a ransomware cyberattack on one of our computing environments. Due to the rapid response of our network administration team, the attack was stopped in its tracks, valuable customer data was protected and full restoration of services was possible in a matter of days. Many valuable lessons were learned from that episode. For a company that operates a critical component of industry infrastructure for document exchange, the time to full recovery was too long, and the vulnerability of the network was unacceptable.
Infected hardware was replaced, additional layers of detection and protection were installed, and procedures and protocols were put in place to ensure that a similar event never happens again. That is the story of one company in Des Moines. What are the risks to thousands of other companies with equally critical computing environments that are being probed for vulnerabilities everyday – even as you read this story? Cybersecurity and the implementation of information technology (IT) best practices are mission-critical to every enterprise in the value chain. Whether you work for the largest multinational manufacturer, a retailer, a wholesaler or vehicle service provider – and regardless of whether you operate one location or 1,001 – experiencing a cyberattack is not a question of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.”
The leadership team at GCommerce quickly made the decision to “pay it forward” to help ensure other leaders don’t wake up to the news that their business has been brought to its knees by faceless bad actors. GCommerce chose to help fund scholarships through the University of the Aftermarket Foundation, and the foundation added scholarships for full-time students with a focus on cybersecurity and IT who wish to pursue a career in the vehicle parts and service aftermarket. By supporting the next generation of network administrators, the hope is to fortify the industry defenses against this harmful threat.
Many University of the Aftermarket Foundation trustees volunteer to read scholarship applications and determine who receives an award. Like many of you, I had some vague awareness that the industry operated a scholarship program and supported students financially. But, I had no idea of the magnitude of the effort and the scale of the impact it has on hundreds of young people every year.
Last Spring, I was part of a team of six application readers, and we were one of 11 teams – that’s a lot of readers. Each of us read and evaluated approximately 80 applications. As someone who has been writing for most of my professional life, reading the essay responses of high school seniors and prose of Vo-Tech school applicants brought me down to earth and made me grateful for the education my parents invested in. But, what struck me most from almost every application I read was the passion these kids felt for cars and the automotive industry. In some cases, there was a family connection to some part of the aftermarket – “Dad works in a garage” or “Uncle is a partner at a parts store.” At least these young people had some knowledge of the industry and the kinds of jobs and career paths available to them.
The most common theme in these scholarship applications, however, was one of “need” and a sincere request for help to improve the hand life had dealt them or to offset the harm of a family illness or sudden financial calamity. After an evening of reading these applications, I was exhausted and grateful for the opportunities and employment the industry had blessed me with. Many of these kids weren’t completely sure of what career path they wanted to follow. (Of course. How could they know?) But they almost universally saw the automotive industry as one of great opportunity and scale.
There is no shortage of young people who want to enter the aftermarket as a career. We hope to grab the attention of a few talented nerds (in the kindest sense of the word) and entice them to hone their IT and cybersecurity skills and apply them to an aftermarket career. Computer technology is omnipresent in business of all kinds. And, information security is a critical component to ensuring continuity of operations and security of personal and business data. I hope to read many more applications for the cybersecurity/IT scholarships available next spring. (Students can apply at www.automotivescholarships.com.)
In closing, I want to recognize the hundreds of volunteers who have contributed to the valuable work of the University of the Aftermarket Foundation over the years. More than $6.8 million in scholarships have been awarded to thousands of deserving students over the past 25 years. I also want to thank each individual, corporate and association donor to the scholarship funds. I’ve read the applications and understand the needs of these kids for a few dollars to pay for a laptop or books, or bus fare for the commute to campus. The University of the Aftermarket Foundation is the heart of our industry and one more reason that good people are drawn to the aftermarket. You often hear that ours is a “people industry.” The University of the Aftermarket Foundation proves these people have a great heart. AMN
About the Author
Scott Luckett, MAAP, is vice president, Industry Strategy for GCommerce Inc., where he has responsibility for industry partnerships and major account development. Previously, Luckett rose through several positions at the Auto Care Association more than 17 years and as CIO had responsibility for the Technology Standards Committee, the Aftermarket eForum, the Telematics Task Force and the National Catalog Managers Association (NCMA). Before Auto Care, Luckett was a sales management executive at a local automotive WD and prior to that was a top sales producer for Triad Systems (now Epicor). Scott is a graduate of Bucknell University (BSBA) and has been recognized for his commitment to education and training in the auto care industry with the University of the Aftermarket Founders’ Service Award. Scott’s leisure time is spent cruising the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and spoiling his grandchildren. He can be reached at [email protected]