Icebreaker: Dick Beirne On Opportunity

Icebreaker: Dick Beirne On Opportunity

"In our business, technology has not been able to unseat the personal relationship," Beirne says.

Dick Beirne’s own career trajectory is a prime example of what he believes to be one of the greatest things about the automotive aftermarket: It’s a land of opportunity for those willing to embrace it.

  Today, Beirne serves as vice president of corporate development for Automotive Parts Headquarters (APH), a role he came into after his own company, United Auto Supply, merged with APH in 2015. He started out 51 years ago as a delivery driver at United, moving up the ranks from driver to the credit department to eventually becoming president and co-owner of the business.

Starting out As a delivery driver, Dick Beirne, who currently serves as Treasurer Emeritus for the Automotive Warehouse distributors association, was honored with Federated’s Industry Advocacy Award in 2011, and the Art Fisher Memorial Membership Award in 2007, for his service to the industry.

  “I’m a bit of an optimist and so maybe that’s a Pollyanna viewpoint, but it’s a business that you can’t really go to school for. I mean, there are some things you can learn in school, obviously, but it’s a business that is best learned hands-on,” Beirne says. 

  “I think you can still come in at a blue-collar job or delivery job or working in the warehouse and if you learn the skills, there’s plenty of opportunity to move up. Like every company, we struggle replacing the older generation as they retire, and we struggle to find people who have the patience to let a career develop and move up. I don’t think we’re unique in that. I think every industry has the same problems. But you know, I couldn’t go take a job sweeping floors at a hospital and end up being a surgeon without going to school. However, you could take a job in the auto parts business and start at the bottom and you literally can move to the ownership of the business and the chief executive officer [position] without an outside education.”

  Beirne is certainly living proof of that. The automotive aftermarket offers plenty in terms of career opportunities. However, as Beirne points out, they are best realized by the type of person who likes to build relationships. This is something we hear time and time again: that the aftermarket is built and thrives on personal connection.

  “Like every business, technology has a way of making it change. But in our business, technology has not been able to unseat the personal relationship,” Beirne says. “And I think if you talk to a lot of guys about what the internet has done to their business, if you’re selling clothing or groceries or computer components or whatever, the internet is totally different, and has disrupted their business. [In the aftermarket] we’re partially disrupted but nowhere near the same level as some businesses. The only thing I can attribute that to is the need for that personal relationship.

  “It’s changed a lot in 30 years, but my experience is that repair shop customers want to fix cars and so they look for suppliers that can make sure that happens without errors. And it’s really still the same basic building blocks that we were talking about 30 years ago,” he says. “Technology has maybe enhanced that to some degree. [There are some] customers who go online and order their stuff from us and we just print it out, bring it over there and there’s not a lot of the human interaction. But, inevitably things crop up that just don’t go that way. You know, it’s a little bit more complex than just a transactional relationship. And that’s where somebody who has good skills can find a spot for themselves in between the two businesses. There’s still room for somebody with those skills. I have for a long time likened this to more of a service industry. We are providing a service that has value. And so, the kind of people you want to have are people who like to serve. They like to solve problems.” AMN

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