The Michigan Automotive Parts Association (MAPA) has selected Ken Wendling, retired from Standard Motor Products and living in Chesaning, Michigan, as the recipient of its 2023 MAPA Lifetime Achievement Award.
Created in 2010, the MAPA Lifetime Achievement Award recognizes the excellence of individuals who have made a significant impact in the aftermarket and/or the association. The recipient must have had an extensive career in the industry, contributed significantly to the automotive aftermarket in Michigan and made accomplishments within their local community.
Wendling has been a longtime member of MAPA and made sure Standard Motor Products (SMP) had input with MAPA, which is committed to ongoing training for all industry professionals at every level. Wendling always made sure to sponsor and attend MAPA Industry Day.
Over the years, Wendling helped recruit big names to sit on MAPA Industry Day panels, such as Eric Sills, president and CEO of SMP. When asked to be on the panel, Wendling always indicated he would find someone more qualified than himself.
Teaching the Next Generation
Early in his career, Wendling taught an automotive class at a local high school for apprentice techs and was a frequent automotive radio-show guest, helping callers to diagnose his/her automotive problem and guide them down the correct “do-it-yourself” repair path.
In addition to his sales territory, Wendling traveled the country for SMP training Firestone technicians on how to diagnose and repair auto and truck air-conditioning systems. He also put in place the Professional Technician Hands on Training, which was launched in Lansing, Michigan.
When hiring employees, Wendling spent two weeks with each employee giving the new hire his undivided attention teaching them about the industry, SMP and the technical side of the business.
Wendling had everything in his office that you would find today in a company training department: cut-away samples of product, tools and more. Employees often completed hands-on training in his driveway on one of his or his neighbor’s cars. Once in a while, they would work on a neighbor’s farm tractor.
Wendling often states he is proud of the fact that he completed, in one year, more technician seminars than anyone at SMP – 81. These were all technician classes conducted in the evenings on top of his regular territory-manager responsibilities.
Wendling spearheaded the Auto Wares Tech Expo “Jeopardy” and “Top Gun” contests for many years, writing much of the material and hosting as Alex Trebek.
Keeping Things Cool
Wendling was known for performing hands-on air-conditioning check lanes, often starting at 7 a.m. and not finishing until after 8 p.m.
At these events, he would work with the individual jobber stores and promote the free A/C check lane on local radio stations like WWJ in Detroit.
At some events, there would be almost a mile-long line of vehicles waiting for their free A/C check-up. If the car only needed a small refrigerant top-off, he would perform that service after diagnosing the vehicles. If the cars needed more service, he would have a deal set up with local repair facilities to perform the more major work at a discount. In Michigan, these check lanes are legendary, MAPA says.
Illustrious Career at SMP
As soon as Wendling was old enough to hold a wrench, he started working on bicycles, and then minibikes, snowmobiles, motorcycles and cars. While still in school, he started work in the automotive aftermarket at Gold & Sons Automotive. After a few years, David Gold’s father asked Wendling to manage Gold & Sons Automotive Parts Store.
Wendling started at SMP in June 1980 during the start of the automobile electronic revolution with electronic ignition, computers and small lightweight automotive air-conditioning systems with different types of refrigerant. While a territory sales manager, Ken was named Territory Manager of the Year for five of his eight years and was inducted into the Inner Circle Sales Club. He then moved to zone sales manager and was named Zone Manager of the Year eight times.
In 2006, Wendling became regional sales manager for the eastern half of the United States. In 2009, he was promoted to national sales manager and then vice president warehouse distribution sales in 2013. Even though Wendling retired in 2018, he continued with special projects for the company until 2021.
Wendling served SMP for 41 years.
Wendling always managed “hands-on” and never was afraid to work alongside you – never afraid to get his hands dirty. He always had an ear at the street level, even when his career elevated to senior positions. He helped Standard Motor Products make relevant, “real-world” decisions. There was not an industry event that he did not attend, MAPA says.
He was one of the original Northwood University Leadership attendees. He was the recipient of the Automotive Aftermarket Management Education Award from Northwood University in 2017 during Industry Week in Las Vegas.
Wendling is a lifelong member of the Knights of Columbus, working for the organization on many fundraising projects. Since retirement, he helped to completely renovate St. Michael’s Catholic Church, his home parish.
Since retirement, Wendling helped a nephew completely renovate an old farmhouse, including raising the house to add a 9-foot basement underneath, and removing the roof to create 16-foot cathedral ceilings. In retirement, Wendling also has been driving tractors or whatever is needed on family farms.
On Sept. 28, 2022, Hurricane Ian devastated southwest Florida. With a truck load of tools, he and his wife, Shirley, headed to Florida and helped many homeowners rebuild. They did everything from drywall, electrical and plumbing to hauling many truckloads of debris to the scrap yard.
A Family Man
Ken and Shirley Wendling live in Chesaning, Michigan, and have two children and two grandchildren. Their son, Jason, also is in the automotive business and is the lead salesman at a GM dealership. Their daughter, Kristen, and her husband, Dan, live in Allendale with children Kennadi and Owen. Kristen is an elementary-school teacher and Dan is a lead project engineer.
Ken Wendling is a lifelong member of St Michael’s Catholic Church, Maple Grove, and was an altar boy growing up. He was a little league baseball coach when son, Jason, was growing up, from the time Jason could play at age 5 until he was in high school.
Ken and Jason love to snowmobile in the winter, and summer is Harley-riding time. Motorcycling is a family affair. Today, you’ll most likely find Ken and Shirley Wendling sitting in the bleachers (sometimes three to four times per week on the west side of the state) watching granddaughter Kennadi running track, and grandson Owen playing basketball, football, baseball and swimming.
And still today, if you ask Wendling about the automotive aftermarket, he will tell you what he’s said for many, many years: “I love selling new parts for used cars!”
The MAPA Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Ken Wendling during MAPA Industry Day 2023 on Wed., Sept. 13, at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West hotel in Lansing, Michigan. Rich Violette and Darrell Liddell will present the award.