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Automotive Aftermarket Manufacturing

Transforming Transtar

How Transtar leadership is transforming the company’s business strategy and culture from the inside out.

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“What type of bold vision can we establish for our organization that builds on our 40-plus years of legacy in the automotive aftermarket?” 

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This was the question Neil Sethi, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Transtar Holding Company, along with his executive leadership team, asked themselves at the end of 2020 as they began the process of transforming the business into a Values-Based Leadership System (VBLS).

Headquartered in a suburb of Cleveland, Transtar Holding Company is an integrated portfolio of brands that manufacture and distribute OE and aftermarket automotive products. Since its founding in 1975, the company has grown significantly from its beginnings as a transmission parts supplier, Transtar Industries. In addition to Transtar Industries, the company owns six other brands, including Transtar Autobody Technologies.

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Re-missioning the business last year with the support of a third-party provider was an intense but rewarding process, said Sethi. The result became what the company calls its “Mission/Vision/Values” – a series of tenets and principles that have created the foundation for the future of Transtar.

“It was a really interesting, intense process, including personality assessment – you know going up in front of your peers, talking about strengths, weaknesses, exploring [your] childhood and what makes you who you are. It was really cool,” Sethi said. “What emerged from that was our value set. From there was, what can Transtar be in the future? What we decided to do was really build on our legacy of transmission and driveline, which is the most complex part of the car, and really focus on complex repair, which unleashed a lot of strategic opportunities around product-line extension and customer extensions. What was also important in our mission was that we weren’t just going to be focused on parts and widgets.”

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Growing The Business

From this intensely personal process came the cornerstones of the company’s transformation from a leading distributor of transmission and driveline parts for transmission shops, to a technology-centric organization serving broader general repair markets. When talking to Sethi, his passion for what this values-based organization brings to the table really casts a glow over everything the company does. And what it “does” seems to be expanding by the minute. Sethi shared that in addition to the 20 or so acquisitions the company has completed in the past 40 years, it is also focused on growing through investment in product lines that meet the needs of general repair shops. In May of 2022, Transtar Industries announced the launch of a comprehensive line of vehicle air conditioning parts, components and tools, marking the company’s first entry into non-transmission or driveline parts in its 47-year history. The company said it signals a significant investment in its commitment to supporting repair shops’ evolving needs.

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According to Kevin Rozsa, executive vice president of business development for Transtar, launching this new product line represented the future of what Transtar wants to be for the market.

“For most of Transtar’s history, we have focused very narrowly on a very niche market and niche products – transmission products being sold to the transmission repair specialists. In crafting our new mission of simplifying complex vehicle repair to keep the world moving, that then opens up a lot more opportunities for us,” said Rozsa.

“We’re not just serving the transmission repair channel. We’re looking to solve complex problems for customers in other channels. From where I sit, my focus is really on identifying partnerships that can help us satisfy that mission, partnerships with potential supplier partners that produce complex vehicle repair products that make sense for us to distribute in the transmission repair space, as well as into general automotive repair. An example of that is our new Transtar air conditioning product line, which for us is a big deal because it’s really the first step, the first product category outside of transmission repair that we’ve pursued in a very robust and meaningful way. That’s pretty exciting for us.”

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Telling Transtar’s Story Through Values

Among the key values the company targeted to serve as the foundation for its future are: integrity, commitment, humility, respect and optimism. With 1,300 employees in 80 locations, ensuring those values are consistently utilized is no 

small feat.

“Lots of organizations have values,” said Sethi, “but we’re trying to live them and we’re doing it by sometimes simple things, but in a repetitive, committed way, bringing values to the forefront of all of our meetings, spending time to speak about how the value set or a given value actually allows us to make decisions to implement our mission and vision, and then ultimately resourcing purposefully around these initiatives.”

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Anna Gluck, a 2022 AMN Women at the Wheel honoree, joined Transtar in 2020 and serves as executive vice president of human resources. Gluck echoes Sethi’s sentiments about the sense of purpose that guides everything they do at Transtar. 

“As an executive team, we actually spend a lot of time when we personally visit sites telling the story of how our values were born. We came up with our values based on a common set of core values that we have as people,” Gluck said. “It has nothing to do with me being in the HR profession or Neil being our president and CEO. It’s us coming together as humans, and we created those values. They’re very personal to us. The Disney company utilizes the same format in their organization to create a story. Chick-fil-A does it as well. We’re no different as a leadership team in terms of telling the story, because that’s where we connect with people.”

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Transtar, with Gluck at the helm of leading people, has implemented a number of new people-focused initiatives as part of its Mission/Vision/Values strategy, including:

• Investing in team members to create an empowered and engaged workforce to effectively champion the company’s mission and serve customers;

• Creating an evolved Human Resources Organization into a strategic seat that drives corporate communications, the management of the strategic plan, and legal; 

• Introduced permanent remote work for the roles that allow for it;

• Created peer-to-peer mentorship programs; and 

• Launched a cutting-edge learning experience platform (LXP) to match best practices in training and development, including live video sharing and real-time learning and collaboration not previously seen in traditional Learning Management Systems.

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Mission Possible – The Next Phase in Transtar’s Evolution

While values such as integrity, commitment and respect have built the foundation for the next stage of Transtar’s overall culture, defining the company’s mission has netted some very targeted and specific results for business strategy as well, as Sethi explained.

“The mission – long story short – is simplifying complex vehicle repair to keep the world moving. The simplification part speaks to, we think, our legacy value proposition of really understanding how to manage SKU intensity, sourcing products globally and solutions globally, and deliver them direct to installers on a same-day basis,” Sethi explained. “It was a really an exciting process. It took about six months. And, I think we are still, to be candid, in the process of really deploying this philosophy. Obviously, when you re-mission a business and expand the scope, it takes time. But, this is something that the organization’s really passionate about.”

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A must for any transformative aftermarket supplier today is technology, which plays a big part in Transtar’s growth strategy for the future. At the core of its technology focus is the company’s Transend e-commerce solution.

“I think the key to really demonstrate and bring to life a mission, you have to do it through tactical and practical executable ideas that turn into reality. One we’ve been working on for some time is Transend, which is our e-commerce solution, which is growing quite rapidly in adoption,” Sethi said. “It’s a system we think embodies simplifying complex vehicle repair. It’s a system that we’ve developed ourselves through a pretty significant innovations team under the leadership of a gentleman named Brian Chaikin [EVP of Innovation, Transtar Distribution]. Really, the theory behind Transend is beyond rudimentary e-commerce. We’re doing a lot of new things related to our user interface, offering much more flexibility and rapid ways to search such as through license plate, make/model/year, but more in a directed way based upon product category,” Sethi explained. 

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He added that the company established a customer council to help Transtar navigate Transend’s feature enhancements. “While we certainly have ideas internally, we think it’s really critical to collaborate with our customers on the front end of product-line extension feature development, rather than doing it retrospectively. We make sure that we’re really partnering with our customers to really help them solve the challenges that they face and take advantage of the opportunities that the aftermarket presents to them,” Sethi added.

In terms of future potential partnerships, Rozsa said they plan to consider opportunities with products that fit both internal combustion engine and electric vehicles. “Our plans are to continue to work on expanding into other products that really make good sense for us,” Rozsa said. “As we look out to the future, and we look at what’s happening with electric vehicles, we want to make sure that we’re well-positioned for what’s to come.”

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It All Comes Back to Values

Still, Rozsa points out, values continue to serve as important touchpoints as the company looks to expand and grow.

“When considering new partnerships with companies that can supply us with these complex vehicle repair products, we really look for companies that share our values,” Rozsa said. “Where we’re headed is that we realize our growth is not just going to come organically. Our growth will also come through acquisition. So, my focus is looking at opportunities for M&A with companies that have complex vehicle repair products and serve channels that are most interesting to us.”

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Regardless of whether the company is looking to expand through acquisition or simply to lead by example, for the Transtar executive leadership team, values are at the core of every decision and that will not change, affirmed Gluck.

“I know there’s a lot of different opinions on the recession right now, whether a recession is looming or we’re in the recession. Some people think we’re on our way out of a recession. It’s very interesting and quite different than the recession in 2008-2009. I think we’re all kind of experiencing a difficult time ahead of us and our Mission/Vision/Values do not change. The way that the executive leadership team leads and empowers and trusts our team members and invites them to take risks and fail and be innovative does not change. I think that’s what I’m most proud of at Transtar. Our Mission/Vision/Values act as a roadmap, which is guiding light for us.”

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