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Called on to Serve

ARA Executive Committee Secretary Chad Counselman believes service to others isn’t a choice for him, it’s a mandate.

Interview by Caryn Smith

The Executive Committee (EC) of the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA) plays an important role in the organization’s governance by setting the priorities of the Association’s work and making decisions accordingly. Those who volunteer their time in this effort do so for a five-year commitment as they move through the roles of Secretary, Second Vice President/Treasurer, First Vice President, President and then Immediate Past President.

This leadership model allows for organizational stability, but also makes way each year for the incoming President to lead where he or she deems as important to the industry and to which issue or challenges they can best lend their expertise. It also provides fresh energy, perspective and ideas in the role of Secretary as this new leader joins the Committee when the former Immediate Past President steps off.

In these unstable times for automotive recycling, the ARA is in good hands with the current slate. Joining this year is Chad Counselman, 41, owner of Counselman Automotive Recycling, LLC in Mobile Alabama, and a respected businessman, industry leader, deacon and family man who leads with strength of character.

Automotive Recycling had a chance to chat with Counselman, who takes his commitment to leadership seriously and is ready to be an advocate for automotive recyclers in the United States and around the world.

How and when did you get into the industry?

I was born into the business and am a 3rd generation auto recycler. My dad, Edward, and grandad, James, started Counselman Automotive Recycling in 1966 as 50-50 partners. My dad bought-out granddad in 1985. Dad left the day-to-day operations in 2000, and having already been working within the business, I took over running it fulltime. My brother James came back into the business in 2002. Now, while he and I are 50-50 partners when we bought the business from dad in 2008, I still primarily run the business.

What kind of auto recycling does your company provide?

We focus on late model auto recycling from the last 7-8 years, with over 2,000 vehicles in inventory, 40 vehicles dismantled weekly and operate two locations. We have over 1,000,000 parts in stock, including sheet metal, electrical, and mechanical parts.

What other industry service or ARA positions have you held?

I just finished my two-year term as an ARA South Regional Director. [Counselman received recognition as “Regional Director of the Year” during the recent Annual ARA Awards at the 73rd Annual Convention.]

I am also the current President of the Alabama Automotive Recyclers Association (AARA), which I founded in 2008. Our state had some legislative issues rise up and I fought it so hard, the legislators told me I had to have an association to continue the fight. [Industry consultant and ARA Past President] Sandy Blalock helped me form the AARA, which is a registered lobbyist in Alabama and has about 25 members. Basically, we handle much of the needed lobbying.

What compelled you to join the national ARA Executive Committee?

As a very devout Christian, I honestly believe that God opened a door for me as a leader. I have a servant’s heart and I enjoy leadership. I believe we can affect change through leadership. I want to be a positive force of change in our industry.

I use my gift of leadership skills in many areas including in my business, state-level auto recycling, and in my faith. In 2011, I became a deacon at Redemption Church and am very active as a lay leader. As we launched a second church campus, I was asked to be its executive director and, as of last year, I am also the director of missions.

Also, with my experience in Alabama auto recycling, I believe this new role in ARA is my responsibility. I did not accept the position immediately. I took two weeks of prayer and discussion with my family, my wife Rachael of 18 years and 15-year-old daughter Emily, as well as my church and business teams.

What is your passion or vision for the industry?

We must provide resources for our industry businesses to grow – from smallest to largest. The pie as a whole is shrinking and I want us to get a larger piece of the shrinking pie. Selling parts through technology is our future.

I am a secret IT geek. I believe change for industry will come through technology changes, as well as acquisition of OE part numbers, and new or improved relationships. We must embrace technology and have leadership that understands its role in our success.

Many might say they don’t have time to serve the industry. Why is it important to you to be involved in volunteer leadership?

I can only speak for myself, but it’s about what I can do for the association, not what it can do for me and that’s my commitment. It does take time away from my other activities, with two EC conference calls a week and I just booked travel to two cities in one trip. But my business is successful enough to contribute time and dollars to this.

Truly and honestly, my mission field is to go out and positively influence others for the industry. I believe the leaders of the EC I am joining are like-minded in this effort. We are an experienced yet a young-minded forward-thinking team with ideas.

Fear and courage are both highly contagious. Many in our industry are fearful of what the future holds, and they need a shot of courage to overcome fear to grow their businesses in bold moves to benefit their businesses and the families they influence.

I have 65 families to whom I am responsible at Counselman Automotive Recycling, some of whom have been with us for 30-35 years. Tens of thousands of families are affected by this industry and its continued success. I work hard to help my employees, who are like family members. We have wisdom to influence choices and the well-being of the industry.

We say around our business “the only constant at Counselman Auto is CHANGE.” We get left behind if we are not open to the idea of change. My goal is to share a lot of ideas and help others increase gross revenues.

What advice would you give on balancing volunteer work with business leadership?

With wisdom and experience comes responsibility. We have the responsibility to step into leadership and make certain sacrifices to do it. I have strong support with good leaders at work. I could not do any of this without my right-hand man John McWilliams. Growing good leaders within your organization is vital to all kinds of success, as well as providing the ability to serve. I also have the support of my family. My motto is: “God comes 1st, family 2nd, work 3rd, and don’t get them mixed up.”

I would urge others to consider being a catalyst of change for the industry. We need more to serve and lead.

Caryn Smith is the editor of Automotive Recycling magazine.