Dennis Madden
Dennis Madden
Dennis is ATRA’s CEO, the publisher of GEARS Magazine, and one of its most prolific writers. In fact, he had a byline in the very first issue of GEARS. Dennis got his start over 40 years ago, first as an R&R technician and later as a rebuilder. Later, he went to work for an AAMCO center, where his employer recognized his talent and recommended him for a position on the AAMCO technical hotline. From that, Dennis quickly realized how much he enjoyed helping technicians and shop owners improve their business skills. He joined ATRA in 1989, first as a technical specialist, working the phones and writing bulletins, and later as technical director. He took over as CEO in 2001. Over the years, Dennis has written five books — available through the ATRA BookStore — and has won 15 IAMA awards for technical and business writing. And he was instrumental in creating ATRA’s What’s Working program, designed to help shops become profitable in today’s changing business climate.
Continuing On... Education Wise
For the past few years, I’ve heard from many of you about the lack of qualified technicians. For some, this isn’t just an inconvenience; it’s become a matter of staying in business. Like so many issues we face, you may not notice it until it comes knocking at your door. It’s like your water heater: everything’s fine until you notice the garage floor is flooded! The industry is doing j...

The unCERTAINty OF IT...
Over the past forty years, I’ve seen a lot of changes to our industry. In many cases, those changes left people saying, “What’s happening to this industry?” Some seemed pretty minor when compared to the scheme of things, while others seemed insurmountable: “What are we going to do?” The earliest calamity I can recall is when front-wheel-drive vehicles started showing up at shops. So...

The Results Are In!
Every few years Rodger Bland and I set out to learn more about this industry through a series of surveys and focus groups. Since the first What’s Working study in 2006, we’ve studied shop owners (including general-repair shop owners), consumers and automotive students. The amount of data we’ve collected has been staggering and it’s provided us with insight as to what’s really happenin...

It Worked on the Road Test! The 6T40 4-5-6 Drum Interchange Quandary
For years, we rebuilders have made changes to transmission functionality by either interchanging parts, installing upgrades, or making valve body modifications. It’s just part of the business. A little tweak here, a slight modification there, and presto! it’s ready for the road test. [wonderplugin_slider id=2] A quick drive on our “road test course” and we’d either deliver the ca...

Wait a Second... I've Changed My Mind!
Much of our waking moments are spent with exchanging ideas with others. And much of that is trying to convince people of the merits of our thinking. That is, to try to convince them that we have a better plan. Depending on how vested a person is in their ideas, it might even lead to a heated argument. Working with employees, chatting with friends, or having those talks with your “better half...

Training Is Training... or Is IT?
Finding people who can rebuild transmissions has been difficult for a number of years. But this is something you may not be aware of until your rebuilder quits or retires. Suddenly, finding a rebuilder becomes the most pressing matter you’ve ever faced. It’s a big problem; one that ATRA is fully aware of. The question is, how do you address it? I saw a debate on this subject on ATRA’s Wha...

I Told You... I Don't Like Fish!
You’re at a friend or relative’s house for dinner. After about an hour of chit chat, dinner’s served. You’re starved, but then a sinking feeling comes over you as you notice they’re serving trout. And worse, the heads are still on. They notice your change in expression and ask “Don’t you like trout?” You respond with, “I’m really sorry. It’s not the trout; I just don’t r...

Reflections
January is a time for reflecting on the past year, committing to new goals, and planning the next 12 months of our lives. Sometimes you have a year you wish you could forget. It’s like a mulligan in golf, where you say “Oops,” pick up the ball, and take a do-over. Sometimes it’s a matter of being grateful to have made it through the year, and last year we might have seen more of that th...

My Greatest Pride
Every year, as we approach Expo, the enthusiasm at the ATRA home office rises to a fever pitch. Folks are busy putting the finishing touches on their presentations, or making the final arrangements so that the coffee breaks are scheduled on time and the seminar rooms are organized so the program goes off without a hitch. You’d be surprised at just how much planning goes into making things look e...

A Conversation With Monte Ahuja
This past April, Monte Ahuja returned as the Chairman, CEO, and significant shareholder of Transtar. I had the opportunity to speak with him and find out what he has in mind for the future of the company - and the industry. Dennis Madden: I’m really excited that you’re back. It’s been chaotic over the past few years. Monte Ahuja: So I’m learning. Over the last couple of months, I’v...

Has It Been That Long?
This issue is GEARS Magazine’s silver jubilee. It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since we first started publishing GEARS. It’s common when someone celebrates an anniversary, whether it’s a wedding, a business, or anything else for that matter, to ask, where did the time go? I can’t believe it’s been that long. It’s the same for ATRA. I started working here during ATRA’s ...

There’s a Right Way
Training isn’t always going to be interesting or fun. Sometimes learning the basics may seem boring or stupid. But they’re necessary if you’re going to learn how to do things right.

It's The Journey; Not The Goal
In the last issue of GEARS, I presented my thoughts for the graduating class of 2017. I congratulated this year’s graduates and made some observations about what they should consider for the future. As the summer continues, the vast majority of that graduating class is now preparing for the next stage in their educational development: college. It’s a familiar refrain, one that’s been p...

To the Class of 2017
Every year around this time, students all across the country are finishing school and venturing out into a new phase of life as a working adult. I think of that every year as people here at ATRA take a day off to attend a graduation. This year it was Rodger Bland’s turn, as his son, Trenton, graduated college. Not to mention that my wife went back to school after 25 years and just picked up her...

Our Lights Are Always On!
You know that hotel chain? The one that ends their ads with, “We’ll leave the light on for you”? I started thinking about that this week while the Torque Converter Rebuilders Association (TCRA) joined us for a tour of the facilities and a group luncheon as part of their annual convention. Why was ATRA hosting TCRA? It really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. When TCRA founder, Corky Myer...

Imagine Your Image
In the March issue of GEARS, we covered some ideas for creating your company’s mission statement. Hopefully you’ve given the idea some thought and come up with a few for your shop. But before you run out to etch it in stone, I thought we’d go through a couple other ideas that might help. If the thought of creating a mission statement got you excited, then you’ve probably gone to the int...

Mission Impossible... Or is It?
Everyone in the business world has heard of a mission statement and the importance for a business to have one. But, if you’ve ever looked at some companies’ mission statements — even established, big-name companies — you might think, “What’s the point? It doesn’t say much.” Maybe you’ve attempted to create a mission statement and the result turned out to be a series of slogans...

Memories of An Industry Leader: Stevie Lavallee 1953 - 2017
It seems like the news of industry veterans’ passing has become all too common in recent years. But Stevie Lavallee was much more than just another industry mainstay.. . to me and to our industry. I met Stevie back around 1990. I’d see him at seminars in the Boston area and he was a regular attendee at Trans Expo. I’d read his work in Transmission Digest and, after the launch of GEARS, ...

The Secret Word Is "Mentoring"
One of the most famous quiz shows in history was You Bet Your Life, created especially for Groucho Marx. At the beginning of each show, Groucho told his contestants: “Say the secret word and a duck will come down and give you $50.” It may not sound like much, but back in the late ’40s it was a bundle! At Expo this year, we had our own “secret” word; one that was mentioned in every man...

From the President: Welcome to Paris!
I’d like to welcome everyone who made it to ATRA’s Expo 2016. This is our first time at the Paris Hotel and Casino, on the beautiful Vegas Strip. Its prime location offers easy access to everything on the Strip. This is an exciting year at Expo, with a number of all-new, first-time events: This year introduces our very first Transmissions 101 program. What is Transmissions 101? It’s a ...