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.
The Best of Times... The Worst of Times
2020 is a year that most of us will never forget. It reminds me of the opening paragraph from Charles Dickens’ classic historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was...

The Calm Side of Chaos
Each year around January, we begin to arrange the speaker lineup and seminar topics for the upcoming Powertrain Expo. Sure, we have a general idea before the end of the previous year, but when January comes, it’s time to get serious. For Lance Wiggins and the Tech team, it’s a matter of following the trends - which units are rising in popularity, and which ones are plaguing the industry wit...

And in The End
I’m writing this from my office at ATRA, a complex that was once bustling with activity. I say, once bustling because to comply with the order imposed by California Governor, Gavin Newsom, on March 19th, the rest of the team is working from home. It’s now been a month and work just isn’t the same. Our story is not unlike others across the country and the world, for that matter. Many, like...

It Takes More Than Just One
Over the past couple of years, we’ve looked into ways to get new people into the industry. There are technical services, organizations, and automotive schools, all working to raise the level of training and expertise throughout the transmission repair industry. Many of these entities, including ATRA, have been working at this for years. But we’re still faced with a shortage of people who are i...

Chapter Chatter - Who's Who
The problem is clear and the solutions are getting there. ATRA chapters are regaining their relevance as we enter this new stage of industry development. For so many years the “tech” was in the forefront, where it belonged, and still does in many ways. Management is in the mix, too. Shop owners have received information and training that’s helped them stay business focused. Fixing transmissi...

What's In It For You? Your ATRA Local Chapter
Every industry has a trade association. If you had a directory of associations you might find it interesting to find things like: The At-sea Processors Association for fishing b oats t hat process their catch while at sea. Or there’s the Correspondence Chess League of America for chess enthusiasts and tournament participants. Or how about the National BBQ & Grilling Association (which I’m ...

It's a Big Step
Each January we set out to make some new goals or reflect on the previous year or just think about a few changes and improvements we’d like to work toward. Some are personal and some are related to our businesses. And like most people, I do the same thing: lots of reflection, an assessment of mistakes, things to do better and new plans to add a little excitement (and maybe even vacation ideas). ...

Touch Your Nose with Your Tongue and Wiggle Your Ears
Math problems can be a challenge for many. You know the ones: Mr. Jones is traveling north on the Pike express traveling at 60 mph. Mrs. Smith is traveling south on the Fargo Flyer traveling at 70 mph. They’ve both been traveling 20 minutes on their 200 mile journey. How long before they can wave hello to each other? This math problem is about as clear as the GM clutch clearance procedure for th...

Go To The Show - Any Show
So much of what we do is by habit. Each morning we jump into our car and head to work. We don’t think about turning onto Main Street then going three blocks west and turning left; we just do it. You’ve probably been surprised when you’ve found yourself somewhere, but you don’t remember driving there. All you know is that you’re clicking your key fob to lock the car doors. Habits devel...

It's Not Just About Transmissions
FROM the CEO featured image
It’s around this time that I begin to create and assemble my presentation for POWERTRAIN EXPO. Considering that I’ve done over 30 of these, I know what to expect. There’s the excitement of doing something new. There’s the anticipation of seeing everyone. There’s the overwhelming sense of having so much to do and the apprehension of getting it done. It occurred to me that these emotional ...

See it As it Is!
from CEO featured image
I recently gave a management presentation in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve presented a few of these so far this year and it’s something I really enjoy; mostly because I get to see the people that make this industry work. I covered the results from ATRA’s 2018 customer survey as well as the industry survey from shop owners across the US and Canada. We do surveys of this type from time to time to ge...

Commit To One
from the ceo featured image
Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of ways to establish meaningful goals, quit bad habits and just live better. My book shelves are bursting with volumes that have a lot of great information that I’ve found inspiring. Some of it may be far out, or not my cup of tea but then again, I’ve always learned something from each one. The difficult part for me is that I’m impatient, and that 278...

Remembering Steve (1955 - 2019)
from the ceo featured image
You might know Steve Bodofsky as the editor of GEARS Magazine but for me he was a dear friend. I met Steve in 1988 while working at AAMCO Inc. in Philadelphia. I was a phone tech and he was a writer for the “Twin Post”; AAMCO’s monthly newsletter. Steve and I hit it off right away. He was always looking for “tech” to write about and I was a chatterbox, so it worked out great for both of ...

What are Folks Saying About You?
From The CEO featured image
Back when you opened your business, one of your first considerations was probably, “How am I going to get customers in the door?” It’s a reasonable thing to think about, and, depending on when you opened, it could have had a lot of different answers. For example, if you opened 25 years ago, part of your answer might have included naming your shop something like AAAA Transmissions, so you...

It's So Cold My Car Won't Move
Shop Talk features image
Winter has always been a boon for transmission shops. Burned up transmissions and broken cases from getting stuck in the snow are commonplace. Snowplows that are over-loaded are more common than you might imagine: They begin to line up after every blizzard. As much as these calamities keep shops busy during the winter season, other problems that come with the cold aren’t so profitable. Every ...

Teach an Old Dog
From The CEO featured image
Last year, ATRA conducted a survey of both consumers and shop owners across the USA and Canada. For the industry survey, we were looking for the differences that set successful shops apart. We were surprised to learn that the behavior of highly successful shop owners wasn’t that different from the less-successful ones. Of course, the devil’s in the details and you can infer a lot from the data...

Keeping Up With a Changing Industry
from the ceo featured image
The transmission industry, like so many other things, is constantly changing. And that change breeds differing opinions on how to operate a shop. If you put a group of shop owners together, you can be sure they won’t agree completely on the best practices for operating their businesses. Sales, marketing, and how to deal with customers might be up for debate, but one thing is certain: The tran...

The Expo Effect
From The CEO featured image
Every year, hundreds of shop owners and technicians make their way to ATRA’s Powertrain Expo: the largest collection of transmission specialists to get together under one roof. This year marked the 30th show I’ve had the pleasure of participating in. You might think it’d get passé after so many years. And, honestly, there’ve been a few shows over the years that left me with a “there...

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...