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.
See it As it Is!
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
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)
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?
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
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
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
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
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...

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.