The pursuit of passion has defined Robert Klein’s life. Robert says, “I can’t remember a time in my life that I haven’t been in pursuit of something. I guess most of those somethings would qualify as passions.”
Today Robert and his wife, Lorraine, own and operate RK Trans & Auto Repair in Raleigh, North Carolina. The couple and their team are fulfilling their passion for helping their customers by fixing cars the right way – the RK Trans & Auto Repair way.
But that’s today – let’s go back to the beginning and see how pursuing his passions has consistently paid off financially and personally for Robert, his family, his business, and his team.
Hatched from a Torque Converter
Robert says, “I was literally born into the transmission industry.” He told me that his family used to say that he was “hatched out of a torque converter.” According to Robert, his mom vigorously disputed that statement saying, “I only wish it had been that easy. Robert came into this world the natural way – the painful way!”
In 1965, Robert’s parents, Cel and Ken, opened a torque converter and transmission pump rebuilding business in Port Washington, New York. By 1970, they had added transmission rebuilding under the name K&R Transmissions – K for Kenneth and R for Robert.
For all we know, Robert might have used a wrench as a teething ring. By the age of 6, he was helping his father in the torque converter shop by separating washers. Robert actually disassembled his first transmission, a Ford C-6 at the ripe old age of 8. At age 10, he was cutting converters open, and he rebuilt his first transmission, a TH-350, without any assistance from his dad.
While it sounds like his dad was violating “child labor laws,” the truth was that he couldn’t keep Robert away. He’s been passionate about tools and fixing things longer than Robert can remember. From grade school through high school, whenever school wasn’t in session, including most days after school and weekends, the most likely place to find Robert was in the shop.
In Pursuit of Technical Knowledge and Skills
After graduating from high school, he continued to pursue what had now become a career in rebuilding transmissions. Realizing that he lacked the finesse he needed to eliminate errors, he decided to attend an ATSG, weeklong rebuilding class in Miami, Florida. This was a big step for Robert, and it took him as far from home as he’d ever been on his own. Robert recalls, “This class showed me how much I enjoy rebuilding transmissions, figuring out the reasons for the failure, and finding different ways to test and fix the systems to repair the transmission the right way.”
Robert enthusiastically continued, “This advanced training inspired me to pursue knowledge and skills education wherever I could find it. Whether nearby or far away, if it related to automotive and, more specifically, to transmissions, and if I thought it would make me a better rebuilder, I’d enroll and go.”
Eventually, Robert found his way to another weeklong class at the ATRA Tech School in Oxnard, California. Robert reflected, “This class pushed me more than ever before to be better and to always seek to improve through continuous education and skills development.” Today Robert has his ATRA Master Rebuilder Certification. He added, “I still travel to conferences, seminars and expos. In fact, this coming October, we’re shutting down the shop and taking the entire team to the ATRA Powertrain Expo in Nashville.”
In Pursuit of Other Passions
For instance, in 1996, when his soon-to-be wife, Lorraine, left New York to go to North Carolina, Robert followed in hot pursuit. I’m reminded of a line from an old song, “A man chases a girl until she catches him.” He pursued Lorraine until she caught him.
They both felt the climate and lifestyle of North Carolina was a refreshing change from New York and provided a great canvas on which to create a fresh start on life together.
Motorcycles are another passion for Robert, but even that passion has morphed into different venues. He started with dirt bikes at the age of 10 and progressed to street bikes around 1983. Eventually, feeling vulnerable riding in traffic, he moved on to motorcycle drag racing. I don’t know, am I missing something – going from riding on the street to drag racing for safety reasons? Even though he’s no longer actively drag racing bikes, he still holds on to the passion and says that he might take it up again someday.
Robert’s enthusiasm and passion also extend to the community as well as the transmission industry, at large. RK Trans actively supports organizations like the North Carolina Independent Garage Owners (NC-IGO), the BBB, ATSG, and of course, ATRA.
In Pursuit of Business Ownership
When I asked Robert about his move from being employed as a rebuilder to owning his own shop, he said, “There were building blocks in that process too. I became just as passionate about learning about the business end as I’d been with the technical end of the transmission business.”
I could almost hear a smile as he shared this story, “Before moving from New York, I’d attended a few management and sales seminars that were taught by guys like Terry Greenhut and Mike Lee. In fact, a couple of days ago, I was just looking through my Certificates of Completion and noticed that I’d even attended some of yours, Thom.” We had a little laugh, and I told him that Terry had been one of my mentors too.
Robert shared that he appreciated the sales training he’d received because he learned how to advise his customers regarding vehicle repairs without being pushy. He presents the facts, and then they discuss the repair options.
Robert continued his story, “After making my move to North Carolina, I was fortunate to work for a successful transmission shop owner, Ralph Smith. I worked for Ralph over 10 years, soaking up all I could until he retired. In 2011, I opened RK Trans & Auto Repair, Inc. Since that day, I’ve thrown myself into applying everything I’ve learned from my dad, Ralph, and all the industry’s technical and management experts. I’m committed to continuous learning to provide the highest level of integrity and technical expertise for our customers. It’s my goal to pass this knowledge on to my employees, Robby and Lee. They are both vital parts of our team, along with my amazing wife, Lorraine. And as I mentioned, we’re all heading for the ATRA Powertrain Expo in Nashville this coming October.”
The story of Robert’s continuous pursuit of his passions is a story that gets even better. It’s refreshing to meet someone who’s been so steadfast in pursuing excellence, but it’s just another success story until you know the rest of the story.
For Robert’s entire life, he’s suffered from dyslexia and learning comprehension disabilities. The required knowledge and skills to be successful in our business are challenging enough. Imagine how driven Robert must have been to overcome his hardships!
Robert’s passion and drive are only exceeded by his humility. When I asked him how he’s managed to deal with the challenges, he replied, “Yes, these things have always tested me, and I have to work on it every day. I can only do my best to not let it get me down, but I have an amazing wife. Lorraine pushes and encourages me to do more than I ever could have done on my own. She reminds me that we’re all works in progress. She’s my rock!”
The couple enjoys escaping from the rigors of running the shop by jointly pursuing a different kind of passion. They love taking their two nieces to Walt Disney World in Orlando. So, I guess we can end this shop profile by asking, “Hey Robert, what are you going to do now?” And he’ll reply, “I’m going to Disney World!”