Success Strategies |  September - 2021

The Value of ATRA to You

In 1976, I joined my first and primary professional industry association, The National Speakers Association (NSA). As a speaker, trainer, and consultant whose primary business was delivering keynote speeches and seminars, that was the logical association for me. Before that, I was also a member of the American Society for Training and Development, today named the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

As a young “start-up” sales trainer, my initial goal was to spend facetime with the “big kids”- my upperclassmen in the training business. I was a freshman wanting to hang around with the Juniors and Seniors. The leading personalities in my field, Zig Ziglar, Norman Vincent Peale, Og Mandino, W. Clement Stone, Art Linkletter, Earl Nightingale, Don Hutson, Tom Hopkins, and many more, had created a professional society for the field of human development. It was also known as “Applied Behavioral Science.”

As I got more involved in the association, I discovered that the bigger value was not in the social acceptance by my heroes. Instead, it was in learning their secrets, tips, processes, and practices for building and sustaining a successful career. Yes, I became friends with them, which was terrific, but what I learned from them was priceless! My learning curve was probably shortened by ten years by what I learned at the conventions and the association’s magazine. But the direct dialogue and comparing notes that occurred over lunch or in the hallways is where the learning took root.

Like transmission shops, we all had similar business models for a personal services business education practice. Similarly, we would share and compare how we used our management software for record-keeping and business operations. We shared our “best practices” checklists for creating quality performances and hiring and managing our small staffs. We’d also meet speaker’s bureau agents, learn storytelling principles, and hear about the latest breakthroughs in psychology and success strategies.

Are you seeing a connection yet? How long have you been an ATRA member? When did you join, and what was your primary reason for joining? What was the appeal? What have you learned through ATRA t hat h olds t he most value for you? Did you learn it at EXPO, through the seminars and clinics, regional tech seminars, the website, or GEARS Magazine? How much have you learned by simply reading Shop Profiles about other members around the country?

Can you place a value on the ideas you’ve learned while walking the Expo floor and examining new methods, systems, and products? What was it worth to sit through a seminar with a colleague and then discuss the application of ideas in the lounge between sessions?

Many people say to me, “I come to the conventions not for the programs but for what I learn in the hallways from my fellow shop owners.” To this, I say, “The ideas presented in the keynotes, workshops, clinics, and sponsor sessions are the reason that the discussions between sessions are so focused and valuable.” It’s crucial to attend the sessions so we bring more to the hallway discussions. When you and a friend walk the Expo floor, you’re bombarded with the latest state-of-the-art in transmission repair and shop operations. Naturally, you’ll discuss, criticize, question, sample, challenge, and embrace the best ideas. That’s how you and your business evolve.

You are a part of the growth of your entire profession! I’m serious; you’re a part of the automotive profession and the aftermarket. In a very real way, you are influencing how this trade evolves. Even your questions help others to rethink what they know and do.

After I had attended a couple of conventions and volunteered to help set up chairs in meeting rooms, place signs in hallways, assemble registration packets, and guide foot traffic to sessions, others got to know me. My colleagues were even more accepting of me, leading to invitations to serve on committees and a nomination to the association’s board of directors. I served on the board for a total of ten years, two 3-year terms. Eventually, I served as VP, President, and Chairman of the Board. Over those years, I helped create the educational system for the association and nurtured new local chapters. We even formed the Global Speakers Federation. It has been gratifying, both personally and financially.

It’s a path, not a destination. Your approach could be similar. When you first arrive, you need ways to connect. Volunteering is the best and quickest way to do that. Once you know some folks and your way around Expo and ATRA itself, you can serve on committees, local chapters, and even run for the board.

A professional association has a primary and a secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to advance the profession – do it better through research and education. The secondary purpose is to expand the market – increase demand through market awareness.

Every level of ATRA is crafted to accomplish these purposes through the convention programs, the articles in GEARS Magazine, the workshops, clinics, and advisory services. They’re a team of problem solvers assembled and connected to and for you. New product announcements aren’t just advertisements to get you to buy things. They’re information provided to show you new and different ways you can do what you do. Every part of this association is crafted to educate, inform, motivate, and assist you – the technicians and shop owners.

When articles feature an outstanding person or a distinctive shop in a unique location, they’re written so you can learn by example and sometimes say to yourself, “I can do that too!” If we don’t acknowledge our achievers, others don’t have role models, mentors, or examples. Even our failures are learning experiences. I enjoy the old saying, “Nobody is completely useless. You can always serve as a bad example.” Humor intended.

I am proud to have been associated with your association over the past decade. You have become my friends, colleagues, and role models. No, I’m not in the same business you are, but all of us are in the business of serving people by doing what we know and do best. I appreciate this opportunity to keep on learning from and with you.

Jim Cathcart, “Your Virtual VP,” is a Mentor who helps businesses grow their people and their profits. Jim has been contributing to GEARS magazine for over a decade now. Reach out directly to Jim if ever you feel he can be of value to your shop or career. His coaching can grow your confidence, focus, and courage.

As the author of 20 books and an Executive MBA professor, he is known worldwide. His TEDx video has over 2.4 million views, and he’s been inducted into the Sales & Marketing Hall of Fame. Contact him at