Information from OEConnection LLC’s Chuck Rotuno, president & CEO.
Q: Give us an example of a business challenge your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
OEConnection is a technology company focused largely on providing solutions to automotive dealerships. As such, the downturn in the US economy in 2008-2009 and its related impact on the industry posed a fairly significant challenge for OEConnection. General Motors and Chrysler both filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008 and began closing many of their franchised dealerships. Other automakers were experiencing similar pain and OEConnection lost more than 2,000 customers during this period.
We responded to this challenge by thinking differently: our team developed and delivered new, high-value products to the automotive dealers, diversified into emerging markets, and partnered with the automakers in creative new ways. During this period, OEConnection launched three new products, signed its first non-automotive manufacturer, and built a content-rich, self-serve ecommerce OEM parts portal for Ford Motor Company. I am very proud to say that as a company we not only weathered this economic storm, but in fact continued to grow the business in 2008 and 2009.
We view 2009 as OEConnection’s finest year: while revenue growth was significantly lower than in previous years, it was hard won and helped lay the foundation for continued business success. Today, OEConnection serves more than 20,000 diverse customers throughout North America and we are preparing to market our products across the globe.
Q: In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
Innovative leadership consistently questions the status quo and fosters a culture of innovation. At OEConnection we hire a diverse group of thought leaders, challenge them to ask the right questions, and then recognize and reward creative thinking and risk taking.
OEConnection was the first company to create an Online Parts & Service Exchange (OPSX) for the automotive industry and, in partnership with Ford Motor Company, the first to build an ecommerce parts portal for a major US automaker. This was made possible through an on-going commitment to reinvesting in new technology; a culture-based tolerance for risk; and, certainly, by having the right talent in the building. Innovation is possible when, as a leader, you constantly consider, ‘what’s next?’ and ‘what will I need to get there?’
Q: What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned and how have you applied it?
The greatest lesson I have learned throughout my business career involves the physics of business: an organization is never standing still – it is always moving in one direction or the other, either growing or contracting. A wise business leader will consistently invest time in developing ways to move the company forward.
This lesson served us well during the Great Recession of 2008.
Q: How does your organization make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
OEConnection is committed to creating jobs in northeast Ohio and has added more than 100 technology positions to the region since the company’s formation in 2000. As we work to create demand for technology talent in the region, we are equally committed to supporting the supply side of the equation: preparing area students for careers in technology. For the past four years, OEConnection has partnered with Baldwin-Wallace College to serve as the major sponsor for a computer programming contest targeting local high school students. This contest is designed to help encourage high school students to pursue math and computer science at the college level. In addition, OEConnection actively recruits area college students for its technology internship program and has employed more than 30 interns over the past five years.
At OEConnection, we believe that investing in activities to help prepare tomorrow’s technology workforce not only helps address our business needs, but serves the region as well. It’s a win-win effort.