Interview w/ Melanie Wilson of NIADA

December 30, 2022| Zach Klempf

In this transcribe of the Used Car Dealer Podcast, Zach interviews Melanie Wilson, newly appointed CEO of NIADA. They discuss the latest initiatives with NIADA, her new role as CEO, and more! 


Zach Klempf: All right. Hello. Zach here, and we have an awesome guest on the podcast today, Melanie Wilson, the new CEO of the NIADA, which also operates The NABD. Melanie, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast before the years in.

Melanie Wilson: Yeah, I know. I'm so excited to be here. Thank you.

Zach Klempf:  So as an icebreaker for the audience. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into NIADA as well as the auto business.

Melanie Wilson: Okay, well, I am a CPA. I've been for a while now, and I was laughing because people are like, how did you get into the auto industry? But I didn't pick the auto industry. The auto industry picked me. I was a consultant for a long time, and I would go into businesses and help them scale and sort out their financials and accounting departments and operations, you name it. I just kind of, like, do it all or get it done kind of person. And Steve Jordan actually tracked me down. Quite literally, I had been referred to him. And so I kind of went in not really knowing a whole lot about NIADA or what they did. I started my career in an association. I was familiar with trade associations and how they worked, and it was intriguing to talk to NIADA because they also had the foundation. And I chose nonprofit pretty early in my career, just kind of captured my heart. And so I sat down and talked to Steve, and they had grown a ton in a short amount of time and really needed some help scaling their accounting department, but also just kind of overall.

Melanie Wilson: So I came in, started working with the accounting department, came on full time in 2018, and the next thing I knew was knee deep and everything in NIADA. And I think that when you work in the nonprofit field, you get a heart's permission. You like to come home at the end of the day going, okay, I did something good today for the world. And I had no previous ties to the automotive industry, and so it was really my first experience. I remember going to my first meeting, and it was like a leadership meeting, and I thought, wow, this is a lively bunch. This is fun. And then we started preparing for my first convention, and I started seeing the National Quality Dealer books come in, and I was flipping through them in the office, and it really hit me, like, how philanthropic this industry is by nature. And I was so impressed with the stories and how people have come up and legacy dealerships. And I started on my own with $500, and it was just so much fun to learn about how diverse the member base was. And then I visited my 1st 20 group meeting, and I came home and told my husband.

Melanie Wilson: I think I just sat in a room with some of the smartest people I've ever met, but I don't know if they know. They're the smartest people I've ever met. It was so crazy because you're looking at these operations and what they're running and you're thinking to yourself you literally have multiple businesses that you're running that are all different bases to selling cars, finance companies, all of these things. And really everyone's attitude is just like I don't know, it's just what I do. It comes so naturally to all of them and so I just started falling in love with the dealers and I started meeting industry partners and it's so much fun. It's such a great group of people that they stole my heart. And here we are. I didn't pick the auto industry but it definitely came after me and I have not looked back since.

Zach Klempf:  I couldn't agree with you more. There are some of the most amazing entrepreneurs in the auto industry and it's so overlooked a lot of the hype around Silicon Valley, like startup entrepreneurs. But you have entrepreneurs running profitable businesses in the auto industry and just really impressive 

Melanie Wilson: And so adaptable too. And even if you just look at 2022, it's always changing. The market is changing, legislation is changing and they just kind of get in line and get behind it and figure it out and I just love it. I love that spirit. I grew up with entrepreneurs and so it's kind of bread into my bones and it's such a fun place to be around.

Zach Klempf:  So congrats again on the new role. Tell us about this, the interim CEO role of the NIADA. What does it mean for members? And then what is some of the unique insight you're bringing over from your CFO experience to the new CEO role?

Melanie Wilson: I am first and foremost so humbled because, like we've been talking, it's such an incredible industry, this is such an incredible opportunity, and I really have fallen in love with the dealers. I think that the future looks bright for a lot of different reasons. So for the members and I think our industry partners, I have always felt like the best leader in the room is not the leader that knows everything. It's the leader that knows how to put all the right pieces together to fill in all the gaps and get everything. And so I think we have a real opportunity moving into 2023 to leverage the relationships across the board and really kind of level up our education, level up how we connect our dealers to our industry partners, level up on what we can provide, and just really bring all of the pieces together to the table and start to leverage our resources. I think that I'm in a unique place. I think trade associations are a funny beast because you have to know how an association works and what the rules are and the bounds within which you work. But you may or may not know the industry when you first come in.

Melanie Wilson: And it's rare that you can find someone that understands both the association's nonprofit side and the industry side. So, luckily, I've been around for a little bit, so I have a good base in the industry. But I think I can leverage my experience with not only membership organizations, but with foundations. What I know about the industry and the team that we have in place at NIADA, I understand the numbers in a unique way. So I can see the story and the numbers I can predict a little bit further out. And I am able to kind of switch lenses and see from all different perspectives and make sure that we're filling in all the gaps. But I definitely would say probably the biggest asset that we have right now is our staff. And Jeremy Beck is our VP of Dealer development. And we have Brett Scott and government affairs. And both of them bring so much to the table in their respective expertise that I think when you put the three of us together, I'm a big collaborator. When you put the three of us together, it's a really dynamic team that levels the playing field and removes some of the stumbling blocks that we might have otherwise run into.

Zach Klempf:  Tell us a little bit about the nonprofit aspect. I don't think a lot of dealers, they might not even be familiar with that, but it's a really interesting piece of NIADA.

Melanie Wilson: Yeah. So trade associations are one type and NIADA actually has two. So our membership runs through our trade association nonprofit. And the reason these are created is just to be able to support a specific industry or group of people. And so our focus 100% of the time is on what industry we serve, what people we serve, and are we doing what we should be doing to help them be better? Which is really exciting because as an entrepreneur, sometimes it can be a lonely job. You don't have all the resources all the time to help you make these big decisions. And so a trade association can really step in and partner with you and be a sounding board and be a place to get resources, be a place to network and connect you with other people so that you can really stand on your own 2ft and grow the way that you want to grow, whether that's growing to be huge or maybe you're fine. I just want to get to this point. The foundation is really kind of where our hearts are, I think. So through our foundation, we support a lot of education and people coming up into the automobile industry with scholarships.

Melanie Wilson: We have disaster relief funds where if there's a natural disaster, we can step in and kind of support the dealerships and their employees who have been affected by situations that are out of their control. And so that's really the fun part, where we can kind of partner with dealers in a different way.

Zach Klempf:  So tell us about some of the big initiatives for NIADA next year, in 2023.

Melanie Wilson: So our CPO program is launching officially on January 3. We're super excited about that. I love the idea of the CPO because it gives dealers a way to compete in the market. And we've had a CPO program before. This one is totally reimagined. We have five different administrators, so you can choose your administrator, and I really think it will help dealers leverage up in the marketplace with a quality product that's backed by an association that you know you can trust. We're going to be watching. We want to make sure that anything that we put out to the dealers is working for them, it's supporting them. We want your feedback. If you're having trouble, we can come alongside you and help. But I think that's super exciting. For 2023. We also have our 20 group program, which has gone through a little bit of reimagining and we're very excited about that and being able to put dealers together and broaden our focus and really use those opportunities to connect. Those dealers not only to each other, but to the resources and the products and the services that are out there that can help them with their very specific needs. And then really, we're just focused on looking at what the value proposition is for being at NIADA member and working with our states to make sure everybody's winning. Those are probably the top three.

Zach Klempf: So in 2022, what was most surprising to you, like, event wise or anything particular in the auto industry in 2022 that surprised you?

Melanie Wilson: You mean besides NIADA having a woman lead for the first time in 75 years, which is huge. That's what they keep telling me. No, I'm kidding. I think the most surprising thing for 2022 was how unpredictable it ended up being. I think we started the year and you're listening to economists, and it's going to be like this, and it'll stabilize by the fourth quarter, and not very much of that actually really happened. I think being able to adapt when all the predictions are kind of going haywire, that was tough on our dealers. But also, I don't know, I feel like it's been a little bit like the weather when it came to figuring out what the market was going to do moving forward.

Zach Klempf: So what are your predictions for 2023 in terms of the used car marketplace? If you had a crystal ball.

Melanie Wilson: I had a crystal ball, I would say the only thing we know for sure is that's probably going to be as unpredictable as 2022 was. I think that anytime you go into a year and everything you thought was going to happen doesn't happen, the only thing you can really bank on is that you're going to continue to stay in that unpredictable place. Kind of a cop out answer, but I do think that globally, the economy is going through things. We're still struggling with finding employees, and the unemployment rate is still at a historic low. And I think it's going to take everyone banding together to figure out how do we as dealers adapt to a marketplace that is not really following trends and has become very unpredictable.

Zach Klempf: So this year's NIADA Convention, it's held at one of my favorite hotels, the Wynn in Las Vegas. Tell us a little bit about this upcoming convention and is there any other exciting NIADA events in 2023 or really exciting upcoming things on your side?

Melanie Wilson: Yeah, I'm so excited about the June show. I also love The Win, and I think it's going to be so much fun. We've been working on the agenda, pulling together speakers. I think the educational content is going to be excellent. Janet is our director of Education, and she's just got a knack for putting together really quality education and registration. I think it's already open. We're really excited about we have big goals. We've got some new things that we have coming up that we're going to roll out at the convention and kind of revise how we've done some things in the past. I think that will be exciting. I won't build a secret yet. And then we have in September our policy conference, our national policy conference in DC. And we're going back to the old format since we know we can get into Hill meetings for 23. So we'll be able to spend a day on the Hill and then also bring some really good speakers to that conference. And then we will have our fall show in November. And you asked me, and I'm totally gone blank on where and Devin and Jeremy are probably going to kill me, but we'll be rolling out all of the advertising around that in the next few months.

Zach Klempf: Awesome. Well, Melanie, congratulations. The first female CEO of the NIADA. This has been an excellent podcast. Really excited for what 2023 brings for dealers, the NIADA. And thanks so much for joining me on the podcast today.

Melanie Wilson: Thank you so much for having me. It has been great.

Tags: used car dealers automotive industry auto industry nabd used car dealer education NIADA melanie wilson 2023 predictions

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