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Airpark execs & their drive to success

The Scottsdale Airpark’s automotive sector is vibrant and multifaceted—from dealerships and detailers to auctions and education. We asked four local execs from varied parts of the auto universe to tell us about the vehicle they’re passionate about, as well as what’s new on the company front.

UTI trains technicians nationwide

CEO Kim McWaters
2014 BMW 328i Sedan
Universal Technical Institute
Corporate Headquarters
16220 N. Scottsdale Road, Suite 100
www.uti.edu

By Kimberly Hundley

Photo by Mark Susan

 

Universal Technical Institute Inc. (UTI) is a nationwide provider of technical education training for students seeking careers as professional automotive, diesel, collision repair, motorcycle and marine technicians. The publicly traded company, which is headquartered in the Airpark and has two Valley campuses, offers specialized technical education programs under the banner of several well-known brands, including Motorcycle Mechanics Institute and NASCAR Technical Institute (NTI). Graduates receive a lifelong commitment from UTI that the company will assist with career advancement. UTI also partners with many major manufacturers in the industry. CEO Kim McWaters has helmed the company for 10 years.

Tell us about this particular vehicle and why you wanted to be featured with it in front of the Penske Racing Museum.

First of all, who doesn’t love a BMW? The 2014 BMW 328i Sedan in Melbourne Red is a sleek-looking, ultimate driving machine. I wanted to be featured with a BMW vehicle because it symbolizes the importance of the BMW relationship with Universal Technical Institute and Penske Automotive Group.

Many don’t realize this, but BMW was actually our first manufacturer partner in 1995. Since then, UTI and BMW have had a strong and equally beneficial partnership. UTI has trained more than 3,000 technicians for BMW, and in return BMW has given UTI students one of the most fascinating and technology-driven manufacturer specific advanced training programs available.

What do you drive on a daily basis as your personal vehicle?

While in Europe I had the opportunity to see the new Range Rover HSE before it was unveiled in the United States. Others must have liked it too, as there was quite a long wait list. Fortunately, my friends at Penske Automotive Group helped me get the one I wanted: black on black. It is beautiful, powerful and fun to drive! It certainly is much different than my first vehicle, which was a green 1967 Volkswagen Beetle.

Do you live in North Scottsdale?

Yes, my family and I enjoy living in this area. It’s very important to me to be ingrained in the community I live in, which is why I’ve actively contributed to events supporting the American Red Cross and Fresh Start Women’s Foundation when hosted through our headquarter neighbors such as Penske Automotive Museum or Scottsdale Hangar One. Being involved in the community is truly one of the most rewarding duties of my job as CEO.

What was your first job with Universal Technical Institute and what were the duties associated with it?

I began my career with Universal Technical Institute as the company’s receptionist. I answered phone calls and greeted visitors to the campus.

What lessons did you learn from your first job that still help you today?

One of the biggest lessons I learned as a receptionist is the importance of listening. You must first listen to others before you can truly help them. Being a good listener is essential to being a good leader, colleague, friend and parent.

Receptionist to CEO is quite a rise through the ranks. How did your career evolve?

I have been at UTI for nearly 30 years. I spent the first half of my career here in various marketing and strategy roles. During the latter part of the 1990s, I was responsible for the company’s admissions and marketing. In 2000, I was named president and began to oversee our entire operation. In 2003, I became chief executive officer. Later that year, we had our initial public offering. Today, we have 11 campuses nationwide and are the leading provider of technician training for the automotive, diesel, motorcycle and marine industries. I have been extremely fortunate to work with some truly amazing people at UTI who are driven by our purpose to “Change the World” by helping others achieve their dreams.

What has been your biggest challenge at Universal Technical Institute, and how did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge always seems to center around change management. Keeping our vision, mission and core values anchored in our strong culture helps us adapt to the changing environment we do business in. It’s also challenging to balance competing ideals, such as accountability and empowerment of others; integration of new talent and innovative thinking that tests the status quo without abandoning what has made Universal Technical Institute successful; and lastly, management of Wall Street’s short-term, quarterly expectations with what is best for our business in the long term.

When did Universal Technical Institute move its headquarters to the Greater Airpark, and what do you like about the area?

We opened our doors at the new headquarters in Scottsdale in 2010, with a 76,000-square-foot office space, and we couldn’t be happier about it. We love the building and the location. The working environment was a significant upgrade for our people. We all spend so much time working, so it is wonderful to be able to provide our employees with a great work environment. And we are minutes from great restaurants and shopping.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?  

I am the proud mother of three wonderful sons: Nick, Michael and Tanner. There is no greater accomplishment than my children.

Tell us about Universal Technical Institute’s relationship with Penske.

We are so fortunate that Roger Penske has been on the Board of Universal Technical Institute since 2002. Penske Automotive Group and Penske Truck Leasing have hired hundreds of our graduates across the country. In fact, you will find some of them working at his dealerships in North Scottsdale. I joined the Board of Directors for Penske Automotive Group in 2004. This has been a great opportunity to better understand the importance of parts and service in the automotive business so that we can best prepare our graduates for their careers as technicians.

What new developments are happening right now with UTI, and what are the goals for 2014? 

In January, Universal Technical Institute’s flagship campus in Avondale will debut a comprehensive training program to help General Motors fill a nationwide shortage of professional automotive service technicians. UTI has teamed up with GM and Raytheon Professional Services to develop curriculum for a 12-week Technician Career Training program to help aspiring technicians master the latest GM automotive technologies. This news is significant given the demand for an estimated 2,500 GM service technicians per year.

We have also recently completed the launch of our new state-of-the-industry automotive and diesel curriculum at our UTI-Avondale campus. The new curriculum is a blended model that combines lecture and hands-on learning in the lab with interactive web-based programs. This curriculum is how our own industry partners train, and the combined package works together to make our graduates the most attractive employees for hiring managers to consider.

We are excited about the growing demand for technicians in the industries we serve. Our priorities in 2014 and beyond will be to find ways to make our education programs available to more students so we can help meet this demand. There is a skills gap in our country’s labor force, and we want students to be aware of the link between post-secondary education and the job opportunities that exist, along with helping them achieve their dreams by preparing them for a rewarding career.

 

Auto Salon with a Unique Twist

Frank Yaconis, owner/partner
2013 Jeep Wrangler Moab
Pre-Owned Discover Autos
15040 N. Northsight Blvd., Suite 2
480-625-0066
discoverautosonline.com

By Kimberly Hundley

An elite fleet of luxury vehicles rise from the gleaming cola-tinted cement floors of Discover Autos, glinting among the sort of chandeliers and rustic walls you’d expect to find in a winery rather than a pre-owned car dealership. But to call this intimate auto salon a “dealership” feels like a misnomer. Owner/Partner Frank Yaconis is passionate about his cars … and his wine, and at this point in his storied career, he’s decided to combine both loves and create the most unusual showroom the Airpark may have ever seen. Yaconis put in 19-plus years as an executive with Chrysler Corp, and has owned or partnered with numerous dealerships in Arizona. His family lives off East Shea Boulevard in Scottsdale, and a few months ago, he established Twisted Rose Winery and Eatery in an Airpark shopping mall north of Raintree on Northsight Boulevard. Not only does the restaurant serve as a venue to showcase the fruits of Casavino winery in Fountain Hills—which the Yaconises acquired about a year ago—it’s immediately adjacent to a former furniture store that Frank and his wife, Candy, converted into a luxury used-car salon. At night, the cars can be moved out to make room for receptions, parties, wine tastings or event gatherings, catered by Twisted Rose.

Why did you want to be featured with this vehicle from Discover’s showroom?

We specialize in unique cars that are very hard to find, and I like to think they are also cars I would personally love to drive. As a dealer, I can drive anything in the showroom if I choose, and every day, I attempt to sit in this Wrangler and take it, but it’s so nice, I don’t want to make it a mess.

What makes the Moab so special?

Moab Industries is a local company in Prescott that converts a Wrangler into an off-road machine. It’s a very high-end jeep ($47,000) that is designed to go anywhere you would possibly want to go. Because it’s so unique, it’s the only brand-new vehicle we have. You’re not going to get it through Chrysler Corp. or the open market, and we have the only one around that I know of.

So what do you drive around town now—and do you have a favorite color?

An Audi A6. It’s the right size for me, it’s fast, and it performs really well. I don’t ever keep a car long enough to worry about color, but I will tell you I am partial to light colors because they don’t show dust. A black car always looks like it needs to be washed.

You’ve been majority owner at several highly successful dealerships, and you’ve “semi-retired” at least a couple of times. What brought you back to the industry after selling Arizona Thunder Cycles and Zoom Power Sports in south Scottsdale, which you transformed from near bankruptcy in 2002 to the largest custom-motorcycle store in the country?

In 2009, I got the itch again and opened the Hyundai dealership up the street (in the Airpark), Discover Hyundai. At the same time, we opened a classic car store in south Scottsdale. We literally opened both stores on the same day. Hundai was a huge success almost immediately. I sold that to Earnhardt in 2011, and this is where I am now.

How do you describe your new Discover salon?

Discover Automotive is an upscale used-car operation designed to make customers happy with their dream cars. To me, there is nothing better than to provide something that people are really looking for but can’t afford. For example, a new Audi A8 may be out of someone’s price range at $100,000, but you can find it sitting here right now for $55,000.

How is the synchronicity working between Twisted Rose and the car salon?

Really well. People wander over from the restaurant out of curiosity, and the next thing you know, they want one of the cars. We also rent the salon space for everything from weddings to a meeting place for networking groups—we take the cars out and move them down the street, and we have a beautiful venue. Sometimes we leave the cars there during events; the networking group, for example, likes having the cars sitting around there … People enjoy looking at them, and taking pictures sitting in them.

Do you take cars on consignment?

We won’t take just any car on consignment. If it’s unique or a classic, we’ll take it. Just last night we just sold a ’67 Mustang on consignment. We only keep between 20 and 30 vehicles, so we don’t have enough room to be taking too much.

How long have you been into wine?

I started making wine when I was a kid—I was 5-6 years old. All four of my grandparents emigrated from Italy. My family lived next door to my dad’s mother and father, and his basement was a winery. I also worked at the family restaurant for years.

What is the history of your winery, Casavino, in Fountain Hills?

It’s been there for 14 years. We’ve owned it for a little bit over a year now. Gold Petal is the wine label brand, and you can only buy it here at Twisted Rose. We make wine here as well as in Fountain Hills. Both are federally licensed wineries. Twisted Rose is a winery and a wine bar, and our liquor license allows us to not only grow grapes and wholesale wine and retail our wines, but to also sell retail any other wine that we have, such as Faust or Jordan, etc.

What upcoming events at Twisted Rose should we keep an eye out for?

On Nov. 20, we have a big beer dinner going on with the owner of Lagunitas Brewing Company. In January, we have a wine dinner planned with the winemaker from Grgrich Hills Estate. Also, we’re bringing in a more Italian-oriented chef and changing up our menu in the next few weeks. n

 

Do you know where your fleet is? Ask GPS Insight

Rob Donat, founder/CEO
2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8
GPS Insight
Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road
(Henkel Building)
480-663-9454
www.gpsinsight.com

By Kimberly Hundley

GPS Insight supplies fleet-tracking software for commercial and government fleets. The fast-growing Scottsdale company utilizes high-quality GPS devices enhanced by technology and customization. Rather than spending time managing software, customers are free to focus on tracking and managing their fleets, thanks to GPS Insight’s web-based solutions that can be accessed from any computer or mobile device with Internet access 24/7. CEO and founder Rob Donat, who lives with his family in North Scottsdale, recently relocated GPS Insight headquarters to the silvery Henkel building, a familiar sight to anyone traversing the Loop 101 as it vaults over Scottsdale Road.

Why did you gravitate to the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 as your latest ride?

I needed a larger vehicle, and I am in love with that engine—470 horsepower. It’s really fast. It will pretty much beat out anything up to a Porsche Cayenne Turbo—not that I race [laughs]. And it’s the fastest car you can get without going double the price. So it’s a good value.

How was GPS Insight born?

I started it as a project in August of 2004 and as a formal LLC in April 2005.  I did database systems back in Chicago [for trading firms and dot-coms], and when I moved out here, a friend of a friend owned a trucking company and asked if I would help track his 285 trucks. I put a system together, and realized if we commercialized it, we could do well. I thought if I could sell it to 2,500 customers we’d be set. I was wrong; it would take 50,000.

Millions of dollars of development work have gone into it over the years, and it’s emerged as the technology leader in our space. We’re not the biggest—we’re kind of in the middle in terms of size—but as far as our technology goes, we blow everyone else out of the water.

Where is the company today?

We’re on track to hit $22 million in revenue this year, up from $15 million last year. The last three years—since we became profitable and debt free—our growth rate has been 30, 35 and 40 percent, year over year.

Who is your target customer?

A service or government fleet—plumbing, roofing, construction companies, and cities, counties and states all use our product. We’re able to help make dispatch more efficient, make drivers more accountable, and reduce fuel costs as well as reduce speeding and unauthorized vehicle usage.

What kind of specific information do you provide about a vehicle, other than its immediate whereabouts?

The customer sees a dashboard that shows what is going on with their fleet—who has been idling, who has been speeding, who has been using the vehicle outside of business hours or a business area. As a result, drivers can’t use a fleet vehicle to pull their boat on weekends, they can’t do side jobs with it. They have to be working the hours they say they are working. We don’t like to use the words “big brother,” but we are big brother in some ways. Most of our clients, however, use the information to streamline operations and work with drivers who aren’t necessarily hitting targets.

What are examples of how customers use the info?

Our customers all have different priorities, but most of them save money by curbing idling, ensuring driver accountability, proving service to customers, and by becoming more efficient overall.  Occasionally, we help you find a vehicle that has been stolen, and if you have odd-hours alerts set up, oftentimes the police can recover the vehicle before it’s been stripped and also make an arrest.

How much does your service cost?

We cost about the same as driving two miles per day—about a $1 a day for each vehicle. The return is off the charts. Let’s say we cost $35 a month; typically, we probably save the average customer $150.

How many trucks does the typical client have?

When we first started, our first customer was two mobile-shredding trucks; our largest customer now is 4,000 trucks. The majority these days tend to be in the 50-to-200-truck range, but we still have those with one to five trucks.

How has GPS tracking grown in general over the last 10 years?

The technology is now inexpensive and reliable enough for this to be a viable and unquestionably good decision for a company to make. And right now, there is still only about 25 percent adoption, which means one out of four fleets has an advantage on the others. Sooner or later everyone is going to start playing catch-up. I would say now GPS tracking is sort of where cell phone usage was in 1998. At some point, it will be a common requirement that trucks are tracked.

What differentiates you from other players in your field?

Because my background comes from the high-tech industry and our competitors tend to come from automotive and trucking and telecom, wireless/cellular backgrounds, we’ve got a different technology focus. Our competitors tend to be very static, but we do a lot of customizations quickly, allowing customers to adapt our product to their costly business challenges and ensure a return on investment.

What kind of feedback do you get from your customers?

Every vertical market has different pain points, but the overwhelming comment I hear from new customers is “Why did I wait so long?” Most customers prior to purchasing GPS tracking think of it as an expense; once they’ve implemented it, they realize they save so much, the expense is an afterthought—as well as a free insurance policy. Sooner or later, something bad will happen, whether it’s an accident, a theft of a vehicle or an internal theft, a lawsuit, or a billing dispute. Having all that history helps in a way that insurance can’t—from proving hours spent at a worksite to quick discovery and tracking of a stolen vehicle before it is too late.

In October, you moved from your offices at Deer Valley and Scottsdale roads to what is likely the Airpark’s highest-profile modern structure, the Henkel North America building, designed by famed architect Will Bruder and owned by the Germany-based company that acquired Dial Corp in 2004. Tell us about your move.

At the rate we are growing, we would have been out of space in our existing offices in two months. We signed a seven-year lease and took three times the amount of space, ensuring we have lots of room to grow into for future hires. We have about 50 employees and expect to double staff in the next year and a half.

It’s a beautiful building. What are some of the shared amenities?

We have a 150-person training stadium, a cafeteria, rooftop garden, gym, and three levels of underground parking. Henkel consolidated its people on the first three floors, and we are leasing most of the fourth floor. We have lots of offices with windows. Henkel wanted one company to share the building with them, and we were a perfect fit for each other.

What kinds of employees will you be hiring?

Primarily salespeople, as well as programmers, business-development folks, tech-support people and more administration as we grow. Our accounting staff is about to go from three to eight people. n

 

Details matter at Pit Stop

Marcus Morton, founder
2013 Volkswagen GTI
Pit Stop Auto Detailing and Storage
15015 N. 74th St., Suite 115
480-584-6115
azdetailing.com

By Marjorie Rice

When exotic and vintage cars need a wash, their owners don’t run them through the nearest automated service. Instead, these rolling works of art are pampered with elite detailing, where every nook and cranny is meticulously cleaned by hand, and the paint and trim are polished to a mirror finish. That’s just one of the services offered at Pit Stop Auto Detailing, established in 2007 by Marcus Morton. Owners also can store their collectible automobiles at the secure Airpark facility. And if an owner doesn’t want to bring the car to Pit Stop, the company’s mobile wash and detail service comes to them—putting a shine on million-dollar babies or the family SUV.

You drive a 2013 Volkswagen GTI, rated No. 1 among 2013 upscale small cars by U.S. News and World Report. What attracted you to this model?

It’s kind of a “gearhead” version of the Volkswagen—sporty, peppy, fun to drive—and it’s popular with car enthusiasts. I just love the car.

What was the first car you owned?

It was a 2000 Jeep Wrangler Sport. I bought it when I lived in Seattle. I’ve always liked four-wheeling and being outdoors, and this car has an open environment.

How did you make the move from Seattle to Scottsdale?

I moved down here seven years ago to open up some new Starbucks stores and work as a store manager. I started the auto detailing business as a side job. At that time it was exclusively a mobile service. I saw a niche in the automobile detailing market and thought, you know, I can always go back and work at Starbucks, so I took a leap and went out on my own.

That’s definitely a leap—coffee to cars.

Cars always have been a passion of mine. I grew up around engines and I’ve always had a love for the automobile. It’s a similar world to coffee—people gather over coffee and they gather over cars.

Why did you choose the Airpark?

North Scottsdale, with its high-end dealerships and events like the Barrett-Jackson Auction, is a good center point for the automotive industry. With our storage and detailing, we felt it was an ideal space to attract customers and to serve as a base for dispatching our mobile services. We’ve always been in the Airpark, but our first facility was always meant to be temporary. We moved to our current facility almost four years ago.

Tell us more about that mobile service.

Many of our customers are doctors and other professionals, and company presidents and CEOs. Time is money for them. Also, they’re very busy, and when they do have free time they’d rather spend it with their families or just relaxing than at our business. We send mobile teams all over the Valley, as far as Ahwatukee and Chandler, Glendale and Peoria. Our mobile unit also will set up service at country clubs, so members can play golf or suntan while their cars are washed and detailed.

How do the area Barrett-Jackson and Russo and Steele car auctions affect your business?

Tremendously. I have a team who takes care of many auto collections onsite at the various auctions. For example, the Blackhawk Collection, one of the biggest sellers of high-value automobiles in the world, hired us as their exclusive car-care company for the Barrett-Jackson Auction. Some of those cars sell for more than $1 million, and detailing for those cars is definitely money well spent.

Our customers appreciate the fact that we have a storage and auction prep facility located in the vicinity of auction week in January. They drop off the cars, and we deliver them to the auction

When did you add car storage for customers?

We started out as mobile, and storage was added when we had our first facility, in 2009. Moving forward, much of our 9,500-square-foot facility will be dedicated to our automotive storage of vintage, exotic and classic cars. We offer an environment that is safe and secure, with our expert staff on site, which sets us apart from the typical auto storage facility.

What else sets you apart in the “detail” department?

There are detail guys who make things look nice, and then there are guys like us. We know how to remove scratches and finish paint to a gleaming shine typically found only at a specialty detail shop like ours. We offer services from a standard wash to detailing and cosmetic repairs and specialized coatings that can protect paint from micro-scratches, dulling and sun damage. We’re the only Arizona auto detailer to be featured in the online duPont Registry (dupontregistry.com). The registry focuses on luxury products including automobiles. It says we provide “auto detailing at the highest level,” and “world-class service.” That pretty much says it all.

How many employees do you have?

We have eight employees, primarily full-time, and we’re looking to hire more. Our team has been key to our growth. Their commitment to quality, service and high standards has allowed us to gain the trust of our customers and establish new relationships.

Much of our success has been due to Jackie Duncan in particular, who has been a just tremendous part of our team. Jackie used to work with me at a Starbucks store that I managed. He was my key employee at Starbucks, and when I left to start the detailing business, he asked if I needed help running it. I took him up on the offer and today, here we are.

Tell us about your business plans for 2014. 

We have grown rapidly in the last three years. Next year, we’re going to expand our current offerings, and work on developing relationships with more collectors and possibly a second location. Primarily it’s going to be a time for us to consolidate and strengthen our existing business.