A Bolder, Safer Future

Recently, I was honored with the NAAA 2019 Hall of Fame Award. Below is my acceptance speech, in which I challenge the industry to leverage modern new technologies to stop running cars and help build a bolder, safer future.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. And thank you to the National Auto Auction Association for this great honor.

So, where do I begin? How do you compile a list of “thank yous” spanning more than four decades in the auction business? The smart answer is, you don’t. It’s impossible. 

I’ve been incredibly blessed and fortunate to work alongside so many wonderful people—many of whom are sitting in this room. To every employee I’ve ever worked with—thank you. To every customer I’ve ever represented—thank you. To all of my competitors who caused me to rise early and go to bed late—thank you, too. Most of all, thank you to my wonderful family for their unconditional love and support.

Throughout my career, I’ve had many great role models and mentors—people who took me under their wing—people who guided me through an incredible series of events that took me from a small village in Ontario, Canada to selling nearly six million cars last year.

And all I can say is—I’m incredibly grateful to each of you for always pushing me to be a better leader, a better partner and a better person. I’m quick to acknowledge that I’ve never accomplished anything on my own. So while I humbly accept this award, I’m very proud to share it with all of you.  

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The longer I work, the more I’m asked, “what do you want your legacy to be?” Well, I’d like people to think of me as an honest and compassionate leader who truly cares—and as someone who’s always willing to do whatever it takes for his employees and customers.

But more than anything, I want to be known for my dedication to safety. I’ve told this story many times before—but not long after opening my first auction in Ottawa, Canada, an auction accident nearly killed one of my best childhood friends.

It was devastating for me personally and professionally.

“How did this happen? What could I have done differently?” Those questions have stayed with me throughout my career and fueled my obsession for safety.

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I’ve always pushed KAR to be the leader in safety—to work as hard on safety as we do any other priority. We’ve implemented many innovative physical and operational improvements that have helped reduce accidents in our lanes.

But like my career, we haven’t gotten here alone. The industry has come a long way together. There’s a strong and growing dialogue about how we can work together—not as competitors, but as partners—to make auctions safer.

There is also heightened awareness around safety across the industry due to the Safe T. Sam program. Six years ago, we created Safe T. Sam to promote a culture of safety in every auction location. All 15,000 KAR employees take the training each year; that’s an investment of 300,000 hours each year to protect our people and our customers. And because of it, our total injury rate has dropped significantly.

But I never viewed safety as a competitive differentiator; to me it’s always been a shared responsibility. So we quickly partnered with NAAA to expand the program. Now, more than 82% of NAAA member auctions have completed Safe T. Sam training. That’s more than 60,000 auction employees across North America.

Safe T. Sam has also made his way to Europe and he’s quickly learning a number of new languages for our international employees. And I’m very proud to say that over the last year, we began working with customers to extend Safe T. Sam training to their employees who attend our auctions.

These are all very positive trends and we certainly hope they continue to gain momentum. But unfortunately, our industry still has a fatality every 18 months. Not an injury—a fatality.

So as I see it, no matter how much we train, no matter how much we innovate—auctions will never be as safe as they could be.

Unless we stop running cars.

That’s the challenge I want to leave you with today. Auctions, consignors, dealers—all of us: let’s stop running cars altogether. And I mean that as two words: all together. 

Because it will take the commitment and support of this entire industry to change our history—and our future—and to do what’s necessary and what’s right to protect our employees, our customers and their families.

I know there are people in the industry who don’t share my opinion. But I believe that if we don’t do this ourselves, it’s only a matter of time before it is legislated and we are told to do it. And then, we will have no choice.

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We know this is possible. We’ve seen it in the salvage industry for many years. Moving cars isn’t a necessity; it’s really just a habit, and one we need to break.

If you looked back ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible because of the limited technology at the time. But new digital technologies and the power of data are transforming how we think about safety and our business.

At KAR, more than 54% of our volume last year was sold to digital, mobile and online buyers. These buyers never touched those cars before buying them. So really, we’ve only got 46% to go.

In a digital world, the car can still be taken to the auction—or it could be parked anywhere. It can still be serviced and reconditioned. And if dealers want to see and touch the car—they can do it.

But then they can sit in the comfort, and safety, of virtual lanes to buy them. The atmosphere doesn’t change—we’ve proven it. It’s the same energy and the same action—with a live auctioneer and the same head-to-head bidding our buyers and sellers love.

Once again, 54% of our buyers are already doing it. Two years ago, ADESA Boston hosted our first VirtuaLane® sale. And now, 30 of our auctions are equipped with VirtuaLane technology. So today, we have 10 commercial consignors, one fleet and one dealer group that are no longer running cars across the block.

Now, we’re not alone—we know many of our competitors are advancing similar strategies including some auctions that are now running 100% digital. And while I can’t speak to everyone’s results—believe me, if it wasn’t working, our customers would let us know!

My point is that auctions have the tools, the technology, and the data to prove this can be done—and should be done.

Now, we just need to do it.  

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Thank you again for this honor. It really does mean a lot to me—and so do all of you.

So you have my continuing commitment that I will not rest until we’ve made the auction business as safe as we can. If we can prevent even one more injury or save one more life, then I think it’s worth every penny and every second of our efforts.

Let’s make the commitment. Let’s make the change. Let’s do what’s right. And let’s do everything we can to protect people.

Thank you very much.

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