Greg Freeman - From January / February 1996

Taking The ARA Helm

How many times -- say, in the last 12 months -- have you heard President Clinton, a prominent member of Congress, or some legislative aide use the phrase "We have to work together" somewhere in the vast framework of the national media? It seems to be at least, what, ten, fifteen thousand times? And how many times do you think they actually meant it? One hundred times? Ten times? Never? It stands to reason that if more people worked together, more would get done.

In this ever-more-partisan (and petty) political atmosphere, the underlying social contract between the government and the citizen has become incredibly strained under the weight of non-stop bickering, back-stabbing and name-calling. It's hard for a lot of people in this country to fathom the concept of a body of elected officials that actually caters to the needs of its constituency.

Does this phenomenon transpire anymore, anywhere in this country?

Sure it does ... in the Automotive Recyclers Association. And the Association's president wants to maintain and strengthen that sense of trust between dismantlers and ARA's elected officials.

ARA President Greg Freeman, of Greg Freeman's Auto Salvage Center in Joplin, Mo., professes a need for his office to remain open and accessible to ARA members across the country. Members throughout the industry and across the country need to have an open line of communication to share thoughts and ideas with the ARA leadership. That, Freeman says, is how good government does business and how it remains in good standing with its constituents.

"I know that myself and the six executive officers all work together as a team," Freeman said from his office in Joplin. "We're in daily and weekly contact with one another and with members of ARA nationwide. It's not just 'Greg Freeman, President;' it's the executive committee and members of ARA, as well."

This time-tested concept of teamwork has been a cornerstone for Freeman's presidency. Adherence to teamwork - between industry members nationwide and ARA executives and officers - will do nothing but empower the automotive dismantling and recycling industry in this new year and into the 21st Century.

Keeping those lines of communication open and building on a strong legacy of leadership most definitely keeps ARA officials busy. Needless to say, Freeman has had plenty to do since officially succeeding Bob Griggers as president at the annual ARA Convention in Tampa, Fla., last October. An assortment of phone calls and meetings keep him on the move. But Freeman knew enough to be sure to hit the presidential ground running last fall.

"Busy? Yes! I actually got started a month prior (to the convention) when I started working closely with Bob Griggers," he said. "It's so fast-paced. Some things change quickly and daily. It's a full-time, gratifying job."

Gratification is a vital component of any job, especially a full-time endeavor with the numerous responsibilities and duties that the ARA presidency demands. For Freeman, accepting the office provided not only a sense of gratification, but also immense feelings of pride and gratitude that culminated last fall at the annual ARA Convention in Tampa.

"It was overpowering to stand before my peers on Saturday night at the (ARA Convention) banquet, knowing they instilled their trust in me to represent the industry as they would represent the industry. I see this as a opportunity to return a small portion of the help that has been given to me in the past," he said.

Freeman attributes a great deal of his success to former business partners and long-time friends Junior and Dirk Van Gorp, who, with Freeman, founded Greg Freeman's Auto Center just outside of Joplin in southern Missouri. Greg Freeman's Auto Salvage Center has now expanded to encompass over 30 acres of yard space and 24,000 square feet of warehouse space, a far cry from Freeman's small two-acre yard in Carthage, Mo., where he got his start in the industry. Freeman has since bought out the Van Gorps' share of the business.

The Van Gorps also got Freeman involved with ARA. What began as a growing interest in the Association has, over a 20-year period, bloomed into the ARA presidency for Freeman. He was struck by the industry's size and stature when he attended his first show.

"I was in total awe," Freeman said of his initial trip to an ARA (at the time ADRA) show in 1976. "(The Van Gorps) met me at the door and led me through the show all week. I was excited about all there was at the show, but there were so many things to encompass at that first meeting. It was like going to the ballpark and being in the middle of the field with the stands full. It took me a couple of shows to really get comfortable."

Freeman grew up next door to Dirk and Junior Van Gorp in Oskaloosa, Iowa. (Van Gorp's Used Cars & Parts is still based in Oskaloosa, a town of approximately 11,000 located about 60 miles southeast of Des Moines) That lifelong bond allowed the Van Gorps to bring Freeman into the ARA fold and expose him to all the Association had to offer.

That commitment to the Association and all it can provide -- especially for new members, Freeman says, is what makes the ARA body of members so special.

"You know, I see that kind of thing all the time with ARA people," Freeman said. "The first-time attendees to the ARA shows will have a blue or red dot on their name tag. And there are people that have been to several shows and seminars, like myself, who seek out first-time people like that and take them under their wing for the week."

Beginning with that first show 20 years ago, Freeman immersed himself in ARA and in what it had to offer dismantlers like him.

"I soaked up all the trade shows and seminars I could," he recalled. "It's been a slow transition from that to where I am now. Now, we're so busy taking care of business -- myself and the ARA board and officials -- if I get to sit in on half a seminar, I'm lucky."

And luckily for Freeman, who started rebuilding wrecked cars in 1970 and started selling parts in '75 ("We figured out you could make more money by taking apart the cars and selling them a part at a time."), the overall expertise of his company's staff has allowed him the flexibility to devote the proper attention to his presidential duties.

"I'm very fortunate to have an excellent team of employees," Freeman said proudly of his staff of 16. "I know they can sustain the business and this allows me to work with dismantlers from across the country."

And it's the constant communication with ARA members that Freeman regards as one of the most important facets of his presidency.

"It's very exciting, and it's an opportunity to meet a lot of people," he said. "I look forward to the opportunity to meet members at affiliate chapter meetings."

Like any industry leader, Freeman has an agenda and a laundry list of goals to accomplish in his term. In this high-tech information age, it's not surprising that Freeman wants to move the automotive recycling and dismantling industry towards a greater understanding and increased use of electronic and inter-industry communication. And make no mistake, innovations like e-mail are not here-today, gone-tomorrow prospects.

"If people think this new era is a fad, then we should say that computers were a fad. That's not true. These things are here to say," said a determined Freeman. "Business gets faster paced every day. Auto-related industries must communicate with each other faster to keep pace."

But it takes time to bring a nationwide mass of people like the automotive dismantling and recycling industry into a new age and an entirely new system of electronic communication. (While an estimated 30 million people are connected to the much-ballyhooed Internet, that number still falls woefully short of the world's population of over five billion.) Freeman feels it will take the composite effort of a united industry to push the new communications efforts to the forefront.

"I guess as individuals we can't get the job done. As an association we're strong in numbers. The membership needs to work closely together," he said. A number of dismantlers and other organizations closely associated with the industry have taken the first steps of setting up home pages on the World Wide Web and establishing Internet e-mail (electronic mail) addresses. These new computer tools have the advantage of making a business accessible 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

Hopefully, thinks Freeman, this improved communication through the use of modern technology will push the industry closer to his third goal: working together for the good of the industry and the good of the membership. This is especially important now that the auto recycling industry is joining forces with other members of the automotive family to promote the importance and viability of automotive recycling to the general public.

"In the United States, auto manufacturers are working closely with auto recyclers toward a 100 percent recyclable vehicle," Freeman said, noting the Vehicle Recycling Consortium set up two years ago by "The Big 3" automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. This proactivity and emphasis on recycling can only help dismantlers in the eyes of the public."

With the heightened emphasis on environmentalism and an increasing awareness of the value of recycling, Freeman sees these factors as an important link between the automotive dismantling and recycling industry and potential wholesale customers.

"It's good public relations and it will help us sell more used parts," said Freeman "I can see the market increasing in the wholesale area. The industry is working closer with wholesale customers, namely insurance companies and the auto collision repair industry. Insurance companies are working towards increasing the amount of LKQ (Like Kind Quality) parts on estimates because they realize the cost savings."

The retail market is proving to be a little more dicey for dismantlers, thanks to the advanced technology going into the modern automobile.

"The retail trade is more difficult to maintain because of the sophistication of our automobiles," Freeman said. "Now, they're basically computers on wheels."

In other words, as the modern adage goes, "they don't make 'em to work on anymore." Gone are the days when any shade tree mechanic can attack a repair job on his or her late-model vehicle armed only with a crescent wrench and a screwdriver. Unless you have a diagnostic computer or an extensive knowledge of plastic body panels, you're better off taking your car to an expert.

Aside from his salvage business and his ARA presidency, Freeman manages to find time to raise Longhorn cattle with his wife, Shirley, and their two sons, Chad, 21, and Matt, 19. Freeman also enjoys team-roping with his two boys, although he's had to curtail his roping schedule now that he's assumed the ARA presidency.

"I'm going to have to take a break from roping for about a year," he said. Chad and Matt rope in a four-state area while Greg sticks to local arenas. "We've got an arena in the back yard to practice in when time allows and when we're all home at the same time," he added.

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