New TORA Select Committee Leadership

SEMA Member News—September/October 2011 

New TORA Select Committee Leadership

George Lathouris of Keystone Automotive Operations has assumed the chair position of TORA. 
TORA chose Melanie White of Hellwig Products as its new chair-elect. 
Kelly Kneifl’s term as Truck and Off-Road Alliance (TORA) chairman ended in the spring, and George Lathouris of Keystone Automotive Operations assumed the chair position. Earlier in the year, TORA chose Melanie White of Hellwig Products as the new chair-elect. SEMA Member News caught up with each of these busy truck-accessory professionals to ask them about their plans for the next two years.

SEMA Member News: What is your history in the industry and in TORA?

George Lathouris: I have 33 years in the aftermarket. I started with American Specialty in the late ’70s and worked at Dick Cepek in the early ’90s, Lund/Deflecta Shield in the late ’90s and have been with Keystone Automotive Operations since 1999. My experience over the years spans most facets of our industry—warehouse, operations, sales, advertising, marketing and category management. I started on the TORA in 2004 after being recruited by Charley Holden, Ron DiVincenzo (both past chairmen) and Steve Bolio.

Melanie White: I’ve been fortunate to grow up around the industry and the enthusiasm for trucks and off-roading, but my career actually started in 2005. A failed attempt to run a French bakery out of college led me to start my career at Hellwig. I always wanted to work for Hellwig, and my job search was perfect timing, since the company was in need of an outside salesperson. I fell for the industry instantly. The passion and energy are contagious, and I sometimes forget that what I’m doing is “work.”

Anne Johnson introduced me to TORA early in my career. We had been connected through the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network mentor program. Anne was the SEMA Board of Directors liaison to TORA at the time, and I was able to accompany her to many of the networking events and my first long-range planning meeting. I instantly knew that I wanted to be more involved with the group. In 2008, I ran and was elected to the Select Committee.

SMN: What do you see as priorities for TORA this year?

GL: I have three very distinct priorities for the coming year. The first is training. We must get our supplier community to participate in our efforts to provide meaningful training modules to provide to our retailer and distributor menus. We also need to increase our membership by 20%, and we must ramp up our social media efforts and increase TORA fan-page exposure by no less than 1,000.

MW: My task throughout my time on the Select Committee has been communication, and this continues to be a top priority. We’ve got a lot of great projects and minds at work, and I want to make sure the rest of the membership is fully aware of all the programs we have to offer. I’m pleased at how we’ve grown our measures of communication in the last year. Our Facebook page has been a great platform for open communication with our members, and I’ve been so proud of how the TORA team has grown it.

SMN: What are your priorities as TORA chairperson, George? What specific things do you want to accomplish?

GL: Make meaningful contributions to our chosen charity benefactors—SEMA Cares/Childhelp and the
Victory Junction Camp. Provide new and updated tools and events for our membership to plug into to grow their businesses. Develop and execute more thorough communication of our efforts and benefits to our membership community.

SMN: In this current economic crunch, why should companies join SEMA and TORA?

GL: The slow economic recovery that our country is experiencing must be recognized. Our industry is strong and has weathered difficult times for decades. Companies in our industry can grow at a faster rate than the greater economy when sincere efforts are made by all to provide useful tools and services to the aftermarket community. Instead of depending on the usual suspects, new businesses need to bring their innovative ideas to the table in order to benefit the industry.

No individual has all the answers, but when new companies contribute, their ideas can be brought to the leadership team and prioritized to develop effective solutions to members who want to grow their businesses. By increasing membership, we will increase our knowledge with these new ideas. When they are prioritized and executed, they will ultimately give all members the pertinent products, intelligence and tools to grow.

MW: I feel that it’s crucial during this economy to stay connected with SEMA and TORA. There are many programs to help businesses, and many opportunities to network, whatever end you are on. I’m amazed at how open this industry is about sharing successes and failures to help one another.

SMN: Is there anything else you would like to emphasize?

MW: Kelly Kneifl set a great example as chair for the last two years. He worked very hard for TORA. Thanks, Kelly, for your dedication. Now I look forward to the next two years working closely with George and supporting him as chair. He’s a no-BS guy who gets the job done! I’m also proud to be working with such a strong group of volunteers on the TORA Select Committee. It’s going to be a good year for TORA.