It was the summer of 2004, and our founder, Edward J. Bobit, had just landed at LAX after his annual pilgrimage to Hawaii. Anyone who knew Ed knows that, if the office was still open when he returned from a trip, he would come in. So I wasn’t surprised when he appeared at my office door, still decked out in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and said, “Coach, I have some exciting news.”
This was even less of a surprise. Hawaii was a sort of think tank for Ed. During the week, high-placed friends from the automotive fleet and dealer segments would come and go, often pitching new ideas for the magazines over fine food, drink, and cigars. In 2004, the main item on the agenda was compliance.
Ever heard the song “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”? Well, Ed Bobit was compliance when compliance wasn’t cool. From that fateful day forward, he insisted that every Industry Summit (then known as the F&I Conference) include sessions dedicated to regulatory compliance, particularly as it pertains to the F&I process.
The next show was only months away, so Ed went to work. Two phone calls later, he had a commitment from Jeff McGrath, then a deputy district attorney for California and the prosecutor for Los Angeles County, to be our keynote speaker. You might remember McGrath as the man who led the case against Gunderson Chevrolet.
Three more calls brought attorneys Jim Ganther, Terry O’Loughlin (then a regulator in the service of the Florida attorney general), and Gil Van Over, who was among the industry’s few full-time compliance trainers and consultants at the time. Each committed to presenting a session or moderating a panel discussion. Ed called them his “Compliance Posse.”
The posse grew in size and returned the following year for a four-hour, pre-conference event, and the room was packed. Compliance was a topic everyone wanted to learn about. If you were in business in 2006, you know what happened next: The economy boomed, sales spiked, and, despite a rash of high-profile enforcement actions, interest in compliance waned.
For the next several shows, our compliance experts spoke to half-empty rooms while the sales and F&I trainers played to standing room-only crowds. The compliance articles we ran in F&I and Showroom failed to draw much traffic. I was disappointed. Ed was crushed. But he refused to give up.
Fast-forward a couple years, past the housing bubble, the Great Recession, and the formation of the CFPB. Compliance was cool again, and we were ready. We began laying the foundation for Compliance Summit in 2012, launched it in Miami in November of 2014, and continued on to stops in Chicago, Austin, Tampa, and Las Vegas.
From the outset, we wanted to have a certification component. We went through a series of false starts with several vendors, only to find a solution with a member of the original posse.
For our most recent event, held at Paris Las Vegas as part of Industry Summit in August, Van Over put together a generous package that allowed us to offer Automotive Compliance Education certification to all our attendees at no additional cost. We will continue to partner with ACE to offer certification (which also requires annual recertification) for sales and F&I professionals, chief compliance officers, and product specialists to all Compliance Summit, Industry Summit, and Agent Summit attendees going forward.
I hope you have the opportunity to visit one of our shows and earn your certification. All I ask in return is that you remember my friend, Ed Bobit, who departed this world a few months before the Miami event. He stuck with compliance even when it wasn’t a good business decision. He felt it was the responsibility of the publications. He really was compliance when compliance wasn’t cool, and it didn’t bother him a bit.