After an eight and half year absence and 28 years after he first came to Meritor, Joe Mejaly has returned. This time he is vice president of the Meritor's North American aftermarket operation. He talked with HDT about what’s changed at the company, the challenges the aftermarket is facing and about the lessons he learned in between his stints at Meritor.
HDT: You spent the first 28 years of your career at Meritor and now you’re back. What has it been like coming back to the place you started?
Mejaly: There was something here at Meritor that I was involved with from an early age. It is the heavy-duty industry which I am so fond of and the allure to come back and bring some of the additional learnings I have had at both Axle Tech and Denso was appealing to me. I felt like I could make a difference here and that is probably the biggest reason why I came back.
Q: You were gone for eight-and-a-half years, what’s changed at Meritor in that time?
Mejaly: That is an interesting question. I think Meritor has really embraced the need to prepare themselves for future technology. We have made some significant investments both in human resources and in capital to position ourselves for the coming of electrification. As is the case in most industries — and specifically the automotive one that I came from — is that if you are not involved today, it will be very difficult to play catch up. A company’s entire infrastructure is predicated on a combustion engine concept — your engineering, your plants, your equipment all predicated on the combustion engine. And that needs to change to move to electrification. You have to get to a transition point in your company to prepare for electrification. I think Meritor has really leaned forward with a good idea and design and we actually have some vehicles performing exceptionally well already. From an aftermarket perspective, the company has always really looked at the aftermarket with a strong sense of purpose. It is not a company that looks at the aftermarket as a second-class citizen. Since I have been back, the energy level to grow and meet our customers’ expectations is as important and as central as it was eight and half years ago.
Q: Are there lessons you learned while at Axle Tech and Denso — the places you worked between your two stints at Meritor — that you can leverage in your new position at Meritor?
Mejaly: That is kind of my secret sauce that you are asking about. Each one of the companies I worked for had a culture. Axle Tech and Denso both have cultures and ways of doing things that were new to me. I picked up things along the way on how that made those two companies successful. I would say that you are always picking and choosing as you go through life on what works for you. What I can say about those two positions is I was really able to pick up some good knowledge that will be beneficial to Meritor.
Q: That was pretty evasive, Joe.
Mejaly: It is a difficult question because it makes the assumption that Meritor is not doing some of the things that I learned. For example, at Denso, the Japanese culture runs a business differently, and the process discipline that is in that business prepares you for the execution. The Kaizen development, the data driven decision making, the endless planning cycle make it so when you get to the execution of whatever you are looking at doing it becomes a lot more efficient. In my earlier years, I might not have been as patient as I am today.
Q: Talk about your new position and your responsibilities.
Mejaly: My position is vice president of North American aftermarket. In the North American blueprint, we have three distribution facilities and one major remanufacturing facility. We service all different market segments. We take care of the OEMs, but the OEMs in the military side, the government sector, the off-highway business, the transit business, and then we work closely with dealers and distributors throughout the blueprint and some specialty businesses as well.
Q: Trucking is in the midst of dealing with some serious disruptive forces, including electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles and serious parts shortages. How do you see these disrupters impacting the truck parts aftermarket?
Mejaly: It is not just the truck parts aftermarket. I don't think that there is an industry out there that is not suffering through these economic times. Going back to the end of March 2020 where everything began to get shut down. The phrase I used was, “I have never seen this before.” The business dynamics that it threw at us meant we needed to use all background to try to manage through it. Then we get to today’s world where I again am saying, “I have never seen this before.” Every element of our supply chain is under stress whether that is raw materials, ports, cargo ships, planes, ports of entry, labor. It is quite the model to work yourself through. We are starting to look at things from an end-to-end perspective. We look at how product is going to flow from one end to the other because if you try to do it from a functional perspective you are just going to create another problem at the next stage. We are trying to work the end to end to be as efficient as we possibly can and try to not disappoint our customers. But it is a challenge.
I think electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles are more of an evolution. They are disruptive technologies, but are not something that is going to hit us next month. However, it is important that companies plan for those things, invest in those things now.
Q: Are you seeing other trends or issues that the aftermarket is facing?
Mejaly: This is somewhat similar to the questions you would ask in the automotive space in that the market is going to have to adapt to a different type of vehicle. The OEs are creating a more sophisticated truck, with a lot more computer elements involved with diagnostics and the running of the vehicles themselves. The industry has to be able to embrace the mechanics’ side of this new technology. How does this change how I work on a vehicle? What equipment and diagnostics do I need? What type of information is going to be required? It is really interesting because when changes like this happen to a vehicle you get new energized suppliers coming up with solutions. But solutions or no solutions it comes down to the distributors, dealers and repair garages being ready to make that investment and change.
Q: From your vantage point, do you think they are doing that?
Mejaly: From an OE perspective it is going to require dealerships to make large investments, but I think they have the scale to make those investments and they have the support of the parent company to help them with that investment. The distributor is going to need that kind of support. But I also think culturally there are going to need to start to adapt and adjust to these new types of vehicles. However, never underestimate the entrepreneur. An entrepreneur always thinks about things from a little different angle that tends to be very beneficial to them.
Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew during your first stint at Meritor?
Mejaly: Well, you are kind of saying have I learned anything at 61 that I did not know at 35? Is that what you are asking me? I sure hope so.
Q: What do you see for the future for Meritor’s aftermarket business?
Mejaly: There are a couple of different components if I am thinking internally. I see a lot more automation in our facilities, a lot more efficiency in how we plan, how we pick, pack and ship, and how we deliver. Ultimately what we expect all that to deliver for us is higher level of service to the customer. At the end of the day, it does not matter how long you have been in this business, whether you are 35 or 61, the model still says how well can you service your customer? We invest heavily in an internet portal; we are bringing more and more tool sets for the customer to make that portal more than an order entry and a cross reference spot. We want to sustain our brand equity. Our brand has a lot of blood, sweat and tears in it over years and years. Whether you call us Rockwell International, Arvin Meritor, or Meritor that box has a lot of blood, sweat in tears in it in terms of how we service customers on a new vehicle and how we service customers in the aftermarket. It is not just a part that is in that box because it is a high-quality part; that is our expectation, but it is what Meritor means when someone buys that box. When we invest in our business, we are hoping to bring the aftermarket technology ahead of the curve. That is one of the things I was able to see in the automotive space — how automation can change the perspective of your business and how it can enhance your service levels to the customer.
Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing your aftermarket business and your customers?
Mejaly: There is consolidation taking place. The entrepreneur is competing against corporations that have distribution arms, and we have product coming in from overseas that has varying degrees of quality standards. However, we have been dealing with these things for years. These are not new challenges. You can consume yourself by trying to think about all the other variables that will nip at your heels. You can think about all the small competitors, you can think about all the elements that might be disruptive but at the end of the day, my opinion has always been “come get us.” We are not going to be sidetracked, we are not going to change what we do, we want to do it better and faster. I think we will be adding some product down the road that will be an enhancement. I think we will restructure ourselves to better service different segments of our market.
Q: When I interviewed you while you were at Denso you said, “Heavy-duty is something that gets in your blood. It is an area of our business where personal relationships mean something.” Do you still think that is true?
Mejaly: I do and the amount of emails and text message that I got coming back to Meritor was humbling. It just reinforces my belief that relationships are still important in this business. We can put long contracts together and cross every T and dot every I — those are necessary in business as you know. But at the end of the day, you look somebody in the eye and that is really where you get your confidence. Is it in your heart and are you committed? In our industry that is still the important signature on any agreement. It is funny how the heavy-duty business still functions that way. It is one of the pleasures of being involved in it.