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April 12, 2022

YANG from the Beginning: A Farewell to one of YANG's Founders

by Cotter Collins

We turn to mentors because they’ve been there, they’ve lived it, and they’re a wealth of knowledge.

Who better for a YANG member to look to for sage advice than our founding members? Michael Rukov, Alena van Cleve, and Ryan Samuels are the industry professionals we have to thank for YANG. This issue’s mentor highlight is YANG in their own words. The idea that got it started, how it grew, and where we are today. Michael Rukov wrote the following, along with Alena and Ryan. As Michael “ages out”, the YANG Council can’t thank him enough and hope that we’re doing him proud carrying the torch. Sad as it is to lose YANG members, we’re excited to gain mentors who’ve truly been there!!

Michael Rukov Group Shot 2 - AAPEX 2017
Michael Rukov, RepWorks Marketing
On March 17th of this year I am retired from the beloved organization I co-founded in 2013. Boy, this was a wild and fun run, but all good things come to an end, so that new chapters can begin and a new generation of leaders can inject their own vision into the future. I cannot be prouder of what YANG has become and what it means to the industry at large. I can honestly say that if YANG is not the biggest achievement of my career it is definitely near the top.

Let us reminisce on some of the things that happened to this amazing group to get it where it is today and let us try to understand why it has been so successful for so many years: 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away
a young Russian Jewish human person rough around the edges walked into a bar. With his thick Russian accent, he declared: “We Shell Change the Future of Our Industry and we Shell Call it ‘YANG’.” Immediately, people at the bar turned to face him: the majority left the building as fast as they could say “Aftermarket”, but some decided to stick around because they did not understand what he said. Enter: Alena Van Cleave, Ryan Samuels, and Chase Baxley.  

Alena Van Cleave
Alena Van Cleave
Alena Van Cleave from A & Jay Automotive Warehouse:

“Michael and I met during the Fall Leadership Conference in 2012 as participants of the Next Step Program. At this point, almost every council was made up of industry veterans all asking the same question - ‘who is going to take our jobs?’ Michael and I both left that conference moved by the work the association does and inspired to develop a solution to fill this growing need. 

We began to conceptualize a group that would bring together our industry’s next generation of leaders and facilitate both networking and professional development. What really began as a Facebook page and a small mixer during 2013 AAPEX grew quickly, and during our first anniversary we had 330 members. 

Since then, YANG has continually grown, adapted, and expanded to provide the very things we set out to provide: networking and professional development. All of this is thanks to the lifeblood of its active membership. I know I speak for both Michael and I in saying we couldn’t be more proud of YANG’s membership and the leadership that has served on the council, since its inception back in 2013.” 

Aleena and Michael

Michael Rukov:

If more people like myself knew about this, participated in this, they would stick around longer and they can become the future leaders of our industry.

Michael Rukov

I would never forget my first ever Leadership Days. It was so nerve racking. I was part of the “Next Step Program” created by AWDA and Alena and Ryan were in my flock while Chase was there the year prior to that. Frankly, what most surprised me was that the only young people at the meeting were us 4 or 5. It was so strange to be amongst these C-suite leaders who made their names for themselves already and yet be as accepted as they were. It was also so amazing to talk to them freely. They were more welcoming and gave us the time of day as if we truly belonged. I came back home in 2012 and thought to myself – this needs to be shared. If more people like myself knew about this, participated in this, they would stick around longer and they can become the future leaders of our industry. I also kept thinking about our conversations with Alena, Ryan and Chase at the bar during the meeting about young generation (Millennials). That is where the idea of YANG came to my mind. 

I was a nobody in the industry and I just knew that without the support of my peers who are already on the trajectory of being the future of the industry I would not succeed. YANG would fail in its infancy if I don’t have the right people on the bus (as Fred used to say). So, I got together with my new friends and we got to work. Our first event was in 2012 at AAPEX with about 25 people in attendance. We thought it was a huge success. Little did we know that it was just the beginning. What helped us propel further than we could have imagined was Auto Care Association. The very next year they picked our organization up and gave us ammunition to continue growing. 

As our organization started to gain momentum, I reached out to some of our mentors to gain understanding of why other young professional groups before us failed. Enter a true Texan, Scott Pletz. Scott, who I feel is a great mentor and also a friend of mine, was instrumental for me to understand the dynamics of SOB’s, YES, and LDN (Ask me about these acronyms in the future). I took his advice to heart and that is where a few simple rules were born: YANG will always be purely a networking and educational group. When we age out, we are out. Our council is constantly changing and evolving, bringing fresh and new blood. And finally, we decided that we can support our own initiatives by finding support from our vast industry. 

Fun Fact: in 2013 I asked to speak in front of the AWDA Governors to pitch Young Auto Care Network Group. Here I was: this young kid talking to these untouchables (or so they seemed to me at the time). I was extremely nervous talking to these leaders. I knew that I had one chance to gain their support and that support will help propel this organization to new heights. I also knew that a few of the people in the group were my mentors and supporters of YANG such as Bill Maggs. However, as soon as I began talking about YANG John Washbish stepped in: “What kind of name is YANG?”. This was the first challenge where I really had to defend this group. I know it sounds very insignificant in retrospect but at the time it felt like if I cannot stand the ground and defend our name, how would I stand the ground on more important issues we might have in the future? So I said to Mr. Washbish, I understand you might not like YANG as a name of the group but you can always call it Young Aftermarket Network Group instead. 

When I left the meeting, I felt elated and I just knew that we would succeed in the future. I also did not even realize that I am not just building this networking group for myself I am building forever lasting relationships and many other people who will become friends because of YANG. 

Ryan Samuels from Samuels Inc. / Buy Wise Auto Parts

Ryan Samuels
Ryan Samuels
“I don’t know the exact year/season of the Leadership Days, but I was there as a Next Stepper and felt a bit like a fish out of water.  To this point, most of my industry relationships were with people my father knew and had introduced me to.  It was my first time attending an event such as this by myself and I knew very few people.  Bill Maggs introduced me to Michael and Alena who were also Pronto members.  As we got to know each other a bit, they presented me with this idea they had for a networking group for people under 40 in the industry.  It sounded like a great idea, and honestly, I was happy to leave my first event with a few new friends.

From there, the ball really started rolling.  Michael and Alena really started running with things and many industry veterans were happy to put their support behind what would soon come to be known as YANG. From its humble beginnings of just a handful of members, YANG quickly grew its base into the hundreds and thousands, going from a simple networking group to a full-fledged community within the Auto Care Association.  

I know I would not be where I am today without the exposure I received as a result of YANG.

Ryan Samuels
Although no longer a member, I am extremely proud to see what YANG has become, and eager to see how much further it can evolve. When I look around and see how many of my YANG peers are now in leadership roles in both industry associations as well as in their respective companies, I cannot help but smile. I know I would not be where I am today without the exposure I received as a result. Perhaps most important, no young industry professional will have to be that person walking around the cocktail reception at their first event hoping that someone might talk to them. The future of our industry is extremely bright and I think we all owe YANG a debt of gratitude for this fact."

Michael Rukov Group Shot - 2019

Michael Rukov:

YANG is successful because of the determination and leadership provided by so many amazing leaders and our future is in great hands. I cannot miss an opportunity to thank them for their mentorship and support. Yes, most people are young in the beginning of their career but the leaders that helped YANG develop were wise beyond their years. We did a lot of fun things in-between, but mostly we really wanted to belong and YANG made it happen for us.

As I begin contemplating what my next chapter of involvement is post-YANG, I can’t get rid of the smile on my face. Our industry has many challenges and we have tackled them head-on over the years. Challenges will never cease to exist; how we approach those challenges matters and we have proven time and again that we are resilient as an industry. I only hope that I am leaving a small imprint with YANG that will allow us to keep on moving. 

Michael Rukov Group Shot 2 - AAPEX 2017
YANG has become an instrumental part of so many young professionals entering the aftermarket and I believe it helps them get acclimated. It is a vessel that can help companies retain their employees and it is a tool used by all channels of distribution. In my next chapter I will continue working with YANG as a mentor. In fact, I am already working on a Mentorship Club that will create a deeper collaboration between young professionals and mentors who are willing to share their knowledge. If you want to be a part of this club reach out to me.

Michael Rukov Group Shot 3

Before I conclude let me say that there were many leaders that helped YANG succeed but I wanted to thank a few people that are special to me and who I feel had the biggest impact in the initial stages of creation of YANG:

Bill Maggs, Fred Myers, Mike Mohler, Larry Northup, Frank Frederick, Kathleen Schmatz, Bill Hanvey, John C. Washbish, John Washbish, J.R. Bishop, Rusty Bishop, and of course my good friends Alena Van Cleave, Ryan Samuels, and Chase Baxley.
For the latest on YANG, be sure to visit autocare.org/yang.