pursuit of excellence award: recognizing special achievement

This annual award is presented in recognition of excellence in business performance and the setting of high standards as an example for others to follow. Such performance may be related to innovative and successful methods of management, marketing, manufacturing or service. In addition, this award may be presented for exemplary volunteer or advocacy efforts made on behalf of the winner's company and/or industry.


The Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association (AWDA), a community of the Auto Care Association, presented its 2019 Pursuit of Excellence Award to the Young Auto Care Network Group (YANG). The award was presented on behalf of AWDA by Ryan Samuels, vice president, Samuels Inc. and Buy Wise Auto Parts. at AWDA’s annual conference in Las Vegas, Nev. on Nov. 3. Accepting the award for YANG was its current chairman, Dave Shapiro, Sales Representative, SRS Marketing Company, Inc.

Established in 1983, the Pursuit of Excellence Award is presented exclusively to AWDA member organizations or their employees for special achievement in areas of business management, marketing advocacy or service.

YANG, a community of the Auto Care Association for young industry professionals, is without question a major aftermarket success story. Evolving from AWDA’s Next Step Program and the Auto Care Association’s Leadership Development Network, YANG represents—by far—the industry’s most ambitious effort to unite and harness the energy of its youngest participants.

The seeds for YANG were planted in the fall of 2012 by two talented and ambitious young aftermarket professionals who saw an obvious need within their chosen industry. Together, Michael Rukov, at the time employed by One Stop Parts Source and Alena Van Cleave of A & Jay Automotive Warehouse, Inc., took the first steps: working the phones and email lists to bring life to their vision of an aftermarket resource that could help develop young careers through a robust networking program designed specifically for the under-40 set.

Rukov, Van Cleve, original staff liaison Courtney Hammer and a number of other members, along with strong support from the Auto Care Association and Automotive Warehouse Distributors Association (AWDA), rapidly expanded YANG to levels never before seen in any previous group of young aftermarket professionals.

YANG events include panel discussions with industry leaders, professional development sessions and networking events throughout the country. YANG awards a number of scholarships to rising stars in the industry as well.

Most importantly, YANG provides its members with the opportunity to network with industry peers, and in so doing, members can develop new skillsets and improve their leadership capabilities. Upon joining, YANG members immediately become part of a constantly expanding network of young industry professionals around the world. Members are invited to attend and host events at trade shows, leadership conferences and Regional Meet-Ups throughout the country. Members receive recognition as well as opportunities for mentorship offered by seasoned industry leaders. YANG membership also helps foster employee retention for companies through networking, mentorship and exposure to the broader industry.

 “We just got together at the bar,” said Michael Rukov, Sr. Account Executive, RepWorks Marketing LLC. “On a piece of paper, a napkin, we wrote the name and said, ‘We want to have a place where peers of our same age can network with each other,’” said Rukov. “Look at YANG today, from 37 people at our first AAPEX reception, six or seven years ago, to 1,500 members strong, all under 40!”

Auto Care Association President and CEO Bill Hanvey agrees. “The men and women of YANG are taking an active role in leadership right now,” said Hanvey. “We, as current industry and company leaders, can create a reciprocal learning environment from the upcoming leaders to ensure relevance today and long-term viability in the future.”

YANG and AWDA Board Member, Kyle Byrne, Vice-president of Distribution, Merrill Company, believes AWDA’s Pursuit of Excellence Award, “…says that we are being recognized for our efforts to help young people find their way in the auto care industry.”

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