I was thrilled to attend the 2019 FIA Conference in South Africa earlier this year, where I shared insights into how clubs can forge a new path to success by quickly seizing opportunities, exploiting them decisively, and moving on to the next opportunity quickly. My keynote was followed by a panel discussion with leaders from FIA mobility clubs, all of whom attended an FIA University session conducted in partnership with Columbia Business School. The goal of the program is to provide club leadership with insights on disruptive innovation and to help them develop strategies to remain relevant in uncertain environments.
A Systematic Approach to Disengagement
Ian Stone, Managing Director of Royal Automobile Association Australia, used the material in the course to take a portfolio approach to how to manage growth – and how to decide what to stop doing. The first step was to look at their customers and identify what services they actually use. Any product that less than one percent of users regularly use was a candidate to be stopped. They also put in place a systematic approach to disengagement by using objective, hard measures of things like member engagement. They further decided which products to fast-track by leveraging other people’s assets.
In this session, Ian shared two pieces of advice for bringing others along the journey. The first was to invest in the culture of the organization, providing training to at least 10 percent of the staff in the disciplines of the innovation process, The second was to invest in leadership capability. He brought the senior team to Oxford to engage in an intensive scenario planning exercise that extended over 12 months. The scenario exercise made it clear that innovation was not going to be optional, and created a sense of alignment and urgency among team members.
Going Beyond the Vehicle
According to Christian Gakwaya, President of Rwanda Automobile Club, the biggest takeaway from the course was the need to think more broadly about services than just those associated with car ownership. His club began to make it a point to continually assess the market, and to use their conclusions as the springboard for next steps. Christian shared a few observations about the African market.
They have the youngest population in the world – two billion people today, with the expectation to add 1.8 billion in the coming years. More than 60 percent of these will be working class. They will have the biggest working class of any other continent combined. With the adoption of the African Free Trade Agreement, trade between African countries will be simplified, so those functions of auto clubs on the continent won’t be needed. We’ll start to see vehicles manufactured in Africa, so they won’t need to be imported. These new manufacturers, further, are expected to do roadside assistance and provide other services, so clubs will need to find new ways to remain relevant to a growing population of auto owners.
One of the points in their favor is that people trust them, so they may be moving to social solutions, and forums in which they advise people. One potential example of this is the certification of motorcycles. There are 60,000 bikers in Africa and they have the largest number of accidents, due to non-standardized helmets and hazardous road conditions.
Seeking Out New Opportunities
According to Tim Shearman, FIA Region III President and CEO of Canadian Automobile Association, in order to stay relevant, CAA is continually exploring new initiatives. This has manifested in a number of ways: They’ve created an “innovation catalog” to document all new innovations being introduced across the federation. CAA has been conducting primary research (both online surveys and phone interviews) to gauge interest in new concepts. Some of the concepts tested include financial planning services and home manager services.
Independently, clubs have been piloting and launching new initiatives, including EVO rideshare and an at-home tire change service. The CAA also really tries to learn from what other clubs are doing, with different membership models and experiments taking place across the FIA. And they’re getting more timely member feedback through multiple channels. Finally, they’re emphasizing bringing in people with a different discipline – such as Columbia’s David Rogers, who helped them understand the impact of digital technologies and encouraged club members to look outside.
Staying Relevant to a Changing World
The 100-year-old Automobile and Touring Club of Finland is very traditional but facing new competition, according to CEO Pasi Nieminen. As they try to stay relevant to a changing world, their goal is to strengthen their strengths and go against the mainstream. Along those lines, they’ve partnered with Mottori, the biggest print magazine in Finland, to offer an independent journalistic product. They’ve shut down old and out-of-date offices and started offering services to entrepreneurs, as well as supporting a science center for new discoveries. And finally, they’ve worked on selling more new services to existing customers, including eDriving Schools and electronic renewal of driving licenses, which cuts down on cost and bureaucracy. A big learning, says Pasi, was that they had to stop thinking they know what customers need better than they do.
Bracing for a Wave of Change
We ended the discussion with a one-on-one conversation between myself and Thierry Willemarck, CEO of Touring Club Belgium and FIA Deputy President for Automobile Mobility and Tourism, about the common theme among all clubs being the need to diversify their offerings. They are conscious of major changes and inflection points coming and are moving quickly. He suggested the analogy of a little ripple eventually leading to a big wave of change. Right now they’re focused on leading indicators of changes, such as early-stage AI applications, scaling to capture new opportunities, and creating leverage to do things more quickly.
To wrap this up, I want to leave you with a few takeaways from this discussion: First, there are no answers in the building – it’s critical to get out and see what is going on. Second, there are big, unserved needs and markets that clubs can go after, and it does not need to be scary when approached in the right way. And finally, clubs can draw strength by learning from each other.