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Aaron's names new president

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

Aaron's Automotive has a Bear as its new president. Ken Bear, formerly executive vice president for Aaron's Automotive Products, has been promoted to president and chief operating officer.

Bear began in his new position Feb. 16, after James R. Wehr, son of Aaron's founder Bob Wehr, announced that he would retire from the company. Wehr was the president and former owner of Aaron's Automotive. His retirement is not effective until Jan. 1, 1999. He will continue to be involved with the company for the rest of 1998 to assist with the transition.

Bear has been with Aaron's since 1983.

"My association with Jim Wehr goes back to our teenage years. He hired me as plant manager in 1983," Bear said.

At that time, Aaron's had about 60 employees. Bear had a succession of positions at Aaron's, including vice president of operations and executive vice president before being promoted to his new position.

While Bear was involved with the company, it went through some major changes. Aaron's Automotive dates back to 1959, when the Wehr father-and-son team was operating about 19 retail transmission stores in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, Bear said. Out of the need for a central location for rebuilding transmissions came the eventual transition from retail into the remanufacturing of transmissions. In 1978, the company became a remanufacturer of transmissions and began supplying those transmissions to the general retail market, Bear said.

In 1985, the company began remanufacturing transmissions for the original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs. (OEMs include Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, etc.)

The Springfield Aaron's factory remanufactures transmissions and engines for the Chrysler Corporation and has been recognized three years in a row with the Chrysler Platinum Pentastar Award, an award that goes to the top Chrysler vendors in the country.

It was in 1993 that Aaron's Automotive saw its biggest change while Bear was involved in the company. During that year, Chrysler was deciding whether it would make a significant investment in repairing its parts rather than in making parts available for replacing them, Bear said. The company decided to focus on repairing components, and that decision resulted in more work for OEM remanufacturing plants such as Aaron's, which at that time began remanufacturing engines, Bear said. Aaron's also began distributing its parts to Western Auto stores, which also increased the level of output needed.

The result was that Aaron's Automotive's employment grew from 450 to 1,150 in February 1993, Bear said. Building expansion has been ongoing, Bear said, and the Springfield factory is now 900,000 square feet. There is also a 200,000-square-foot distribution center in town, and a 260,000-square-foot plant in Joplin where engines and transmissions are remanufactured.

"Since 1994, we've had fairly steady growth. The growth we experienced at that time was substantial growth for a one-year period," Bear said.

In his new position, Bear said he plans to draw on the scope of his education and experience to help him lead the Springfield plant through continued and steady growth.

"When you begin a new position like this, you draw on everything that's available to you your formal education, your mentors in business and what you have learned through your own experience. I went to the Bob Wehr school of business management, and it prepared me well," Bear said.

Aaron's planned expansions for the next several years involve what Bear termed steady growth. Right now, a group of engineers is working inside the plant to determine where the operation can improve efficiency.

The company is also remanufacturing additional transmission products, Bear said. Aaron's now remanufactures three types of transmissions and is getting ready to add a fourth, Bear said.

In August of 1994, the Wehrs made the decision to sell the company, and Aaron's Automotive is now owned by Aurora Capital Partners, a venture capital company which formed Aftermarket Technology Corp. to be the corporate center of business for 14 businesses; Aaron's Automotive is one of those businesses and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Aftermarket Technology. Aftermarket Technology Corp. made a public offering in December of 1996.

"Aurora is still the majority stockholder in ATC; they have not yet sold all the stock," Bear said.

Aftermarket Technology is publicly traded on the NASDAQ under ATAC.

Aaron's Automotive's Chrysler Pentastar Award for 1997 placed it in the top 18 suppliers nationally, Bear said. Aftermarket Technology Corp. reported net sales of $272.9 million in 1996. Aftermarket Technology stock was trading at $23.38 as of Feb. 17.

INSET CAPTION:

'I went to the Bob

Wehr school of business management, and it prepared

me well.'

Ken Bear

Aaron's Automotive

PHOTO CAPTION:

Ken Bear became Aaron's Automotive Products president and COO Feb. 16. Bear replaces Jim Wehr at the company's helm.[[In-content Ad]]

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