As the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” For Ricky Beggs, editorial director and senior vice president of Black Book, that time came earlier this month, capping a 33-year career with the used-vehicle data provider.
Beggs, who started his career in the remarketing industry by serendipity, has become one of its fixtures as the face of Black Book and one of the most knowledgeable experts in the industry.
During his career, Beggs has seen Black Book transform itself and has seen the industry, too, change in ways both dramatic and subtle.
Beggs sat down with Automotive Fleet to reminisce about his career and give some parting predictions before he began his next adventure.
Charting a Serendipitous Start
As with many fleet and remarketing professionals, Beggs hadn’t planned on a career in the automotive sector.
His first steps were in municipal recreation, having graduated with a degree in education with an emphasis on recreation administration from the University of Georgia.
For the first three years of his post-college life, Beggs worked for recreation departments.
“They were great jobs, great fun, and interesting. Most of my focus was on the youth athletic side, so it was a lot of fun and you were able to be around a lot of kids,” he recalled.
But, there was a downside — it had rather limited career prospects.
“One day I said, ‘I have to find something that was more family-focused career prospects,’ ” he said.
At the time, Beggs was refereeing college and high school basketball and baseball, and he told a fellow referee — an employee of Black Book — about his need to find a career. It was a fateful conversation.
“A couple of days later, he called and said, ‘You have an interview at 9 o’ clock in the morning,’ and I said, ‘For what?’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I did the interview and two weeks later started within the editorial team — and what a ride it has been,” he said.
Getting up to Speed
By his own admission, Beggs said that he went in totally “blind” to his new job.
“I was totally green about this industry and even what Black Book did,” he said. “I had so much to learn, so I dug in and learned everything that affected used cars, and values, and depreciation, and so forth.”
And, he learned not only by analyzing the market, but also working in a hands-on capacity, which provided valuable experience and a little extra cash.
“My boss at the time said the best way to learn the business was to buy and sell a few cars,” Beggs said.
Much like what the users of Black Book would do, Beggs put his money on the line and bought a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle, then sold it through a used car lot. He did this for a while, buying and selling vehicles on area used-car lots.
“That’s what taught me, more than anything, about how important that number was to be accurate,” Beggs said. “It taught me an awful lot, and it didn’t hurt that I made a little money, too.”
Beggs started in the editorial department, in August 1981, which he has called home during his three-plus decades at Black Book.
“Some people say it’s because I couldn’t get another job, but really it’s just because it was interesting,” he said. “For nine-and-a-half years, I was looking at numbers for a specific part of the market. It might have been older cars, it might have been the Canadian market. At one point — the longest period of time — I focused on trucks and that was light-duty all the way up to medium- and heavy-duty. Eventually it came to the point of focusing on the car market. But, during those first nine-and-a-half years, it was looking at the market every day — what’s different, making the adjustments, looking at the data — then it spread out a bit overlooking the entire department. It was just interesting — it was challenging and exciting every day.”
For the past 10 years, Beggs has been involved with what he calls “sales support,” in which he helps the sales team with its efforts.
Tim West, vice president, North American Auction Director for Black Book, joined the company three years after Beggs and has seen him grow with the company, and describes his long working relationship with Beggs as “tremendous,” while adding that Beggs’ success at Black Book is attributable to good, old-fashioned hard work and integrity.
“He has always been quick to point out others who worked tirelessly to place us in a position for success by paving the road,” West said. “His work ethic is second to none and perhaps his greatest virtue is his integrity. I could pay him no greater compliment than to sum it up by saying that if I was starting a company tomorrow he would be the first person I would try to hire.”
A Growing Fascination
Beggs said there wasn’t a single moment when he knew that Black Book and remarketing would be where he’d spend most of his career. One thing is for certain, though — he had caught the remarketing bug early.
“It was just so interesting to see how everything tied together, and it was interesting to see that every car was different,” he said, explaining his growing fascination during those formative years at Black Book. “No two used cars are exactly alike, and it was about finding that right person who wanted to buy what was being sold at a certain price. The price of cars was totally different then. The volume of vehicles was different then. It was a gradual thing. I learned a little something new each day. Even today I’m learning something new every day in the industry. So, I think that was the piece that made it so exciting. And, I’ve always thought that the remarketing side of the industry was the most exciting part. It wasn’t a cookie-cutter type of industry — you had to think, you had to work to make things happen. Probably the only exception of that was in 2010, 2011, 2012 — it didn’t matter what you had or what price you put on it, it was going to sell because of the shortage of cars. But, other than those three years and a few other times, it was just a challenge to get the job done.”
It also didn’t hurt that Beggs had the right personality for the business. He thrived in the highly analytical world of Black Book and remarketing in general.
“Primarily, when you talk about the analytics, analysis, studying the market, and adjusting values — it’s a grind, somewhat, to find the right information and blend it all together and interpret it in the right way to be used in the industry,” he said. “It’s fresh every day, because every day we have to look at the market today instead of yesterday because the customers of Black Book are dependent on us giving them the most current and the most accurate data, and so there’s the challenge that it’s going to be different and what is different is the amount of data out there. I think that is a piece of what keeps you excited and interested — it’s different every day.”
West credits Beggs with building the reputation of Black Book throughout the industry.
“Another huge impact Ricky has had is the positive exposure that he has provided us throughout the industry,” he said. “Whether he is sitting on a panel or filming a video blog, he has had Black Book front and center for many years in a positive light.”
Gradually Changing Industry
Beggs started in the industry during the earliest days of desktop computers and at a time when the Internet was still the stuff of science fiction. While the computer revolution has dramatically changed the remarketing industry, Beggs witnessed these changes as gradually taking place over time.
Even with that, he points to two things that are markedly different today than they were 30-plus years ago.
“First, the volume information that’s out there is much, much larger today than it was then, and, second, how cars were marketed in the wholesale market is much different,” he said. “Back then, it was a physical auction that might have two, or three, or four lanes, and then they grew to eight or 10, then grew all the way to 25 or 30. Now, the visibility of information, and the transparency of information to go along with online sales that are in conjunction with that sale or an online listing where someone can go online to find the vehicle they’re interested in — it has changed the industry tremendously. It has changed inventory management. It has changed how much inventory you stock. I used to say you couldn’t order a used car. With the tools today and the transparency — you actually can order a used car today down to a certain color with certain equipment and certain miles. That’s one way the industry has changed for sure. And, the delivery of that information is even more extensive now.”
And, it’s not just the industry that has changed — Black Book has evolved in parallel to the industry, going from being a physical book publisher when it started in 1955 to an electronic information company today.
“We were a printed guidebook company, and today we’re an information company that delivers a gamut of information and tools to the industry. How that’s delivered to that customer is sure different than when I first came here,” Beggs said. “There’s even our information in what we call value-added resellers who have a tool or a service that will take our data and deliver it in their tool. Who would have ever thought we’d be able to do that? That’s the best way to serve the industry. I think the leadership we had — Gene McDonald was the president of the company when I came on board, and not long after that Bob Burnett became president of the company, and then eight years ago Tom Cross became president of the company — I look at their vision and forecast to drive us to growth, and it’s amazing the leadership they all provided.”
When Beggs started at Black Book, the company printed its guidebooks weekly. But, that changed in 2008.
“Tom Cross was president, and he said that our data needed to be delivered more frequently,” Beggs recalled. “As editors, we’re thinking that doing it once a week is being pretty current — and he gave the example of the stock market and he asked us, ‘Would you buy stock based on last week’s or last month’s Wall Street Journal listing?’ So, what’s the difference between that dealer buying their inventory based on information that’s one week old or two weeks old or three weeks old or a month old? He said we need to update daily, and that we have the tools to do so — what a vision that was to growth. That was a huge change for us. Today, that’s what people want and expect.”
Seeing the Birth of Unpredictability
While technology has certainly changed the face of remarketing, it still followed a predictable cycle for the most part, with peaks and valleys cycling about every seven years.
But, that changed at the turn of the 21st century because of a single event that seemed to usher in a decade of seismic shifts that redefined “business as usual.”
“September 11 disrupted the whole world, and, since then — to see the cycle from the peak to the valley and back again — there just hasn’t been any sort of pattern at all,” he said. “You just don’t have the cycles that we used to have. Now, you sit here and think to be prepared to report the market, what’s the next volatile thing that’s going to hit us?
What’s the next catastrophic event, what’s something you can’t really prepare for but you have to recognize when it happens? And, since 9/11, we’ve had the downfall of the financial industry, the bankruptcy of the auto manufacturers, two horrendous hurricanes that affected the country in New Orleans and the East Coast, and the tsunami in Japan, which have affected some of the delivery of product and availability of product. The consistency and the cycles in the market aren’t here anymore, and it’s a matter of how we deal with it. And, then we deal with the lack of supply and the lack of credit for the consumer and the businesses, so I guess it’s those things that keep us on our toes and thinking, ‘Wow, what’s next?’ and being prepared for those next things when they do happen.”
Beggs foresees 2015 as a very good year for the used-vehicle market.
“There’s still demand for that used car market,” he said. “I like to say, and have often said, everybody drives a used car. A used car is manufactured when a new car is sold, but they go hand-in-hand, and generally they are opposite trends, but they have run neck and neck since the recession — you’ve had good new car markets and good used car markets. So, there’s been a drop in the used market that you’ve never seen before, and that’s how you’ve been able to see them run hand-in-hand in terms of being positive markets.”
Long-term, Beggs foresees there will be online selling and online auctions, but the physical used car lot will still remain firmly rooted in the landscape.
“Go and look at what the hands-on service dealers actually provide — not just franchise dealers, but independent used car dealers as well. I don’t see how the industry can do without them. They perform a service for the customer and make the transaction easy, and they help their communities. I just don’t see that dealer body, franchise, or independent going away,” he said.
Beggs’ willingness to always share his knowledge and insights with anyone who asks is a big part of what has made him valuable to the industry.
“He has been a knowledgeable resource to the industry for years and values each relationship that he has nurtured throughout his career,” West observed. “As the industry spokesperson for Black Book his knowledge and willingness to share his thoughts have been extremely valuable.”
When looking back on his 30-plus-year career, Beggs readily points to a single professional moment that made him feel most proud.
“One of the things that brings the biggest smile to my face is the day that 100 percent of our editorial and analytics team passed the IARA Certified Automotive Remarketer (CAR) certification program,” he said. “We thought that would be a great educational tool for our team — it would give more insight into the market, the why behind the market, and give them a better understanding of what goes on in remarketing, how our numbers are used, and why they are so important.”
This emphasis on the editorial team achieving the CAR certification is unsurprising to West.
“Ricky was one of the first people to support the concept and the start-up of the IARA. He helped develop the curriculum for the Certified Automotive Remarketer designation,” he said.
Beggs gave the team 10 months to pass the 20 tests. They rose to the challenge and passed them all in six months, with two members of the team passing all of the tests the first time — an almost unheard-of feat.
“It happened about a week or a couple of days before the Fall 2013 IARA roundtable, so we were able to announce it at the roundtable that 100 percent of the editorial team had passed the CAR certification — and that was a huge accomplishment,” he said.
Writing the Next Chapter
Beggs’ immediate plan is to “catch my breath” at his vacation home in North Carolina, next to which flows a well-stocked trout stream. Once his breath is caught, Beggs said he plans to recommit to volunteer work he enjoyed doing before professional commitments got in the way.
Looking back on his career, Beggs focuses on the human side.
“This industry is such a great industry, not just at Black Book, and that’s reflected in the number of friends I’ve made and relationships I’ve built — this industry is just filled with tremendous fantastic people,” he said. “To make those friendships and relationships that won’t end when I retire — that’s pretty huge.
West sees Beggs’ legacy as his commitment to the industry he devoted most of his career to.
“Perhaps the biggest part of the legacy that Ricky will leave the industry is his undivided attention to the customer and their needs,” West said. “His timely, sincere response to the customer has impacted not only our employees but also our customers and how they respond to their customers.”