OXFORD, N.C. — When Brian Rigney looks back on his one-year term as president of the Tire Industry Association (TIA), he sees a couple of clearly defined segments of time.
"There's probably a tale of two sides there. November through the end of February, it was essentially business as usual," Mr. Rigney — president of Dill Air Controls Products L.L.C. of Oxford — told Tire Business in a recent interview.
As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and the country ground to a halt, however, TIA was forced to pivot its approach quickly in a variety of ways.
While Mr. Rigney recalls holding successful in-person events and meetings in those first few months that allowed TIA members to come together to learn, bond and strategize on important issues, the emergence of the coronavirus soon caused major disruptions.
Among these were the postponements of the association's lobbying day and environmental summit scheduled for early May in Washington.
"It's been enlightening," Mr. Rigney said with a chuckle. "I think it's challenged us to look at our core competencies and what we do well and what we can do better. And I think a lot of contacts and relationships we have are solid.
"The days of three-day, eight-hours-a-day training aren't dead, but for a lot of customers, that just doesn't fit. And now we've created other ways to do it. I think it's going to show that TIA is more nimble from a training standpoint," Mr. Rigney said.
Bowie, Md.-based TIA certainly is not alone among trade groups in seeing major disruptions in their time-tested approach of conducting business. The association went to work to push more and more training online during a time when tire dealers suddenly had extra time on their hands due to a drop-off in business during the spring.
The shutdown of travel around the country and COVID-19 also made in-person training both unfeasible and unwise. On the other hand, the impact COVID-19 has had on travel has made life a bit easier, in a way, from a planning point of view.
People have gotten used to online meetings — think Zoom and other platforms — and that's made it easier for TIA to schedule sessions that everybody can attend, Mr. Rigney said, noting that such sessions' finite length appeals to busy people.
"I think people have gotten more comfortable with it and eventually understand that's the way we are going to have to communicate, at least this year," said Mr. Rigney, whose company makes products such as valve stems, tire-pressure-monitoring systems and inflators.
Mr. Rigney's term ends Nov. 2, when incoming President Dan Nothdurft will take the gavel during a virtual — what else? —annual meeting.
TIA President Roy Littlefield III said Mr. Rigney was the right man for the presidency during a difficult time in the nation's history.
"He made a huge difference in getting us through and keeping the ship steady. TIA was so fortunate," Mr. Littlefield said.
"When you look at Brian you have the combination of a tremendous businessman and somebody who is working with all different segments of the industry," he said. "Given the unfortunate situation of having a pandemic and a recession and all the challenges that go with that, Brian was the perfect guy for that job and that year."
Less travel to association meetings around the country has made life a bit less hectic for the president, but COVID-19 also has made it more challenging to communicate with members from around the country.
Face-to-face gatherings allow people to talk in a variety of settings — during sessions, between sessions, over lunch and even after hours.
"You really kind of find out the pulse of what's happening. And I like that a lot. I think that's beneficial," Mr. Rigney said.
His involvement in TIA for years, and not just during his presidency, has allowed Mr. Rigney to volunteer and contribute to the industry while building relationships with people from around the country.
"I guess, truthfully, I've got friends for life between the staff and some of the people I've met through the organization," he said.
As Mr. Rigney's TIA presidential term comes to an end, what advice does Mr. Rigney have for his successor?
Not much, really, as Mr. Rigney said Mr. Nothdurft — president of Tires Tires Tires of Sioux Falls, S.D. — is ready to take on the challenge.
That's because TIA's leadership structure grooms members for the presidency by having them first serve as vice president during the previous president's term. This allows for a smoother transition, Mr. Rigney said.
Because Dill Air Controls Products works with so many segments of the tire industry, Mr. Rigney brought a broad-based perspective to his work as TIA president and that has helped during a challenging year, Mr. Littlefield said.
"I just think we were so fortunate to have somebody who has that kind of business mind to help us get through this."
"I think his support of the training programs has been phenomenal. I think his professionalism with the various aspects of the industry, what he has done with the manufacturers, what he has done with legislators and what he has done for the financial interests of the association," Mr. Littlefield said.
"He understands a budget. He understands what it makes sense to spend money on, what it makes sense to hold back on for a year."