How many people, who have worked in a job for over a decade, can still say they truly love what they do? And how many people, who are successful and comfortable in said job, invest extra time, money, and effort to become even better at it? One such person so dedicated to his career is Counterman magazine’s Counter Professional of the Year, Thomas Dayton, Jamestown, a first-semester student in Alfred State College’s online automotive parts technology program.
Tom recently took some time out of his busy schedule—he not only attends college, but works full time, and is a husband and parent as well (to 12-year-old Brooke)—to talk about life, love, and “living large,” at least for a few days as he and his wife Jessica traveled to Las Vegas to accept the accolades at the annual AAPEX conference in November 2009.
“AAPEX is a big expo held annually for automotive parts suppliers where a lot of deals are struck. A lot of the ‘big names’ in the industry attend, and I was asked to speak at a luncheon amid all these moguls,” he laughs. Where, he continues, he was given an award “for excellence in a profession that I love!”
One gets the feeling, talking to Tom, that he has found his niche and revels in it.
“I started selling auto parts in 1996,” says Tom, a Belmont native who, early on, worked for Fred Roberts Auto Parts in Wellsville, “and I’ve been doing that in a variety of venues ever since.”
That’s not to say that Tom didn’t try his hand at college fresh out of high school—at Cornell University, no less. But it wasn’t the right fit. So he decided to join the workforce. But his quitting Cornell didn’t mean quitting his education. Tom is always reading industry journals, finding training courses, and taking certification exams; in fact, he is ASE-certified and holds an AIA import parts specialist master’s level certification.
Additionally, Tom spent some time as an auto technician, thinking it would be helpful for him to know exactly what his customers faced when looking for the right parts. “I’m always looking for ways to improve,” he says. “I don’t want to be the parts guy that just reads from the catalog. I want to be able to relate to the customers and the catalog recommendation so I get the right part in the shortest amount of time!”
Having grown up in the area, Tom was familiar with Alfred State College’s reputation, so he jumped at the chance to earn his degree online in a profession he loves at a school he admires. “And,” he notes, “I have a deeper appreciation for education, and more discipline now than I had at 18 to stick with it. I’m working hard and enjoying every minute…even the math!”
Nearly three years ago, JS Auto Supply (a parts wholesaler, Jamestown) hit the jackpot when Tom applied for the job as a counter professional. Tom’s dedication, attention to detail, and thirst for knowledge all contributed to his being hired as well as to his being named counter professional of the year.
To win the national honor, Tom needed to write a qualifying essay detailing why he deserved the award. When the pool was narrowed to five finalists, he had to write yet another essay about the challenges and issues facing the industry and how, as an auto parts professional, he would address those issues. Impressing the judges with his wisdom and insight, Tom stood out from the other finalists.
So it seems, Alfred State College students, as well as graduates, are ready to hit the ground running.