A winner worth waiting for

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These guys make us who we are.” –W.M. “Rusty” Rush, president and CEO, Rush Enterprises

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I first met Michael Willoughby (seen at right in the red shirt next to W.M. “Rusty” Rush, president and CEO of Rush Enterprises), a well-seasoned Rush Truck Centers (RTC) technician back in 2007, which was the first time I ever attended RTC’s Technician Skills Rodeo – an annual competition that just notched its sixth year.

Willoughby (often called “Wills” by his friends) won a slot at each of RTC’s rodeos, but had only finished “in the money” (so to speak) just once.

To be honest, I’ve pulled for Willoughby to win the whole smash in the medium-duty division where he competes every year because, frankly, he just seems to epitomize the modern-day truck technician; someone who’ll balance out any gaps in his knowledge concerning the ever-more complicated world of truck technology with humor, patience, and a work ethic second to none.

Thus it came as a pleasant surprise to see him win “the whole smash,” as I call it, this year -- taking home the grand champion cup in the medium-duty division, along with $7,500 in cash, $4,500 worth of prizes, a $1 per hour boost in pay, and a vacation package for him and his second wife, whom he married after his first wife died several years ago after a long battle against cancer.

[You can see some of Willoughby’s fellow medium duty contestants battling a variety of challenges at RTC’s 2011 Technician Skills Rodeo below.]

Just being able to participate in this annual contest is an accomplishment – indeed, Willoughby’s ability to reach the “main event” six years in a row is almost in some ways more impressive than his grand champion victory.

For the 2011 rodeo, those of RTC’s 1,100-plus technicians staffing 70 service centers scattered across the nation first had to pass a written exam. Of the 400 who passed that test, a second more difficult written exam awaited them – a test that brutally culled the field down to 71.

Those techs then traveled to San Antonio with their spouses and got to stay in the very plush Grand Hyatt – all on RTC’s dime (actually that of its parent company, Rush Enterprises) – as they went head-to-head over two days to see who would enter the winner’s circle.

[You can watch some of the competition between the heavy-duty technicians on day two below.]

How big a deal is this contest to the Rush organization?

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Let’s put it this way: Rusty thinks so highly of the technicians within his organization and considers this annual event so important that he called in a personal favor from his good friend Tony Stewart (yes, THAT Tony Stewart) to stop in during the awards banquet to say a few words and pose for pictures with everyone … a process that almost took two hours to complete.

I’d say that’s a pretty clear example set by the company’s chief executive (a business founded by his father, Marvin Rush, back in 1965) concerning the important role this annual event plays in helping RTC stay healthy and vibrant in the ever-more bare-knuckled world of truck sales these days.

[Rusty Rush shared a few thoughts with the attending technicians on why he believes the service they provide is such an integral part of the company’s overall success in the truck business.]

All in all, it turned out to be quite a contest this year – a long-favored winner finally getting his dues.

Good show, Mike. Let’s see if you can make it two in row in 2012!

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