One casualty of the global pandemic were the graduations that either never happened or had to go virtual. For Auction Academy, a third try for their most recently completed class, which started its journey before COVID hit, finally worked out Nov. 17 and 18 as it held a long-awaited and delayed celebration in-person.
Auction Academy’s Class 6 will forever bear the distinction of being the COVID-era class that quickly learned how to pivot and adapt to an unforeseen challenge like no other class before it.
The efforts and disappointments paid off for the 22 graduates with a dinner gala the night of Nov. 17 and a recognition tribute the next morning during the Used Car Week event in Las Vegas.
The graduates celebrated that evening with a reception and plated served dinner in a balloon-n-banners decorated ballroom ringed by their portraits on easels. Each were called up to receive a plaque during the ceremony hosted by Auction Academy President Penny Wanna and remarketing industry speaker and session host Charlie Vogelheim.
Class 6 first met in May 2019, and graduation was originally slated for Spring 2021. Due to COVID restrictions, graduation was rescheduled for the fall National Auto Auction Association convention but had to be postponed again when the event was cancelled due to the delta variant.
COVID forced the academy to restructure its training and shift the class to virtual instruction and collaboration. They were finally able to reconnect in person in August during a field visit in Detroit.
“Class 6 started great and hit the ground running in Nashville, Spokane, Baltimore, and Birmingham,” Wanna said. “Then COVID hit. We engaged with the sponsors and pivoted to virtual classroom, suspending tuition to keep going. We held once a month virtual classrooms June (20200 to June (2021), alternating with industry topics and leadership training.”
The rescheduling added eight months to Class 6’s two-year program. “Now we send them off back into the industry that they love,” Wanna told the audience.
During the morning ceremony on Nov. 18, Wanna recounted how Class 6 spent two and a half years together during which they visited six different states, traveled 313,000 miles, spend 156 hours in person and 22 hours in virtual sessions. They learned from 96 different speakers, visited seven auction operations, and toured a Ford plant.
The group also took the Certified Automotive Remarketers program through the International Automotive Remarketers Alliance (IARA) that combined with their academy education makes them among the highest educated and credentialed professionals in the industry. The students are also NAAA Safe T. Sam certified, NAAA diversity and inclusion pledge team members, and carry additional certificates in arbitration and vehicle inspection strategies.
“Class 6 showed up to each session and signed-in to each virtual classroom,” Wanna said. “They were there to learn, observe, contribute, progress, create connections, and build relationships, to do better and be better, not just for themselves and their auctions, but for everyone in this room and in the hallways for this industry.”
One-by-one they each took to the stage to receive their diplomas from Auction Academy CEO Pierre Pons and Vogelheim to a ballroom full of rolling applause.
The graduation also marks another milestone for Auction Academy, which celebrates its 10th anniversary next year. It’s first class of 16 students graduated in 2012. So far about 100 employees and leaders from the remarketing industry have graduated, with a 100% success rate. Sponsors, partners, contributors, and mentors all have helped the academy grow and succeed over the years.
The academy was founded by CEO Pierre Pons and a handful of auction owners who wanted to create a program to train their sons and daughters in the industry. What started as a personal family-based program has now evolved into a comprehensive professional curriculum spanning multiple industry roles and auction operations.
“Thank you for taking time away from your families, from your day-to-day responsibilities at your auctions and companies; thank you showing up and always giving 100%,” Wanna told the graduates. “The entire Auction Academy team appreciates you. We are confident your leadership will not go unnoticed as we progress and thrive as an industry and a community.”
Special Awards Complement Graduation
During the evening dinner Nov. 17, the presentation included two other recognitions:
Penny Wanna received the 2021 Warren Young Fellow Award from the Warren Young Senior Scholastic Foundation, which is the charitable educational arm of the NAAA that gives more than $50,000 in scholarships annually. Association CEO Tricia Heon, President Charles Nichols, and Chair Julie Picard all spoke during the award presentation, considered one of the NAAA’s highest honors.
The award is given to an exclusive group of individuals who further the industry legacy of educational and professional advancement. Award winners are fellows for life.
Wanna was cited for her 10 years of service, including as president of Auction Academy and as vice president of business administration at TCP Management, where her responsibilities ranging from accounting to project management to conference and events planning for its many industry clients and associated companies.
Picard compared Auction Academy’s two-year training program to an executive MBA designed to enhance essential skill sets, promote best practices, and yield better auto auction performance. Academy classes are committed to expanding their knowledge and growing their skills and exhibiting best safety, diversity, and inclusion practices, she said.
“I was not expecting this,” Wanna said upon accepting the award. “Thank you for the opportunity, support, and mentorship. I love what I do and love going to work every day with my family and my husband. I’m very honored, thank you. . . Class 6, you’ve made it easy. I love doing it for you.”
In a poignant tribute that night, Wanna commemorated the late Maria Acuna, the comptroller at Big Valley Auto Auction in Donna, Texas, who passed away on Aug. 14 at the age of 47 after battling breast cancer and surviving COVID. Wanna presented a moving video montage of Acuna who recounted her valued educational experiences and appreciation of the academy, where she graduated with Class 5. Acuna was an active member of the wholesale auto auction industry and a Certified Automotive Remarketer by the IARA. Maria Acuna Obituary in Automotive Fleet
And now the academy moves on to its biggest class yet, Class 7, whose 31 registered students started their two-year course curriculum in November in Nashville, Tenn.
“We know we wouldn’t be where we are as a program without partnerships, shared experiences, contributions, and constant encouragements,” Wanna said.