Thomas V. McKernan, CEO of the Automobile Club of Southern California, has retired after serving 46 years with the organization and 21 years as CEO, the organization announced today. On May 1, 2012, he was succeeded by Robert Bouttier, who previously served as Auto Club President and Chief Operating Officer.
McKernan started his career in the Pasadena branch in 1966. He was a service representative, providing auto travel and DMV services to members. Through in-house training programs, he became a computer programmer and spent 15 years in Information Systems and ultimately had overall responsibility for it. He went on to financial management and was Chief Financial Officer for six years prior to being elected Executive Vice President and then President and Chief Executive Officer in 1991.
Under McKernan’s leadership, the Auto Club has experienced exponential growth while increasing its financial stability. Since he became CEO in 1991, Auto Club membership in Southern California has grown by nearly 70 percent, from 3.6 million members in 1991 to 6.2 million today. Almost 52 percent of households have an Auto Club membership.
McKernan spearheaded the movement of the organization into other states starting with the acquisition of AAA clubs in Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii in 1996. As AAA regional consolidations have continued in order to gain operating efficiencies, McKernan led the Auto Club through numerous affiliations of several Midwestern, Southern and Northern New England states. Most recently, AAA clubs in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia have joined with the Auto Club. Today, the Auto Club Enterprises family of AAA motor clubs operates in 21 states and has 14 million members representing 30 percent of all AAA members in the country.
The Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club, the company that provides personal auto and homeowners insurance policies to AAA members, is celebrating its centennial this year. Like the Auto Club, the insurance operation has grown significantly during McKernan’s tenure, tripling the number of cars insured and increasing the number of homeowners who are insured by almost 800,000. Financial strength improved ten-fold and prices are about 30 percent lower than 20 years ago and remain very competitive. McKernan moved to offer insurance to AAA members in numerous states. Today, the Exchange is the fourth largest auto insurer and the sixth largest homeowners insurer in California, and also now ranks as the 12th largest auto and 19th largest homeowners insurer nationally. It is among the top 20 performing insurers in the country.
Under the leadership of McKernan and Bouttier, the Auto Club has added not only millions of new members but dozens of new products and services. Those include life insurance, collector car insurance, annuities, credit cards, AAA Plus and Premier memberships, member-only travel programs, the Auto Club Driving School, member discounts for a vast array of products and services, free credit monitoring, Teen Safety Fairs, Drive Sharp brain training to help seniors improve driving skills, and many others.
Service quality ranks among the highest nationally and consistently receives recognition and awards for outstanding roadside assistance. Even with the addition of many services and the highest levels of service quality, membership still costs less than $50 annually.
McKernan leaves a far-reaching legacy. During his tenure, the Auto Club sponsored one of the earliest and most comprehensive teen graduated driver licensing laws which has led to a significant reduction in teen fatalities.
The Auto Club has also provided members greater access to service by expanding the branch network, telephone services, the Internet and several mobile services for roadside assistance, insurance claims and travel.
McKernan returned the Auto Club to its early heritage of the 1910s and 1920s, when it sponsored automobile races and reliability runs and engendered a sport not only exciting for fans but one that pioneered automotive safety innovations to make driving safer and more reliable. In recent years, the Auto Club has sponsorships in NASCAR, Indy Racing League and NHRA, including NHRA champions John Force and Robert Hight. The Auto Club founded the AAA Street Legal Program with NHRA to help reduce illegal street racing and encourage young people to race on a sanctioned track in a safer environment.
The Auto Club’s new CEO Bob Bouttier has been with the Auto Club for 37 years and like McKernan, began his career in an Auto Club branch office. His first job was as an insurance claims representative, and he moved through the organization into management and executive positions of increasing scope and responsibility. He oversaw sales and service operations and established the Auto Club’s marketing function in the 1990s. He was named Chief Operating Officer in 2005, and Auto Club President in 2007. He has served closely with McKernan as the two leaders implemented many improvements.
In addition to assuming the CEO role at the Auto Club, Bouttier will also become President and CEO of Auto Club Enterprises, the holding company that manages mergers and affiliations with numerous other AAA clubs across the country.
Bouttier’s promotion is part of a strong succession plan adopted several years ago by the Auto Club’s Board of Directors. “Bob has worked tirelessly with me and other executives in continuing to adapt the organization so that it is better positioned to remain successful in the future,” McKernan said. “He is very committed to Auto Club values. We are very fortunate to have one of the strongest and most capable AAA leadership teams in the country, with many dedicated employees.”
McKernan will continue to play a role at the Auto Club with his election to the chair of its board of directors. The board of directors oversees the entire operation, providing strategic direction and establishing organization policies.
McKernan will also continue with several national responsibilities, including serving on the National AAA Board of Directors, chairing its planning and strategy effort. He will also serve as the vice chair of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The Automobile Club of Southern California, the largest member of the AAA federation of motor clubs, has been serving Southern California since 1900. Today, the Auto Club’s members benefit by roadside assistance, insurance products and services, travel agency, financial products, automotive pricing and buying programs, automotive testing and analysis, trip planning services and highway and transportation safety programs. Information about these products and services is available on the Auto Club’s Web site at www.AAA.com.