French Lick Springs Valley, 1974 Sectional Champs. While Larry Bird (#33 in front row) would rise to fame and fortune in the NBA, point guard Kim Rominger (#11 in second row) would soon hang up his Converse high-tops in favor of an equipment dealer association career.
Last Friday’s “On the Record” broadcast from Ag Equipment Intelligence (AEI) featured an interview with Kim Rominger, president/CEO of the “new” North American Dealers Assn. (NAEDA) formed on July 1. A view of Rominger’s office prompted a late-night memory of a conversation and personal trivia Rominger shared with me 15 years or so ago (and perhaps now wishes he hadn’t).
But before I get there, here are a few words about Rominger. He was the second dealer association exec I picked up the phone with in 2004, on the recommendation of the first, David Kahler of then Ohio-Michigan Dealers Assn. (OMEDA).
My first official Farm Equipment trip after we acquired 3 Farm Equipment publications in 2004 included a stop to see Kahler and Bill Garling of OMEDA in Columbus, Ohio. Dave and Bill were exceptionally helpful in understanding the audience for these titles my dad and I had just bought and needed to prepare an issue lineup 3 weeks before the printer deadline.
Dave told me that we’d find Rominger just as helpful, even though, as I would learn, some of the other dealer associations would view us competitively. I understood; I’d spent 12 years in association management in Chicago. Plus, back then, NAEDA published Equipment Dealer and surely saw us as competing for the advertising dollars they counted on to fund their programs, salaries and overhead.
Dave was right about Rominger, who at the time was directing the dealer associations in Indiana and Kentucky (Mid-America Equipment Dealers Assn, or MAERA). Rominger proved willing to help us at Farm Equipment and Ag Industry Watch (as AEI was then known), if doing so helped the collective dealer industry in the process. I sensed no turf protection with him, and our staff was welcomed from the very first encounter in 2004 and with every magazine and conference since. Rominger, I believe, had the vision to see that a strong independent media could help the entire industry, and he gave us the chance to prove our mettle rather than dismiss us as another “new kid on the block.”
Entry into Ag Equipment Industry – Since 1983
The son of a rural mail carrier and part-time farmer, Kim Rominger grew up on a 300-acre farm of which about 10% was tillable acres and was used for rotations of corn and soybeans and occasionally hay. Rominger found gainful summer employment on his uncle’s farm, cleaning barns, milking and putting up hay for him and others in the area.
“When I graduated college, I was hired by Federated Insurance. I went through their training program and then became a marketing representative in 1981. In 1983 they moved me to the association side of the business, and I called on associations -- setting up and managing association programs for Michigan and Ohio.”
Rominger eventually left the insurance business near the time Indiana Implement Dealers Association was looking for a field representative in 1983. “In my dealings with associations, the farm equipment associations I had worked with were full of great members and I really liked how honest and accepting they were. It was a great fit for me.”
Rominger worked for Dave Lucy until he retired in 2000 and then was named Executive Vice President of Mid-America Equipment Retailers Association (Indiana and Kentucky).
That’s not to say there was never a bumping of the heads. A few emerged after Rominger took the top Equipment Dealers Assn. (EDA) post and after we’d launched Dealer Summits to fill a void in bringing dealers of all brands and sizes together in a conference and networking setting. Agreeing to disagree was OK with Rominger, and even that could be quickly set aside. He was always professional yet could “scrap,” as I’d put it now. And you’ll soon learn where that trait may have originated.
Initial Claim to Fame
So back to the trivia. To close his February conferences in Louisville, Rominger would host everyone in the presidential suite at the Crowne Plaza and would personally bartend. (I can’t recall his skills in preparing a Brandy Old Fashioned or Pink Lady, but he says he deliberately takes on that post because it ensured he would personally speak with every attendee there. Did I mention he was smart, too?)
Well, I must have spent a lot of time at the “bar” that night, because Rominger and I got into a discussion about our pasts, and that’s when I learned of his high school basketball career back in French Lick, Ind. If you know the “Legend of French Lick,” you’ve likely already guessed the trivia item.
Rominger was a 3-year varsity player at French Lick’s Springs Valley High School in 1972-75. And while he was starting point guard and co-captain and led his squad in steals and assists as a senior, his basketball career is better remembered for being a teammate of Larry Bird. Bird graduated in 1974; Rominger in 1975.
Larry Joe Bird, Class of 1974 ... Kim Rominger, Class of 1975
“Larry was good during his entire high school career but simply outstanding his senior year,” Rominger says. “In addition to a Sectional Championship, Larry had back-to-back 55-point games in one weekend. During a regular season game with perennial powerhouse Loogootee, the gym was packed and people climbed up railings outside to watch the game through the windows.”
Larry Bird (center) with Kim Rominger at far left.
Bird led the team in almost every category, including scoring, rebounds and assists. “We made it to the final game of the regional in Washington, Ind., but were defeated in the last seconds by Bedford-North Lawrence. Remember, Indiana was single-class basketball then. Springs Valley was one of the smallest schools in the state and we nearly always played larger schools.”
Rominger recalls a lot of bloody noses in practice. “You had to be alert when Larry had the ball. He was an outstanding passer his entire career and when you were playing with him, you always had to be alert – regardless of where you were on the floor.”
Bird had a hard upbringing and lost his newly-divorced dad to suicide during his final high school season. His full-ride scholarship to play for Bobby Knight at Indiana University abruptly ended after just one month in Bloomington. For a while, Bird thought he’d end up working construction, but after a community college stint, he landed at Indiana State University in Terre Haute the same year that Rominger and several other teammates arrived as freshmen.
“Due to leaving Indiana University, Larry had to sit out one year once he went to Indiana State,” recalled Rominger. “We had another schoolmate, Danny King, who played with Larry for his first 2 years there and I believe he was one of the reasons Larry was comfortable at ISU. We had a number of schoolmates in Terre Haute as well. During high school we were all close being from a town where everybody knew everyone. Larry had a tough upbringing and we all wanted to see him do well.”
The “Hick from French Lick” accomplished the remarkable at every level. He single-handedly took tiny Indiana State University to the NCAA championship game in 1979 (famous Bird vs. Magic) before heading to the NBA (12-time all-star, 3-time MVP, 3-time world champion), Olympics (Gold Medal) and then the NBA front office. He’s the only person ever to be bestowed with NBA Rookie of the Year, MVP, Finals MPV, All-Star MVP and Executive of the Year.
Rominger admits that his on-court skills were mainly about defense, though he believes he led the squad in assists as well as steals. According to last week’s clip, you can expect the new NAEDA to take the offensive position when needed to champion efforts to protect dealers’ interests. And because more consolidation of the association business appears likely, it will take leadership to continue to move in that direction – where it makes sense.
I’ve mentioned to Rominger that high school sports are serious business and a great apprenticeship to business success. I’ve never officially polled our industry’s leaders but have no doubt that many of industry leaders experienced the same set of experiences Rominger and I’ve discussed — things like work ethic; diligence/perseverance from setbacks, injuries and losses; self-awareness of strengths/weaknesses; strategic analysis and decision-making; teamwork and loyalty; and playing by the rules.
Dealer Association Consolidation & Mergers Nothing New for Rominger
Kim Rominger has seen his share of changes in the dealer, and dealer association, consolidation. Here’s a timeline of what he was working on, starting in 1983, the same year when his former teammate, Larry Bird, began his run of 3 straight league MVPs.
1983 – Rominger Joins Indiana Implement Dealers Assn., under chief executive David Lucy.
1992 – The Indiana Implement Dealers Assn. (IIDA) merges with the Kentucky Farm & Power Equipment Dealers Assn. (KFPEDA) to form the Mid-America Equipment Retailers Assn. (MAERA).
2000 – Rominger succeeds Lucy as Executive Vice President/CEO of MAERA.
2007 – Rominger engages with Ohio-Michigan Equipment Retailers Assn. (OMEDA) to form the Association Management Group LLC (AMGLLC) a jointly owned management company. The staffs of both MAERA and OMEDA and are combined to manage both associations with separate boards as well as separate conventions and meetings.
2016 – MAERA and OMEDA merge to form the United Equipment Dealers Assn. (UEDA). AMG also manages the Kentucky-Indiana Automotive Wholesalers Assn. and Ohio Equipment Distributors Assn. separately using UEDA staff.
2017 – The Equipment Dealers Assn. (EDA), previously known as NAEDA, names Rominger as its new President/CEO.
2022 – UEDA members voted to merge with Equipment Dealers Assn., along with the Western Equipment Dealers Association WEDA and Midwest-SouthEastern Equipment Dealers Assn. (MSEDA) to form NAEDA. Rominger is named President/CEO of the new association.
In total, Rominger has been involved in three dealer association mergers – to date.
Yes, there’s a lot of “glory-daying” for those of my age, but those experiences also served a purpose and were instrumental in forming a lot of great leaders along the way.P.S. It’s a column for another day, but sometime I’ll share the hot water I got myself in with Titan Machinery’s David Meyer about his basketball-playing career as a Minnesota prep. After a day of pheasant hunting at Meyer’s lodge in North Dakota, Arnold Machinery’s John Arnold told me he squared off against the younger Meyer in their high school days in Minnesota. I followed Arnold’s disclosure by stirring the pot with Meyer. Now Dave’s a level-headed executive, but he’ll quickly correct any comment about his post play – even if was almost 50 years later.