It’s never a good thing when the “check engine” light appears on a car’s dashboard. It’s a disruption no one wants.
While Adolfo Rodriguez, the senior vice president of IT transformation at Advance Auto Parts (AAP), understands how to apply technology to help motorists fix cars quickly, he also feels the emotions of the company’s end users. “Cars are a source of pride to most people,” he says. “They’re more than just transportation. Our customers have a passion for their vehicles.”
Rodriguez joined the sprawling company in mid-2018, where he was charged with coalescing systems acquired over the past decade into a more seamless company poised for growth. Considering AAP generated nearly $9.6 billion in net sales in 2018, Rodriguez’s task was daunting—but essential to the firm’s nearly five thousand brick-and-mortar stores, its e-commerce sales channel, and a new omnichannel partnership with Walmart.com.
Via each of those channels, that task required the transmittal of one or more of a million different stock keeping units to the person doing the repairs. Speed matters, as does order fill accuracy. The company takes it a step further by providing a library of how-to videos for free on its own website and YouTube, all a part of a company ethos that is about creating the best possible customer experience.
Best-in-class logistics and distribution center technology are part of it, of course. Those million-plus parts—headlights to wipers to hub bearings—are sent by various means to where they are needed. But don’t call this “IT.” Rodriguez points out that the term is limiting, preferring instead to simply say “technology.”
“IT historically served business and marketing strategies,” he says. “Now, technology is part of everything. We really think of building Advance Auto Parts as a technology company that helps you care for your car. The experience of service is what tech enables.”
“We really think of Advance Auto Parts as a technology product that helps you fix your car. The experience of service is what tech enables.”
Behind all of that is a set of strategies that Rodriguez has been following since joining the company. One is evolving the “tech stack,” meaning how they line up the layers of software inherent within an organization of consolidated companies.
“We also want to be more technology- and engineering-centric around value to customers,” Rodriguez says. “This includes leveraging our technology to reinvent the user experience.” He says that means having the best e-commerce and catalog tools for right-part-right-place delivery. Cloud-based computing and software development factor heavily into that.
Rodriguez traces his family roots to Peru, and his father received his education in the US as an engineer with IBM. It does not escape him that a large segment of AAP customers are Hispanic. “It’s an important demographic for us,” he says. “It’s super interesting to me, that in particular—this is especially so with Spanish-speaking people in the repair and do-it-yourself markets.”
Rodriguez initially set out to avoid following in his father’s footsteps by majoring in pre-med. But he discovered he really did prefer math and logic over the health sciences, earning his bachelor’s degree in computer science and math and a master’s and PhD in computer science from Duke University (he even became an adjunct professor for short time). With no small degree of irony, he ended up spending more than a decade rising through the ranks at IBM, achieving the title of distinguished engineer and CTO of connectivity and integration. From there he moved to Citrix, a software firm, where he led a family of cloud services before joining AAP.
Despite being so deeply engaged in bits, bytes, and business, Rodriguez is actively involved in athletics and music. He currently coaches soccer at his daughter’s school and has over time done similar volunteer work with as many as thirty youth soccer and basketball teams.
This melds with an underlying philosophy of what he experiences in business. “We should never stop learning,” he says. “That includes being committed to learning how to coach others. I learn as much from my teams as they learn from me.” He says this influences his ability to lead the roughly five hundred technology workers at AAP.
As an artist, Rodriguez plays in a band called Mind the Gap that exclusively plays to raise funds for worthy charities. “It started as a gag about ten years ago,” he says. They then were just imitating a band as video game air guitarists but eventually learned to play real instruments. Now, they headline charity events, cumulatively raising $250,000 for such causes as one focused on bringing clean water technology to a village in India.
Rodriguez understands the passions of motorists who need car repairs, and he devotes himself to making the processes tied to those repairs as easy and intuitive as possible. But he also brings his own brand of passion to inspiring fans of music—where technology is incidental to what it creates.