Monday, January 26, 2009

Copart continues to evolve

Copart continues to evolve
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | January 23, 2009

Jay Adair is the president of Copart will deliver the keynote address at the upcoming 26th annual meeting of the Solano Economic Development Corporation. Photo by Chris Jordan

FAIRFIELD - The $4 billion corporation that Copart is today looks nothing like the local operation called Bob's Towing Services from which it sprouted in the 1980s. In fact, the international firm even bears little resemblance to itself of a decade ago.

Jay Adair, longtime president of the Fairfield-based company, will deliver the keynote address on Thursday for the 26th annual meeting of the Solano Economic Development Corporation. He will discuss his firm's penchant for remaking itself.

'You have to be married to change,' Adair said earlier this week. 'When you're in the service business, you don't have the flexibility to say, 'This is how we're going to do it.''

Copart's headquarters are located on Business Center Drive in Fairfield, but the company also operates 145 facilities in 43 states, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. It is one of the largest companies to base its operations in Fairfield.

Change has been a constant for Copart, which over the years has dramatically changed the way it conducts its relatively simple core business --- linking buyers with the sellers of wrecked or damaged cars.

Founder Willis Johnson has boasted that the company opens a new yard for cars every six weeks, and seemingly as frequently Copart rolls out a new service for customers.

However, they are all essentially accessories to a greater fundamental change that began in 1998 and largely ended in 2003, when Copart abandoned in-person car auctions in favor of Internet-based bidding.

Adair, Johnson's son-in-law, has been on board since nearly the beginning. He was the fledgling company's manager of operations in 1989 and 1990, and then began moving up through the ranks.

He said he will exhort other business owners to be open to changing the way they do things and to also be willing to stop doing things when they are failing.

'If you are willing to take a risk and it doesn't work, because you have this change-centric attitude, you can go back the other way,' he said.

Copart's future involves the continuing evolution of the profile of customers who use the car sales service.

Insurance companies have long been the major sellers of cars through Copart, but recent moves have let individuals sell their own vehicles. Adair said the next step will be to launch a similar service that will make it easier for them to buy cars.

'We are really changing who we are selling products for or who we sell products to,' he said. 'Are we at the end of that game? No.'

For more information on the meeting or to purchase tickets, call 864-1855.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

At a glance
Who: Solano Economic Development Corporation
What: 26th annual meeting
When: 11 a.m. Thursday
Where: Hilton Garden Inn, 2200 Gateway Court, Fairfield
Tickets: $45
Info: 864-1855