Though Auto Club Enterprises, better known as AAA, began providing resources to automobile drivers across America more than a century ago, it continues to iterate how to best interact with its 16 million members today.
That push toward innovation is what prompted Erik Robinson, vice president of eBiz at AAA, to launch ClubLabs in 2016. Now a nimble and swiftly growing venture of its own, ClubLabs designs, builds, tests and delivers digital solutions to AAA and its millions of members.
But as far as Erik sees it, this is only the beginning. We spoke with Erik about how he took ClubLabs from idea to actualization, what makes it a worthwhile venture — and where he sees the company headed in the future.
EMPLOYEES: 65 locally, 15,000 nationally across ClubLabs' parent company, Automobile Club of Southern California
WHAT THEY DO: As the innovation lab for Auto Club Enterprises, ClubLabs uses design and technology to solve problems, explore future possibilities and improve the user experience for AAA members.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Los Angeles
NOTABLE PERKS: Flexible work schedules and career development opportunities are just a couple of notable company perks.
OFFICE SPACE: ClubLabs is located in the Automobile Club of Southern California's 1923 headquarters building, which is a masterpiece of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and has been designated a historic cultural monument by the city of Los Angeles.
ONE TEAM, ONE GOAL: Cross-functional collaboration and the space and opportunity to think big fuel ClubLabs' product innovation. Learn more.
Erik Robinson, Founder, Vice President of eBiz
Erik oversees the leadership for teams that design, build and deliver products meant to accelerate AAA's shift into the digital space.
BEYOND WORK: In warm weather, Erik calls himself a passionate "car geek", but in the winter, he prefers skiing and snowboarding.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Years ago, we had an idea — a vision. Several of us sat down and sketched out the concept for ClubLabs, not knowing if it would get approved, let alone if it would even work. There are moments now when I stand in the middle of the beautifully restored 1920s former headquarters of the Auto Club of Southern California and get to see our vision come to life. I see brilliant, creative minds working on next-generation products and technology to advance our 118-year-old parent company into the digital age. My small part in creating this idea and building this killer team is what I am most proud of.
Years ago, we had an idea — a vision. My small part in creating this idea and building this killer team is what I am most proud of."
How have you evolved as a leader during your time at ClubLabs?
A lot. I wouldn't say I'm a natural-born leader. In college, I was the kid in the back of the class with long hair, a Nirvana t-shirt and 10-hole Dr. Martens. Now, I am the VP of a multibillion-dollar company.
As VP of eBusiness for the Auto Club, I still wear a suit and tie every day, but I balance the need for that traditional culture within my role at ClubLabs, where I get to be much more hands-on. In order to be seen as successful, we have to have a consistent and tremendous impact on our business results, but we need to do it in a way that attracts and inspires the best talent in LA. That's not an easy gig, to be sure. I've made and will continue to make tons of mistakes, but I hope to always be learning and growing — as a leader and as a person.
What characteristics or attributes does a team member need in order to be successful at ClubLabs?
Creativity, humility, tenacity, data-driven, collaborative, a focus on business results, a perpetual student (and teacher) mindset and a mean ping-pong game. That said, my ping-pong skills are terrible, but they have kept me around anyway. So far.
Every person that joins this team has the opportunity to help shape [ClubLabs'] transformation — and this is what inspires me."
What about ClubLabs inspires you each day?
A few years ago, ClubLabs started as an idea to build a digital team within a historic, iconic organization. It's taken quite a bit of work to get up to this point and we're not done yet. We keep hiring more and more talented folks. For me, every new person that joins this team has the opportunity to help shape this transformation — and this is what inspires me.
Where do you see your company in one year? In five?
In five years, I see digital not only as the primary channel in which many members choose to interact with us, but also see the creation of all-new products and services that further increase the value and relevance that AAA has always brought to our members. I also see the company fully embracing a new approach to technology that we are just piloting in ClubLabs today.