by Patty Gelb
There is one UT graduate who has probably touched more Ohioans’ lives than any other. That is because his name, Mike Rankin (JD ‘79), appears on every Ohio driver’s license and state ID as the registrar of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV).
The path that brought Rankin to this unique position actually began in Toledo. He was born here, graduating from Whitmer High School. He went on to The Ohio State University to receive his undergraduate degree in 1975. Following graduation, Rankin returned home and worked his way through night law school at UT while working as a full-time Lucas County jail counselor under then Sheriff Don Hickey.
“The jail had been built in 1888 and in the mid-seventies it was about three times the capacity that it was built for in terms of the number of prisoners it was holding,” said Rankin. “That was quite an experience and education in and of itself.”
After a year, two months and three days, then Judge Melvin Resnick hired him as his first law clerk. “Not that I was counting my days spent working in the jail,” Rankin joked. “Having Judge Resnick get me out of jail was a welcome relief. Judge Resnick served as a superb role model and teacher of how the practice of law is about helping everyday people solve complex problems.”
Rankin’s impressive career leading up to the BMV had him serving the public in a variety of capacities. Following graduation from law school, he went back to work for Sheriff Hickey as the Sheriff Department’s first in-house legal counsel assisting the sheriff and over 200 staff and deputies. He later served as an assistant Lucas County prosecutor under Tony Pizza. Rankin served as a special prosecutor for the City of Columbus and as a 12-year member and former chairman of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. The Commission by federal law is responsible for all transportation planning in the Mid-Ohio region and helps direct funding for this and many other public infrastructure and quality of life improvements in the region.
In addition, Rankin helped lead Ohio’s busiest court systems as chief deputy clerk for the Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk in Columbus. He also set up three in-house legal departments from 1979 through 1993, one public and two in the private sector. He did a lot in his 30 plus years of practicing law, which included a stint representing utility giant American Electric Power on mergers, consolidations and acquisitions.
Rankin was first appointed as the leader and registrar of the BMV in April, 2007. He held that position for several years when he was approached by then Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and asked to join her team as the #2 in charge of that office as the assistant secretary of state for the state of Ohio. He accepted and was assistant secretary of state until January, 2011.
“When her term ended, I was ready to return to the private sector and practice law or maybe do some lobbying when I received the invitation to join a new administration leading the BMV once again,” shared Rankin.
Being registrar of the BMV is a position that Rankin truly loves and it inspires him every day. It is a very large organization handling many complex issues for residents of the state of Ohio. Most people probably know the BMV is responsible for issuing driver’s licenses, state IDs, vehicle registrations and suspending driver privileges based on court orders. Many don’t know all of the federal and state laws and mandates that fall under the BMV or the many programs that they manage.
Next of Kin is a program that only takes a couple of minutes to complete online at the Ohio BMV website or at any Deputy Registrar’s office. You fill out a form identifying two persons who authorities may contact in an emergency. If you are seriously injured or cannot communicate, this contact information is accessible to police only through the BMV database. It saves law enforcement thousands of hours trying to track down next of kin. It can also save lives because emergency doctors can have instant discussions with people who are familiar with your medical history.
The BMV also issues and medically certifies commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders. There are nearly 350,000 Ohio CDL holders who by federal law must be medically certified.
“If you are going to be driving a bus, 18-wheel tractor trailer or dump truck,” said Rankin. “It is important that we have any medical conditions identified.”
Another potential lifesaver is ID Our Kids for Safety. This program allows the parent or lawful guardian to bring their child into any Deputy Registrar’s office with an original birth certificate and social security card to get the child a state ID. Rankin was one of the first appointed in 2003 to the Governor’s State Amber Alert Board and Steering Committee and he continues to serve to this very day. ID Our Kids for Safety is an important issue to him.
“One of the reasons this program is so important is that if a child with a state ID is missing or abducted, the police have instant access to their photo and information,” said Rankin. “When a child goes missing, the first few hours are so important. With this ID, police can go right to the BMV database and post it on TV, the web or at airports. Think of the power of that.”
Another area that most people don’t think of the BMV handling are non-renewable driver’s licenses or state IDs for foreign national registrations and student visa holders. There is a lot of paperwork and forms that have to be presented and filled out correctly. The Ohio BMV staff has to be versed in all of the different federal and state laws and be a resource for these customers.
The BMV handles a lot more than most Ohio citizens probably realize.
Rankin believes you can’t lead an organization like the BMV from behind a desk or a computer screen. He feels that getting out regularly to talk to staff and customers and asking questions along with promoting good communication are keys to good customer service. He tries take calls at least once a month with the 80 some BMV customer service telephone operators who answer on average between 85 and 150 calls per operator per day.
“These are people who are handling complex questions involving federal and state law, dealing with court orders and helping our customers solve their BMV problems,” shared Rankin. “It is really remarkable how well they do it. Talking to customers and taking care of them really keeps you grounded and humble.”
He also gets out and visits the over 260 Deputy Registrar, Driver Exam and Reinstatement Service Centers across the 88 counties that make up Ohio. Rankin spends as much time talking to staff and customers as he possibly can to better learn their needs and concerns. He hands out his business card with his direct contact information to nearly everyone he meets to help ensure good customer service.
“People I work with tease me sometimes saying ‘Mike, you hand out your business card like you are in an elected position.’” Rankin said. “I just want people to know that they can always call our main number or me and get great customer service.”
Providing good customer service is a subject that is near and dear to Rankin’s heart. He knows what most people first think when they think of the BMV. It is the image that is typically lampooned in TV sitcoms and even in a current commercial.
“I love the one where the pig gets his picture taken for his driver’s license,” Rankin said with a laugh. “The pig says ‘I think my eyes were closed’ and the BMV clerk yells ‘next.’ I frankly get a kick out of the jokes.”
Rankin and his team are working to change that image and there has been a steady increase in customer service satisfaction levels over the last three and a half years. In a 2013 statewide survey completed by over 21,600 customers, the Ohio BMV reached an all-time high for customer service satisfaction with ratings at 97.83 percent.
“When we talk about the great customer service satisfaction ratings that we get every year, it’s really because of our staff,” said Rankin. “Any success is really a part of a team effort. I know it sounds a little simplistic, but my philosophy in a nutshell has been ‘treat people the way you want to be treated.’ It has worked beautifully.”
That philosophy seems to be making a big difference at Ohio’s BMV. The state was ranked number one in the country in customer satisfaction nationally with, among other things, lowest wait time in a recent survey conducted by the private company www.DMV.com. Ohio’s wait time was an average 14.45 minutes which is remarkable compared to states like Georgia, Texas, Colorado and others that average just under a 45 minute average wait time.
“When you think out of some 21,600 responses that over 97 percent said they received good customer service, that tells you we might be doing something right,” said Rankin. “This is the best job I have ever had. I have had a lot of great jobs, but this far exceeds all of them in terms of the satisfaction you get in helping people.”
Rankin also speaks fondly of his time at UT.
“The professors that I had really provided me and the other students a solid education in the law,” he said. “And of course if you are working daily in the law field while attending law school, it even makes that law education experience even more relevant.”
He also believes it is so important to have great mentors. Rankin credits his time working in the mid-seventies for then Judge Resnick, Sheriff Hickey and many other people since then.
“I guess what I like about the university today is they have more students doing internships so they can receive more hands on working experience,” Rankin said. “Not just in the law school, but also at the undergrad level and I think that is so important.”
Rankin has been married for 31 years come August to his wife Ruth and they have two adult children. There is a UT legacy within the Rankin family. Mike Rankin’s father, Dr. Robert Rankin, a long time Toledo dentist and oral surgeon graduated with his bachelors from UT in 1936. And his son, Michael is a 2003 UT grad with a BA in Communications.
“That’s three generations of Toledo Rockets,” shared Rankin.
Even though the Rankins haven’t lived in Toledo since late 1989, they have many family and friends who still live and work in the Toledo area.
“It’s just great to come back to Toledo, whether I am visiting my family or friends,” Rankin said. “It’s a really neat community that has adapted well in the new economy. Toledoans seem to have adjusted and adapted to the challenges of the past 40 years, as has the University, by reinventing itself to stay relevant.”
He recently attended a UT Alumni Association event at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus where he presented an engraved plaque with a special UT logo license plate to Vern Snyder, vice president of Institutional Advancement. These plates are another great way to support the University as well as show pride in UT.
Rankin plans on staying involved through the UT Alumni Association chapter in Columbus and is reflective of his time at the University.
“When you hit age 60 which I did this past year, that kind of a milestone has me excited to do even more in the way of serving others,” Rankin said. “Getting older gives you an opportunity to take time to reflect on the things that are truly important in life. One of the things that I feel my education at UT gave me was the ability and the confidence to know that you can do many good things in life. I have been very blessed with many family, friends and mentors who helped me build a career in serving others including a very prosperous law practice; but I wasn’t afraid to try something different even though I was in my 50s. I hope other Rockets have had and do have similar experiences where they are able to transition and be flexible in their careers and life path.”
To read the 2014 Annual Open Letter to Customers from Mike Rankin with all of the details about the Ohio BMV’s latest achievements, click here.
To see the DMV survey results ranking Ohio’s BMV as the nation’s lowest wait time and read The Washington Post “This week’s best state in America? Ohio, for its Bureau of Motor Vehicles” opinion article from May 16, 2014, click here.
To learn about specialty license plates, including how to order a UT plate through the BMV, click here.