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Q&A: ABRA’s ‘People Expert’ on Growing through Leaders

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When asked about ABRA Auto Body & Glass’s recent stream of acquisitions, Tim Adelmann says the success rate really isn’t all that complicated: his company works in the people business, and that’s the backbone of all growth.

 But, if you keep pressing him, you’ll find there is a deeper strategy at play. Adelmann, ABRA’s executive vice president of business development, claims the immediate and long-term future of the company—which has grown from under 100 shops in 2012 to 351 locations in the first quarter of 2018—rests largely on its individual shop leaders’ shoulders. Specifically, the operation recently revamped its executive leadership to focus more on attracting, retaining and developing leadership positions.

In fact, in addition to new CEO Ann Fandozzi, Adelmann says the MSO hired a special position—whom he refers to as a “people expert”—for expanding that store-level leadership. FenderBender sat down with ABRA’s chief people officer Carmen Thiede, who has managed human resources for large companies such as Regis Corporation and Ameriprise FInancial Services, to learn more about her position and how the company goes about developing those leaders for continued growth.


How did you get this unique title?

I joined ABRA about a year ago but I did not grow up in the collision industry. They called me up and wanted someone to be strong on the operations side of the business. I started on the operations side and human resources in my career.

 One of the things I enjoyed last year was going out into the field and meeting with leaders and the teams. It was about making sure we focus on the right thing and making sure everyone in the business prioritized making sure the people who had been in an accident left feeling safe and feeling confident they would be safe down the road.


How are leaders cultivated and trained at ABRA? What is your process?

For the first 90 days after I joined, I spent it in the field. We went to different markets and centers and spent time just listening and trying to understand what each leader needed to make him or her feel more confident in his or her role.

Starting in 2018, one of the things we heard loud and clear from our managers is that they want to have more tools, training and support around how they communicate with their team and bring their team along. So, we focused on coaching. To have strong coaching on a day-to-day basis, a leader needs to pull those things out of a team member and make sure to show the team member they are valuable. It is about ensuring you are asking the right questions for the team members to come up with solutions. Also, allow room for small confidences and silence. Let the team know the manager trusts what they say by taking time to listen.

The other part was focused on helping leaders, who had moved into senior leadership or management roles, prioritize their time. We heard that often the managers were simply performing crisis management everyday versus taking the time to step back and assess where in the role they should be spending time. Not only where in the role they should be spending time but how to prioritize that time throughout the day.


What goes into retaining leaders? How is it different than just retaining employees?

One thing we’re making a priority each month is getting into the markets and visiting shops for at least half a day. These visits are there for us to hear back from the management and have a dialogue.  The next day we do a group management dinner in which, between our CEO and the managers, the managers lead the conversation.

The challenge you have as you get over 300 centers is that it is hard to visit every center. We share our progress once we talk about it.

We host town halls for the employees to call into and share feedback. We also host webinars so they can see us and have an update on the locations we’ve visited and the talks that came out of those visits.


What are the best practices for communicating with these leaders and making sure every leader is carrying out the “grand” strategy?

This starts in each center. We make sure our general managers have morning huddle meetings every day or some type of consistent way to gather the team. It is important that people know you are there for them and to have consistent check-ins with the team. For example, ask how an employee’s weekend went.

From there, we do regular leader calls. That is where the district manager is having calls with the general managers or the vice president is having calls with the district manager.

We also took a look at the last twelve months of communication and what was going out in emails. We started something in which we send every manager an email at the beginning of each week. It’s now weekly communication instead of daily to simplify the process.

Make sure our leaders know we are giving them the time and permission to be leaders for their people. Take time to interact with the team instead of always needing to jump in on the operational side.

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