Climbing to the Top
Zack Taylor was running a manufacturing plant when the facility was shut down due to the poor economy in 2009. After 13 years in the boat manufacturing industry, Taylor knew it was time to hang up the hat and look for a new career.
With a technical background, combined with his past management experience, Taylor embarked on his hunt for a new opportunity that would allow him to utilize his business degree, as well as fulfill his technology curiosity. He was ready to relocate, and more importantly, he was ready to essentially start over.
Local family friend John Harris of John Harris Body Shops, of South Carolina, caught wind of Taylor’s job search and suggested he attend a 20 Group meeting and look into the automotive industry. The two later spoke of Taylor’s positive experience with the group, as well as Harris’ vision of restructuring the already-established family business.
“It sparked some interest in my part,” Taylor says.
And that initial spark turned into a job offer from Harris.
Since their initial visit, Taylor has morphed from a shop manager in 2010 to the company’s CEO today. With a $35.2 million dollar revenue and plans to open its 12th store in December, Taylor says it’s difficult to pinpoint what the future will look like.
With a goal to be a hands-on CEO, Taylor discusses how starting fresh in the industry allowed him to curate a shared vision for leadership and entrepreneurship in the business.
Starting from Scratch
In August 2010, Taylor was hired as a shop manager and relocated from Philadelphia to work in the shop in Columbia, S.C., he says. Taylor learned that the transition from one industry was difficult.
“Obviously stepping into it, I came with a whole different set of goggles,” Taylor says.
In the beginning when Taylor arrived in the industry, he asked a lot of questions and spent a few months following around before figuring it out.
For Taylor, some of the industry education included learning the different requirements of insurance companies, the ways CSI scores are recorded and captured, along with the variety of cycle times and how they’re measured.
“It was tough,” Taylor says. “I think you have to love it, you have to want to learn it and understand it if you don’t grow up in it; I really had to push myself to capture the uniqueness of this industry.”
The CEO Takeaway: Everybody comes from different backgrounds and it’s important to get employees up to speed.
Bringing Experience In
Overall, he had to completely immerse himself in the industry, he says, and in the meantime, Taylor was able to use his previous knowledge with leading his new team.
“As a shop manager, it’s day-to-day production and people management,” Taylor says.
Taylor catered to all aspects of the business: working alongside staff members at the shop, handling customers, addressing customer issues, and tending to production. During his time, Taylor found that leading meetings in the morning with his team of 20 was beneficial for himself and the crew.
“As a shop manager, if you can’t communicate, [then] you can’t lead,” Taylor says. “I think if it’s not standard it should be standard in the industry—I think shops should have meetings in the mornings.
“I think for high-production shops, you absolutely have to meet in the morning and you may even need to meet twice per day,” Taylor says.
The CEO Takeaway: Start each day covering your basis in order to avoid miscommunication.
Climbing the Ladder to Success
After a year of working as a shop manager, Taylor was promoted to a general manager position where he was able to oversee multiple shops and a larger staff.
“I have had to learn how to manage differently as we’ve grown,” Taylor says.
The move came following both Taylor and the company’s vision to become more immersed in the market, he says.
“I think John saw an opportunity for growth in our local market,” Taylor says. “Every market has performers at different levels, and we saw an opportunity to expand and capitalize on poor performers on the market or others that were not financially sound.”
As a general manager, Taylor’s focus shifted more toward an operational role, where he learned how to lead shop managers as the company grew.
“It’s no longer one location—you’ve got two and three locations,” Taylor says. “I was learning a different way of managing.”
As Taylor became more involved in the industry, he was able to continue his education in the industry though industry training, insurance conferences, and studying other companies growth, he says.
“You kind of stand on the shoulders of giants [and see] what solution did they chose,” Taylor says.
The CEO Takeaway: Take your vision and grow it by checking out other resources.
Taking Reins as CEO
Within the next few years, the shop continued to grow and Taylor was offered the role as chief executive officer of the company.
“As you continue to grow from five on up, your structure has to change,” Taylor says.
While Taylor has taken over as head of the company, he wants to be part of different elements of the company and make his presence known in the workplace, he says. Much like his old tactic, he continues to check in with shops in the morning.
“I usually touch base with area managers each morning,” Taylor says. “I like to understand their challenges that they see on the shop floor.”
Throughout the day, Taylor talks with those on the floor that he sees often: HR department, the CFO, and the COO, he says. He doesn’t stay at the office often, however, as he tries to make a point to visit the businesses locations.
“I try to visit a couple of locations a month [and] a lot of the times it’s unannounced,” Taylor says. “I try not to have an agenda; I may take a shop manager out to lunch, I may take the estimating staff out to lunch, I may stroll the floor and ask questions.
“You learn a lot about people’s lives and what’s going on with them at that time.”
Taylor says it’s important for him to visit shops often while they’re still accessible.
“If you take this business and add another 5-10 years, [visiting the shop’s] might not be realistic,” Taylor says. “I don’t operate in that space now.”
The CEO Takeaway: Step out of your office and stand by your team.