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Hiring a Chief Operations Officer And What to Consider

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Nov. 26, 2020—FenderBender editor Anna Zeck recently conducted a webinar with MSO owner and FenderBender columnist Kevin Rains about his process for hiring and working with his new chief operating officer, Keith Foster.

Rains, who is a CARSTAR franchisee with shops in Ohio and Kentucky, said that as he acquired more shops, it became obvious that he needed to do something to maintain uniformity among his facilities.

"By the fourth shop it was pretty much obvious" that help was needed, said Rains, who currently owns five shops with total annual revenue of $12 million and has plans to further expand.

Enter Foster, who, with a working lifetime of experience in the collision repair industry, was given operational control of Rains's shops four months ago. Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar:

Hand over the keys.

One of the reasons Rains said he sought out a COO was so he could focus on acquisitions and other big picture issues, while someone else could handle the day-to-day operations of his shops (Rains recently wrote a column about how he's a "visionary," while Foster, in his role as COO, acts as an "integrator").

In order for Rains to go full big picture, he and Foster decided that Foster would be given the keys to the business, as in full control over all of Rains's shops.

"The owner has to willing to give up full control of operations," Foster said. "Kevin does not step on my toes at all."

Industry experience matters.

Rains said that he searched for his COO far and wide, even looking for operations people from outside the collision repair industry. He brought on folks who, though lacking the direct experience, had resumes that made them appear suited to the job.

"It just did not work," said Rains.

While he wouldn't rule out the idea that a collision-repair outsider could come in and excel, he said it's tough, "because this industry is so unique."

Rains notes that you won't find a COO online—he recommends networking, going to conferences (when that's possible again), and meeting people.

Seek the yin to your yang.

Rains said that one of his weak points is implementation and following through, and he sought Foster to bring discipline and organization to his shops.

"You've got to hire the person that will offset you," said Rains.

"I'm very high strung," said Foster," he's very low key."

Know when to let go.

For shop owners who aren't quite sure they're ready to give up control of their operations, Rains said to list out all the that you're doing to run your business and rate them on a scale—you could use 1 to 5, with five being most favorable. He said anything that rates a 1 should be delegated.

Rains said he was no longer interested in paying bills, writing estimates, essentially the day to day of running a shop.

"I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt" it was time to let go, he said.

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