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New CIC Chairman Draws Ire

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George Avery, auto claims consultant for State Farm Insurance, hit a wall of resistance long before his term as the next chairman of the Collision Industry Conference (CIC) even started.

Avery will be sworn in as CIC chairman this month during the organization’s meeting in Las Vegas before he officially takes the reins in January. But the move has already been met with stiff opposition from repairers and industry associations that believe insurance representatives shouldn’t lead the CIC, especially one tied to State Farm’s controversial parts bidding program through PartsTrader.

Charles Bryant, executive director of the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ), says the decision poses a significant conflict of interest.

“The repair industry has been in conflict with the insurance industry for as long as I can remember. If CIC is to serve the interests of the collision repair industry, how does it presume to do so with that adversary at the helm?” Bryant says.

Jeff Hendler, executive director of the CIC, says the conference’s 12 active past chairs are responsible for selection of its chairmen. They constantly evaluate active CIC participants to develop a pool of candidates.

“We put people on a list and choose the best available candidate at the time,” Hendler says, noting that nine candidates were considered for the next term. “The decision has absolutely nothing to do with their job or company. It’s about their involvement with CIC and leadership abilities.”

Hendler says Avery was chosen because he’s been an advocate of CIC for more than 20 years, has served and chaired several committees and discussion panels, and has proven abilities to control discussions, orchestrate debate and facilitate committees.

This isn’t the first time a non-repairer has held the chairman position. Hendler says representatives from several industry segments, including two insurers, have previously served in the role. He says that provides opportunity to experience different perspectives and viewpoints on issues discussed.

AASP/NJ’s Bryant disagrees. He says the CIC chairman position should be reserved for a collision repair professional who has a commitment to advancing the repair industry, while other segments—paint, information, vendor and insurance companies—should simply attend as guests.

Avery says leadership from several segments is natural, and better represents the purpose of the conference.

“Some people characterize CIC as an organization for repairers. I think it’s better characterized as the place for all stakeholders in the auto body repair industry,” Avery says. “Those who feel it’s not appropriate to have an insurer involved might be shortsighted as to what the real goal of CIC is.”

Still, many have questioned the timing of the decision, and have concerns about Avery’s ability to lead the CIC effectively during the PartsTrader debate.

“The timing couldn’t be worse. [Avery] is there representing State Farm, and the interests of State Farm,” Bryant says, noting that having Avery lead the PartsTrader debate is “definitely a conflict of interest.”

Avery says that if a State Farm issue comes up, he plans to either turn control over to a past chair, or find another State Farm representative to speak for the company.

The conference’s structure prevents chairmen from advancing their own interests, Hendler says. Their performance is constantly reviewed, and the past chairs are able to terminate leadership if necessary. Chairmen are only officially selected for one year—the second year of the term is not a given.

“I encourage anyone who has issues with CIC to send an email to the chairman or myself and voice those concerns,” Hendler says, adding that he has not received any formal complaints since the announcement was made in July.

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