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How I Work » Jim Guthrie

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Jim Guthrie owns Car Crafters in Albuquerque, N.M., a $12 million, 70,000-square-foot shop that employs more than 60 people. He also races cars and runs seven other businesses in multiple industries. With a disciplined mind and focus on precise information, he runs his shop as deftly as he runs his life.

I started fixing cars in my parents’ garage. I would buy, fix and sell motorcycles, and then I bought, fixed and sold cars. Pretty soon neighbors and friends were asking me to fix their vehicles.

I went to school to be a dental surgeon. The medical industry was intriguing to me. When I was in school, I was also a ski instructor. I raced motorcycles and fixed cars on the side. Then school fell off as a priority, and there wasn’t much time for studying. It was just obvious where my passion was.

My parents sat me down and said, “Jim, your calling is cars.” They told me I either needed to do college full-time or get my own shop. So at 21, I started my own shop.

It has been really fun. I have to give kudos to all my people. I have people who have been with me for 22 years, 26 years, 29 years. They’re a good nucleus of people, and they make my life easy.

It all starts with your people. If you have really good people, treat them right. And then you’ve got to lead by example. I don’t ask employees to work on Saturdays unless I work then. I can do any job, so when I look at something and tell them to re-do it, which is very rare, they respect what I say because they know I can do it. They have seen it. You have to walk the walk.

I live by a couple of philosophies: If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you always got, or less. And, that which is measured shall improve. That’s the basic foundation for all that I do.

“If we’re trending below, I will talk to someone depending on what it is ... You have to stay on top of these things. It’s just like an Indy car; if you have a flat tire, you could crash a $1 million car.”
—Jim Guthrie, owner, Car Crafters

I’ve been racing cars for 40 years, including Indy racing. I learned everything from racing. You have to measure what you do to stay on the track. Even simple things like using a stopwatch can make the car faster or slower. If you don’t know where you’re at, why are you on the racetrack? You’re spinning your wheels. Also, by measuring your performance, you can get a little bit better at what you do every day.

I am driven to win. I hate losing. Second place is the first loser. I’ve always been like that. I’ve competed for 40 years. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, I’ve got to win.

My day starts at 8 a.m. When I first get to the shop, I walk around and make sure people are happy. I’m usually drinking my coffee as I’m chatting with people, and I’ll run out of coffee before I get through the entire shop.

I usually just talk to people generally about how they’re doing. Then they’ll ask me questions like whether they can fix their mom’s car at the shop over the weekend. As far as operations, I don’t know about Jones’ car. I work on the business, not in the business. I don’t have to spend a lot of time in the business unless I see a trend or a problem. I have great managers who take care of day-to-day operations.

Then I sit down at my computer, and I will look at the numbers. I look at the sales, what’s going out and coming in, our profit numbers, and sales with our biggest clients. Mondays we usually get a big bump, and Fridays are often slow. I want 25 cars a day, and Monday and Tuesdays we usually get killed. I’ll check Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays to see if we’re below or above our goal.

If we’re trending below, I will talk to someone depending on what it is. Maybe it’s production in the paint shop, and I’ll ask. Usually it’s something like someone is out sick and it’s a temporary issue. If not, then someone has dropped the ball. You have to stay on top of these things. It’s just like an Indy car; if you have a flat tire, you could crash a $1 million car.

I learned to use data to improve my business when I wanted to grow the shop. I used to have a 16,000-square-foot shop on one acre in Albuquerque. We were doing $3.5 million a year, and there was huge potential for growth. I wanted to double business. I built a management system and could then see real-time numbers. In about a year, we doubled revenue to $7 million. I would say, if you can’t do basic algebra, you will fail in this business. You need to be able to understand your budget and calculate miles per gallon and hours per day.

I also use part of the morning to work on my other businesses. I run seven other companies in the software industry, the digital billboards business, the custom and picture framing art industry, real estate and racing. But the shop is the big daddy. It’s the golden goose that allowed these other ventures to happen.

Sometimes I take a lunch break, depending on how busy I am. But all day, I am working on all of my businesses from my desk at the shop, or what I call the command center. I’ve got many irons in the fire, sometimes too many. I’ll get a phone call from someone, for example. I also have an open-door policy, so if a painter wants to talk about a personal issue, I invite him to come in.

I learned a lot about management and leadership by coaching little league. If you can help an 8-year-old play soccer instead of pick grass, then you can do anything.

I’ve learned a lot about how to motivate people. Some people motivate with fear. But I like to use the Socratic method, which is where you help people understand a problem and let them find the solution. Then you support the solution, encourage it and keep redirecting them until they find the right way of doing something.

I’ve been into reading leadership, management and business books for years. The One-minute Manager is a classic. I pick up golden nuggets from everything I read, and I say to myself, “Hey, I need to do this.” It’s all about continuous improvement.

Also, it’s important to do your research if you want to get better. I like to say prior planning prevents poor performance—it’s the five P’s of doing business. You don’t win an Indy race without learning and getting better. I didn’t just wake up one day and get smart. I’m still not smart. There’s educated and intelligent. I’m probably a mix of both.

The one thing I’ve always said in our shop is that the business is going to change. I’ve created a culture of people who understand that, and because of it, people are usually not resistant when we do make changes.

This works well for us. I have six or seven DRPs. I built offices for GEICO, Progressive and State Farm, three of our biggest insurance partners. They’re here every day, and so I built offices for them when I built the building we’re in now.

In a given week, I work on various projects. We host Greenbelt training out here every year. I’m also in a PPG business-to-business group, which is different from a 20 Group. It’s for shops that do more than $3 million a year, and we talk about processes, procedures and other business issues.

I don’t like 20 Groups. They’re worried about the wrong things. They never work on business improvement because they’re too worried about how to measure profit and labor. As an owner, you shouldn’t keep the score; you should make the score. My wife does the accounting. I tell my wife, I make the score, and you keep the score.

My break usually comes later in the day. I like to say I work half-days—12 hours a day. I usually am done for the day around 8:30 p.m. I don’t do much work at home, unless I’m in the garage, but then that’s therapy. You’ve got to work hard and play hard. I definitely play hard.

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