How I Work » Larry Golden
Larry Golden has owned Golden Collision in Little Rock, Ark., since 1996. He built it from one bay and one technician to 17 employees and roughly $2.5 million in annual sales. Now he’s working to get it running without him.
We have some great employees. They’re the foundation of what we’ve done, and the driving force behind what we do.
Over the years I’ve become a lot less hands-on with them. Before, everything in the company flowed through me. Every repair order, all customer calls, everything. It didn’t take me long to realize I wouldn’t become a very big company if I micromanaged everything. I’ve gotten better at empowering the employees to do more on their own. They’re smart, intelligent, motivated people. If they have to go through me, I’m limiting their productivity, not expanding it.
I have a great shop foreman who’s been with me since day one. He’s really where the rubber meets the road with the technicians. In the front office, it’s my goal to train all the people to handle decisions without having to check with me.
The overall objective for me as an owner is to get to where I’m no longer needed for minute-to-minute operations. Ultimately, I want to become obsolete.
—Larry Golden, owner, Golden Collision
Some employees will ask me a question. I know they already know what to do. So instead of answering the question, I will ask them, “If I wasn’t here, what would you do?” They’ll tell me, and 95 percent of the time they’re right. It builds confidence and lets them know I have faith in them. They were right anyway. It’s also my way of becoming less involved.
I love my employees. I’m not so sure they always love me. I hope so. I would be anxious to be a fly on the wall. I really feel privileged and grateful to have them here. We are what we are because of them.
Every day I get up at 5 a.m. and go to the pool. That’s where I get my sanity; all the stress goes away. I also swim in meets as a competitive swimmer. It keeps me out of trouble.
Then by 7:15 a.m. I’m at the office. I start the day by checking with Tommy, my shop foreman. He runs production, trains the technicians, and overall is the glue in the shop. I talk to him every day and review what cars they’re working on. We’ve always felt like what you do in that first hour sets your tempo and productivity for the day, so I try to get out of his way.
The guys love Tommy. He’s the best A-technician I’ve ever seen. He’s so willing to share his knowledge, and that’s really the strength our company revolves around. He shares his knowledge in such a way so that employees don’t feel bad about what they know or don’t know. He just makes sure they have what they need.
I’ve never fixed a car in my life. If I help out, it’s strictly on a coordinating basis. I never go pick up a body hammer or start sanding. The employees would run for their lives if they saw me pick up a tool.
I also support the front office staff. I really view my role as trying to be a backup for everybody that’s here. If an estimator has a question but the person who would typically answer the question is on vacation, I’m happy to help out.
I sit on a local networking board, and each morning I also work on duties related to that. It’s a group of about 70 business owners. We meet twice a month, and we do business with and refer business to one another. We have one company of each kind, so there’s no competition. I highly recommend shops join this kind of organization. It costs me $175 per quarter, and includes lunch twice a month at a nice club on top of a local bank building. But it has been important. In the first six to seven months, I didn’t get a single referral. But I kept going to every meeting, and they saw I was there for the long-term. Then they started referring business to me.
I also spend some time every day working on marketing. We run some billboards locally, in particular locations close to our location. I like working on this kind of stuff, it’s fun for me.
Our front office has windows, and customers see through the glass to my office. The waiting room is also outside my office. So when customers come in, I visit with them, say hello, and let them know I’m glad they came in. I make sure they feel like they’re being taken care of. They always say everything is great. Then I just let them know we are glad to help out if they need anything. I don’t see every customer, but I enjoy having a chance to visit for a minute.
I always take a lunch break. In my early years, I brought a sandwich in and worked through lunch. I used to be so much of a micromanager that I thought, “What would they do if I was gone?” The fact is that they enjoy their day a lot more when they have more control over it. I now leave for lunch, and I find it’s certainly great for my morale, as well.
In the afternoon I work on various projects. For example, I work on 20 Group–related projects. I’m part of regional and national 20 Groups through AkzoNobel. I’ve been part of them for about 10 years, and they have played a vital role in my growth and in my business. This year I’m part of a group that works on the meeting agendas and sets up shop tours. I love working on these types of things.
The biggest advantage is to be able to sit and have an open conversation over a two-day span where you tell the truth about problems, challenges, and how to correct them. You get feedback from people who’ve already been through such circumstances. There’s no reinventing the wheel.
—Larry Golden, owner, Golden Collision
I’ve gotten a lot of great ideas by being in the 20 Groups. I haven’t had an original idea since I’ve been in the business. For example, we learned how to put a system in place to bring down the costs of paint and materials. We began our lean journey thanks to being part of the 20 Group. And we recently implemented a team-pay system. That took a lot of homework, and I’ve had a lot of great conversations with 20 Group members about that. I think I wore them out.
One of the last things I do each day is read. I always try to have some kind of a book around. Not a novel or a murder mystery, but a management or business book, or a biography. I’ve learned so much from biographies. You realize great people like Jack Welch from GE didn’t rise from the mailroom to presidency in a straight line. They tried things they thought would be great but didn’t work. They experienced ups and downs. You get a chance to see the reality of working your way to the top and getting better. Even our founding fathers weren’t perfect. It brings perspective, and it inspires me to keep working.
I’m reading a management philosophy book right now called Do Nothing. It doesn’t mean come in and do nothing. It’s about how your people can’t do things if you’re always trying to do it for them. They may do it differently than you do it, but it can get better if you get out of their way. I’m still processing that particular book.
I also read industry publications and magazines outside the industry like the science magazine, Discover. You never know what you can learn that could apply to the business, or at least get you thinking. Reading is a great way to get ideas.
I usually leave at 5 p.m. each evening, or pretty close to that. I try to never take anything home from the office. When I get home, I’m home. That’s a change, too. In the early days, I took my laptop home and worked.
But I’ve realized that while you work more hours, you become less productive. When you quit trying to work 15 hours a day because you think you need to get all these things done, you actually get a lot more done during the day. I’m more productive when I get down time. For example, I’m a big Tour de France fan, and I watch competitive swimming and Olympic trials.
That gets me away from thinking about the business 24 hours a day. I was convinced that I had to live, eat and breathe the business.
Now I know I have people I can trust to take care of things while I recharge my batteries.