Leadership

The 2015 FenderBender Awards

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Here’s to the Industry’s Finest

There is no one way to run a successful collision repair business. As we’ve profiled in FenderBender through the years, the pathways that lead to long-lasting and prosperous careers in this industry are as varied and diverse as the professionals who walk them.

There are commonalities, however.

Talent. Determination. Goodwill. Passion.

These are the attributes that define the industry’s finest—and they’re what we look to honor each year with our annual FenderBender Awards. Nominated by their peers and selected through an arduous process by our staff, the professionals profiled on the following pages represent the very best in their fields. They’re unique, innovative professionals pushing this industry forward. They’re the 2015 FenderBender Award winners.

 

 

THANK YOU TO THIS YEAR'S FENDERBENDER AWARDS SPONSORS.

 

 

 

ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT

PEOPLE PERSON PERSONIFIED: Esther Gibson goes above and beyond in her role as a collision consultant with Tom Bush Collision Center. She gives out her mobile number to each client, and will give her time on weekends if needed to ensure a positive repair experience. Photo by Karrah Flores

The Empathy Factor

Esther Gibson, Collision Consultant, Tom Bush Collision Center, Jacksonville, FLA.

The employees at Tom Bush Collision Center aren’t scheduled to work on Saturdays—but, on occasion, Esther Gibson will.

It’s not because she’s unorganized or inefficient as the collision consultant for the Jacksonville, Fla., shop. In fact, neither of those reasons could be further from the truth for the process-oriented 20-year veteran of the industry.

Exhibit A: On one particular Saturday, Gibson found herself starting her off-day on the side of the road at 7:30 a.m. because of what her manager, DeWayne White, calls the “empathy factor.”

“That’s the one part I haven’t found the ability to coach or to train people on,” he says. “I’m not sure it’s a trainable asset. Being able to show someone you care. There’s no doubt her customers feel like they’re her only customer, when in fact she’s got 40 to 50 she’s dealing with at one time. That’s huge.”

This particular customer called Esther so early on a Saturday because, unfortunately, her loaner car had run out of gas. You might be wondering why this customer had Gibson’s personal cell phone number, but for Gibson, that’s just part of her daily routine.

“I always give them my cell phone number so they don’t have to go through the desk when they call,” she says. “If I’m away for even one second, I want to be able to dedicate my attention to them no matter what. I tell them to call me any time.”

Instead of forwarding the call to her manager or calling roadside assistance, Esther hopped in her own car, drove to the gas station and filled up a gas can, and even eventually filled up the tank for the customer.

As White says, empathy just isn’t something you can train. Gibson is living proof that a detailed schedule, a focus on procedure, constant communication, and a compassionate approach to servicing customers can improve shop processes and elevate a shop’s reputation to new heights.

It’s for those reasons and more that Gibson is a 2015 FenderBender Award winner.

Oh, and there are numbers to back it up. In July 2014, the shop’s CSI scores hovered around an average of 88 percent. After taking over the next month, that score instantly jumped to 95 percent and has only improved since. These days, Tom Bush churns out CSI scores consistently between 97 and 98 percent.

“I always give [customers] my cell phone number. ... I want to be able to dedicate my attention to them
no matter what.” —ESTHER GIBSON

It all starts with Esther’s morning production walk. She joins management and the service writing team in visiting each technician and discussing the repairs scheduled for the day, noting any parts that need to be ordered or potential delays in the process—essentially, any bit of data that is essential to the customer hoping to get their car back as soon as possible.

This, according to White, has been the biggest shift since Gibson arrived—beforehand, the service writer simply didn’t take diligent notes, or even have an efficient way of organizing them. But that was before Gibson coached him into shape.

“I had him print out everything, know exactly where the cars were, and follow that procedure every day,” she says. “That way, if they did call, he would know exactly where it’s at, what process it’s in. I would also make sure his paperwork was in order so when we closed the file, everything we needed was in order.”

Gibson’s is the first face customers see when dropping their cars off, and their main point of contact from there on out. She updates them every two or three days on the vehicle’s status, and immediately contacts them if anything goes awry or different than the originally discussed plan.

“It’s not so much the customers where everything goes smooth—it’s the ones that run into problems. That’s how we’ve got the CSI score we do,” White says. “They feel updated and they feel like they’re being kept completely in the loop. That was definitely one of the problems we had before she started, keeping those customers happy.”

Runner-Up:

Rick Sasha Jr., Estimator, Automotive Excellence Inc, Royalton, Ohio

At the age of 36, Rick Sacha Jr. is well aware of the shortage of young professionals in the industry. That’s why, in addition to constantly communicating with customers, working with churches and charities in the community, and attending the latest estimator training classes, he’s also inviting and hosting local high school students who want to shadow professionals at the shop. “Rick is so well liked by our customers that they have become second-generation customers,” says Chris Zver, parts manager for Automotive Excellence. “He goes over and above, lending an ear when a customer tells in detail how their accident happened, even lending a shoulder when they cry.”

 

 

EXECUTIVE

CULTURE CRAFTER: Tracy Bryant’s innovative operational mindset and his people-first mantra have allowed Kendrick Paint and Body to thrive through rapid expansion, while maintaining its family-first focus.

Spread the Love

Tracy Bryant, Chief Operating Officer, Kendrick Paint and Body, Augusta, GA.

Tracy Bryant loves you, and he’s not afraid to tell you about it.

“That’s just his thing,” Steve Kendrick Jr. says with a laugh. “Every single time you talk to him—in the shop, on the phone, at lunch—he’s going to tell you. It’s gotten to the point where people will remind him if he ever forgets, but that doesn’t happen often.”

No, not much slips past Bryant.

Bryant, 37, is the COO and president of Kendrick Paint and Body, the eight-shop, Georgia based collision repair company Kendrick’s family founded in 1952.

Just five years ago, though, he was an estimator working at the front counter of the sole Kendrick location in downtown Augusta, Ga.

And in between? Well, here’s a quick run through:

He shifted into a shop manager role as the company began its first expansion. Eventually, he took over that role at the third Kendrick location, a facility that, despite similar staff size and square footage, was grossly underperforming; it became the company’s highest grossing location within Bryant’s first year there.

He was promoted to operations manager for the entire company after that; implemented a unique apprenticeship program; created a twice-weekly continued education series for all of Kendrick’s estimators and managers, which he teaches; added a mechanical segment to the business; and helped instill a new, purposeful culture in the company that helped overall weekly billed hours rise from 4,300 to 5,400 company-wide.

He’s active with I-CAR and the local chamber of commerce. He heads up fundraising events that support muscular dystrophy research, and he helped create a “Maker Space” at a local middle school so kids could get more engaged in analytical, hands-on educational projects.

Those are all among the reasons Kendrick promoted Bryant to COO and president in 2014, less than five years after hiring him. And those are many of the details Kendrick listed in his extensive nomination of Bryant for the FenderBender Executive Award.

The main reason he won, though, and the reason Kendrick felt Bryant was most deserving, harkens back to the way he ends each and every conversation with members of the Kendrick team.

“‘I love you, man,’” Kendrick reiterates. “It’s a simple, little thing he does, and a lot of people probably think that it sounds silly, but it just sets a tone and message, not only about who Tracy is but the culture he wants here.”

That love, Bryant says, comes from the early days of his career in which he worked for the grocery chain Publix, which is an employee owned company.

“It created a certain atmosphere where everyone was like a family and we were all in it together,” he explains. “I learned really early that a company is about its people. People make you successful. That’s really the only thing I tried to do when I first came [to Kendrick].”

Kendrick says it was evident in Bryant’s first work as an estimator, and his ability to relate to the staff and customers gave him a clear path to promotion. When faced with the adversity of turning around that struggling location, Kendrick says Bryant’s personality showed even more.

“I learned really early that a company is about its people. People make you successful.” —TRACY BRYANT

“It was a bad situation, and he quickly turned it around,” he says.

“I just tried to focus on changing the culture first and foremost,” Bryant explains. “If you have truly happy and engaged employees, customer service is going to be good, cycle time and productivity will be strong. Happy people are motivated people.”

Bryant took a different staff member to lunch each day to get to know them. They set team goals, and when they were met, they’d have cookouts or other gatherings to celebrate. He related to them on a personal level, and built a rapport to where the team began to work “for each other,” Kendrick says.

To this day, Bryant’s weekly goal is to have a personal interaction with each employee each week—all 165 of them.

That’s not to say Bryant overlooks the finer points of running a multi-shop repair business. He often works from 4 a.m. until 6 p.m., alternating his time between all eight shops. His apprenticeship program (there are currently 10 on staff) has helped eliminate tech shortage issues for the business, and the mentoring he does with the managers and estimators have made the entire Kendrick team stronger.

Kendrick says Bryant truly excels at efficient operations—but so do many in this industry.

Finding someone who puts as much of himself into the business, and truly has the impact he does on all employees from top to bottom—Kendrick says that’s what makes him truly stand apart.

In his own awe-shucks style, Bryant doesn’t see it as unique. He says he’s simply lucky to be where he is.

“There’s a lot to love, man,” he says. “I just want people to know.”

Runner-Up:

Sheila Samuel, Co-Owner, CARSTAR Ideal Auto Body and CARSTAR Ideal Arvada Auto Body, Littleton and Arvada, Colo.

Sheila Samuel opened CARSTAR Ideal Auto Body in Littleton, Colo., with her brother Jeff Samuel in 2001, and the two opened a second location in Arvada in 2013. Her dedication to customer service has helped both locations maintain net promoter scores above 95 percent, and her astute knowledge of operations led to the Arvada location doubling its monthly revenue (from $150,000 to $300,000) in its first year.

She also works closely with a number of veteran’s organizations, Recycled Rides, and the Colorado chapter of Make-A-Wish.

“When you talk to Sheila, you can tell that she has a true passion for what she does,” says David James, vice president of marketing for CARSTAR, in his nomination of Sheila. “She is very engaged and plugged into all aspects of her business, and that is certainly a trait that has made her very successful.”

 

 

MANAGER

PAYING IT FORWARD: As a 31-year-old district manager with ABRA, Max Sorensen says his career has already been more successful than he’d imagined starting out. Now, he wants to help push others on similar paths through the Collision Repair Opportunity Program. Photo by Stephanie Nolt

Building From Within

Max Sorensen, District Manager, Keenan Auto Body, An ABRA Company, Clifton Heights, PA.

Max Sorensen grew up in the auto industry; not collision repair exactly, but in his father’s transmission repair business in Philadelphia.

He says he always pictured a career in a shop. He just never imagined having the start he’s experienced.

At just 31, Sorensen is one of the youngest members of the ABRA Auto Body & Glass leadership team. He’s a district manager overseeing five shops (soon to be six) in the greater Philly region—five former Keenan Auto Body locations, the only company he’d ever worked for prior to its acquisition by ABRA last spring.

Paying it Forward As a 31-year-old district manager with ABRA, Max Sorensen says his career has already been more successful than he’d imagined starting out. Now, he wants to help push others on similar paths through the Collision Repair Opportunity Program.“This industry has already offered me so much, and I didn’t expect that at all starting out,” he says. “You think of there being some sort of limitations in this [industry], and my goal has been to open that up to as many people as I can.”

That’s why, two years ago, he spearheaded the creation of the Collision Repair Opportunity Program (CROP), an in-house, non-paid internship program for aspiring technicians, painters and shop staff. CROP started as a solution to an issue not only at Keenan Auto Body, but the industry as a whole: a shortage of properly trained, entry-level technicians.

“That to me, it helps me get into work each morning,” Sorensen says. “It’s not only good for our business, but also the industry and students coming out of schools. We’re able to give opportunities where there weren’t any before. It’s something very much needed in the industry right now, and it’s something I’m very proud of.”

It’s also garnered Sorensen national attention. He’s presented on the program for other shops and at industry events associated with the Collision Repair Education Foundation. With Sorensen’s help, ABRA plans to soon take the program nationwide.

“You think of there being some sort of limitations in this [industry], and my goal has been to open that up to as many people as I can.” —MAX SORENSEN

And the program was at the core of the nominations Sorensen received for this award, not only making him stand out among a crowded slate of nominees but demonstrating that the industry’s future looks much brighter through the eyes of an up-and-coming collision repair exec.

“Max is a ‘get it done’ kind of guy,” says Craig Camacho, former marketing director at Keenan Auto Body, an ABRA Company. “If he says he’s going to do something, he absolutely does it. He is one of our youngest leaders and leads by example with his tenacious work ethic and positive attitude.”

Sorensen says that passion has come from good role models in his life—from watching his father grind out his daily work to being taken under the wing of the former Keenan leadership team when he first arrived as a green detailer just trying to get his foot in the door in 2003.

He moved quickly through the ranks, working as a body technician and then an estimator, before being named a shop manager in 2009.

As the company grew (it had 12 locations at the time of its sale), so too did Sorensen’s role. Seeing the issues that plagued collision repair businesses from a higher level gave him the initial idea for the internship program.

“You just see the way every shop struggles to bring in new, quality technicians, and there needed to be a better way,” he says.

So, Sorensen and the Keenan team set about creating what turned into CROP.

Here’s the gist of it: It’s a nine-month program, broken into three trimesters and covering a similar curriculum to a year of trade school. Interns receive $1,500 in tools, and work alongside the shop’s technicians as they pass through different portions of training. Apart from learning technical skills, the interns are also taught on company policies and procedures, building “strong team members” and not just strong techs, Sorensen says.

The first year, three interns graduated and were given full positions with the company. Six interns are currently in the program.

“Our industry needs to get more proactive with bringing in new people and offering true opportunities to people,” Sorensen says. “This industry has given me so much—I never could’ve imagined that I’d be where I am now. Now, it’s just keep pushing forward and seeing where it can take us.”

Runner-Up:

Jerod Guerin, Regional Vice President Northeast Operations, Service King Collision Repair Centers

Jerod Guerin’s track record with Service King is lengthy and impressive. Formerly, as a general manager, he helped his locations win multiple top shop awards within the company’s network. He had a hand in helping Service King’s market share in San Antonio rise from eight locations to 21, and in his time as a regional manager in the Northeast, he’s helped Service King jump from 21 locations to 37. He also played a large role in Service King’s industry-changing acquisition of all 62 Sterling locations in mid-2014.

But his ability to lead is what has made him stand out.

“Jerod Guerin is a mentor. He always takes the time to educate others,” says Alexis Phylactos, an administrative assistant at Service King Regional Support Center in Chicago, in her nomination of Guerin. “His knowledge about the industry is extremely impressive and motivates me to want to learn more every day.”

 

 

SHOP WORKER

TALENT DRIVEN: Sean Cunningham stands out at CARSTAR Northwest Omaha, not just for his considerable skill level but also his attention to detail and process. Photo by Colin Conces

Cutting Edge

Sean Cunningham, Lead Painter, Northwest CARSTAR Omaha, Omaha, Neb.

Sean Cunningham has always been a painter at heart. As a kid playing with his Matchbox cars, he would always go for the ones with a matte or flakey finish. After high school, he wanted to explore his artistic side and took graphic design classes before heading back to the collision field as a detailer and paint prepper.

But 12 years later in his eighth year as one of two lead painters at Northwest CARSTAR Omaha, Cunningham says he can hardly believe the changes in the industry.

“Painting isn’t what it used to be,” he says. “The industry is changing so much. It’s unreal. There are things I used to do and nowadays I think, ‘Holy cow, that is almost dinosaur technology.’”

That’s not to say Cunningham, 33, is against those changes. It’s actually the opposite: Whether it’s switching to waterborne, adopting a team system or adapting to new equipment or technology, Cunningham has not only embraced the changes, he’s excelled.

The move to team painting? His efficiency has increased to over 200 percent and combined with the shop’s other painter, the two push 250 flagged hours per week and are looking to increase that to 300–350.

The switch to waterborne? Cunningham took it up so well (he’s Glasurit certified) that paint distributor Bill Cusick from JD Casey Paint says he considers Cunningham a local expert and frequently refers him to other painters starting on the waterborne transition.

And the new technology and processes? I-CAR tapped Cunningham to spend two weeks in Florida helping the organization update its refinish curriculum and make the programs more appealing to new generations.

“I come to work every day and I love it. A lot of people don’t feel that way.” —SEAN CUNNINGHAM

In the shop, Cunningham says he places great emphasis on communication and organization between the members of the paint department and the whole shop.

“We like to make sure that communication comes first,” he says. “When we get there in the morning, we’ve always got it set up the night before. We come in and we’ve got our folders lined up in front of us. We’ll let the preppers know, ‘When you get here, we’re going to prep this, we’re going to do this one because it has to go home tomorrow.’ We always look at the job ticket, the date, the insurance company we’re working with, whether it’s relaying to the body guy before it even comes over to paint, or if there’s something we need to edge and telling our preppers; even letting the estimators know, this car is going in the booth at this time, you should have it back at this time.”

It’s also about camaraderie. Cunningham can frequently be found helping the other lead painter or body technicians to get the job done quicker, or just lend a friendly hand.

“It really is about us getting as many cars as we can do and making a great product,” he says. “He wouldn’t stab me in the back and I wouldn’t stab him in the back. We’re trying to put out a great product and make everybody happy. It should be a revolving door, in and out, in and out. If we have to go help someone, we will.”

And that’s not all: Cunningham also donates his time to many of the community service programs in the area. He’s painted several Recycled Rides for the Women’s Fund of Omaha, acts as an expert painter during I-CAR seminars, and hosts high school students interested in auto body careers, talking about color matching and letting them mix and spray.

“When you see those kids coming in and you put that paint gun in their hand, they just love it,” he says. “You can see it in their face. They want to learn and they want to get better.”

It’s that passion for the industry, embrace of change, willingness to help others and hunger to improve the quality of his work and efficiency, coupled with his energetic, positive and pleasant demeanor, that has made Cunningham not only an indispensable member of the shop, but also a FenderBender Award winner.

“Sean is a prime example of how willingness to learn, combined with on the job training can be a winning combination,” says David James, vice president of marketing at CARSTAR.

“It has just always been a passion,” Cunningham says. “I come to work every day and I love it. A lot of people don’t feel that way.”

Runner-Up:

Brian Osbon, Technician, Robberson Collision Center, Bend, Ore.

Shop manager Ben Nolan calls Brian Osbon a critical part of the growth and reputation that Robberson Collision Center has cultivated over the years.

“No matter what processes I implement as a manager, it is crucial that the technicians buy in and have the same philosophies in respect to customer service, quality, attitude and production expectations. I have worked in this industry for over 25 years and it is rare to find a technician who sees the whole picture the way Brian does,” he says. “Brian understands what is expected and constantly exceeds those expectations as a person who not only concerns himself with his interest but also with others and what would benefit the entire company.”

Osbon is also Ford F-150 certified, has achieved I-CAR Pro Level 3 Platinum Individual as a steel and aluminum structural technician, and has mentored an apprentice for two years.

 

 

WILD CARD

DOUBLE FOCUS: Moses Ojeda, left, and Barry Roopnarine have worked to transform the struggling collision program at their New York high school into one of the industry’s premier technical education institutions. Photo by Kent Meister

Giving Back

Moses Ojeda, Principal + Barry Roopnarine, Instructor, Collision Refinishing Program, Thomas A. Edison Career & Technical Education School, Jamaica, N.Y.

When Barry Roopnarine heard that the funding for a brand new Accudraft Titan paint booth had finally been approved after years of red tape, he turned to Moses Ojeda, who was beaming.

“I told you to have faith in me,” Ojeda said.

What might seem like just another purchase for a collision repair shop was actually, as Roopnarine describes it, “a dream becoming a reality,” a manifestation of everything the two Thomas A. Edison Career & Technical Education High School alumni had worked toward for years: They had successfully morphed the collision refinishing program at the high school in Jamaica, N.Y. from a dead-end, one-year course into a three-year experience that gives students the real-world experience they need to succeed in the industry.

“The course was a dumping ground. It was not something to be proud of,” Ojeda says. “It was tough for [Roopnarine], as well, because the kids weren't motivated. People basically told them, ‘You’re the bad kids. You’re the struggling kids.’ It was not a good atmosphere. That’s where our partnership began and he took on the challenge.”

Ojeda took over as principal of the Career & Technical Education wing in 2012 (he had been assistant principal since 2008) and has worked with Roopnarine—who has now been an instructor at Thomas Edison for 12 years—in producing shop ready technicians for the industry.

Together, the duo turned the two-semester course into a program that spans the sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. Students begin with collision repair theory and the safety aspects of refinishing, then move on to focus on damage analysis and estimating fundamentals, and then cap off the program by becoming EPA certified. There is also a heavy emphasis on business management and customer service skills important to the industry.

The results speak for themselves: The collision refinishing program has achieved a gold medal in the SkillsUSA national refinishing competition, two silver medals at the SkillsUSA state competition and was awarded the Collision Repair Education Foundation’s $50,000 Ultimate Makeover Grant.

Not only have technical schools throughout the country visited the program Ojeda and Roopnarine have crafted, but they’ve even had instructors in China, Israel, Britain and the Netherlands take tours of the facility—all attempting to figure out just what makes this little high school wing so unique and special.

And it’s Roopnarine and Ojeda’s passion, drive and groundbreaking success that has made them the first joint winners of the FenderBender Wild Card Award.

“It’s about inspiring these kids to do more with their lives,” Roopnarine says. “I tell them all the time: ‘You can do so much in this industry. You don’t have to be sanding a car for eight hours a day.’

“I have a student who graduated. He sends me pictures of him painting jets in the aircraft industry. That is so cool that we helped him reach his full potential.”

Ojeda contributes in the classroom as well. Not the kind of administrator to sit behind his desk all day, the Thomas Edison principal is present during classes and participates in professional development for collision repair, including traveling to the BMW North American training sessions and painting the hood of a Mini Cooper with the students.

“Any great company is in touch with its workers, so I like to ask students how it's going for them and what changes we could make,” Ojeda says.

Even with the booming success of the program, Ojeda and Roopnarine aren’t even close to being finished. They’re expanding the curriculum even further, adding waterborne painting lessons, expanding detailing classes to including window tinting and striping, and, now with the proper funding, some hands-on spraying experience in the paint booth.

In addition to all of that, the collision refinishing program will soon combine with the Automotive Technology program for some cross curricular projects.

“Our sights are always on what the industry is looking for,” Ojeda says. “The goal is to make sure these kids are employed after high school. We want to be the one-stop shop to do everything. It’s about taking it to the next level and being on the cutting edge.”

Runner-Up:

Lupe Herrera, Business Development Manager, Challenger Agency

Lupe Herrera has taken his experience with the Ford National Body Shop program and educated independent collision repair shops and MSOs on the ever-changing industry landscape. He helped over 20 Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma dealer body shops to become compliant with Ford’s requirements.

“As many of his clients struggle to navigate profitability through the legacy model of DRPs, Lupe has exposed many shops to the profitable alternative of OEM-certification and other models of collision repair success,” says David Cranfill, administrator for the Challenger Agency.

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