Is your business ready for a COO?

Aug. 4, 2022
At some point, you need to pull away from the day-to-day operation of the business. Who will be the person to provide you with that opportunity?

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What you will learn:

  • Why it makes sense to hire a chief operating officer (COO)
  • When is the right time to hire a COO
  • How the CEO and COO work together to grow and maintain a healthy business

Let’s face it, you didn’t start this business only to give yourself a job that has all the responsibility and accountability with no end in sight. A true entrepreneur starts a business with the end in mind. With that in mind, I’m sure you didn’t open or take over a repair service center thinking you will work in it until the day you die. Now that I’ve got you thinking that at some point you need to pull away from the day-to-day operation of the business, when is the time to do that and who will the person be who can provide you with that opportunity?

You must grow with the times

In a business organizational chart, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the owner or is the officer hired to grow the business. They are not the manager, lead tech, service manager, or chef and bottle washer. The purpose of the CEO is to grow the business each year. This means forecasting and plotting the course and direction the company is going to take to grow and stay relevant. We have all seen or even been a part of businesses that closed because they refused to change and grow with the demand of the consumer.

The perfect example of this is Blockbuster Video. I remember almost every Friday night going down to my neighborhood store and hoping they had the latest release in stock for me to rent. I even remember hanging out at the return counter hoping someone was returning the video I wanted. When internet and cable service grew, a small start-up company called Netflix was born. This business asked Blockbuster if they would like to merge and grow the movie rental business. Blockbuster thought there was no need to change, and Netflix would never become the premier movie rental company it has become. Be careful. If you don’t have a true CEO growing the business, you can very easily become a Blockbuster.

Why your business needs a COO

Now that we know what the role of the CEO is, who oversees the operation of our business? That person is called a COO, a chief operating officer. We at ATI also call this a second in command. The COO’s function is to ensure the CEO’s plan is executed in all aspects of the business. This individual is on the same page as the CEO and has a clear understanding of what the CEO wants to accomplish. The COO’s experience and competencies enable him or her to impact every part of the business. This person has business intelligence to anticipate problems and create solutions.

Limited Time Offer: ATI's COO Startup Checklist Do you feel overwhelmed and overworked? A checklist is one quick and easy way to know whether your auto repair shop is ready for a COO. Download ATI’s COO Startup Checklist to help you better understand the current state of your business and if you are ready for a COO. To receive your copy, go to for a limited time. The COO can understand complex issues and create action plans. Most importantly, he or she ensures the sales goals are met and the expenses are managed. Managers will lead the staff and manage processes. The COO will work on a level above this to ensure all the departments are working together and communication is clear at all levels. He or she will become the leader of the CEO’s vision.

Sounds good so far, right? Just go out and find a smart person and put him or her in charge. If it were only that easy. We need to first set up our business to receive such a person and position. This will not work in a true mom-and-pop operation. The owner will need to grow the business to a level that will support the position’s salary demand and have the resources to be successful. It should also have enough staff that a COO can have an impact on the business. Many times, we bring in someone we hope can fill our shoes and run us out of the shop as fast as possible, only to be disappointed they were not successful, and we are brought kicking and screaming back to the day-to-day operation.

To get out of that merry-go-round, we need to ensure the business is in a condition for which the COO can take the steering wheel and drive. This means developing processes and procedures so he or she can measure the performance of the team. Most importantly, he or she needs to know the company’s core values and culture. He or she needs a high-definition picture in 4k of where the business currently is and where the CEO wants it to go. Then he or she obviously needs the autonomy and tools to get there.

When to look for a COO

When does the owner know it’s time to develop or look for a COO? When the CEO feels one or more of the following:

He or she does not have the energy and freedom to grow the business.

He or she is unable to take something from concept to a final product.

There are not enough hours in the day.

He or she is spending more time managing rather than growing.

He or she gets bogged down with deadlines, tasks, and employee or customer issues.

These are just a few possibilities to consider. When the CEO cannot grow the business, he or she jeopardizes the life of the business. So, do you need to find this COO, or can you grow this person? The answer is "yes" to both. Getting your business ready to receive a COO is the priority. The quickest route is typically to hire from the outside. Select someone who already has the experience, knowledge, and proven track record to come in and make an impact. You can also consider candidates from another industry.

If you have sound systems and processes, a COO with business intelligence and clear direction will have the ability to achieve the results. Growing within is also possible. This could be a family member or sibling. The pitfall to avoid is giving up control of the day-to-day decisions of the business too soon while assuming this individual was paying close attention when you did it. In most cases, we see that you need anywhere from two to three years to get the business ready, select a candidate, and train the candidate.

The importance of CEO and COO

The CEO doesn’t turn his or her back on the business once the COO is in place. Regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with the COO are critical to the health and direction of the business. The CEO should know what the COO is working on and the course of action they are planning on taking. They need to mentor and support the COO. Here at ATI, we have a CEO and a COO 20 Group to help support both positions. As you know, not one person has all the answers, and sometimes having someone not emotionally involved in the business to look and make recommendations could help both positions look at their company from a different perspective. It also helps them learn about trends and new technology that is coming into our industry.

I hope this article helped you understand the importance of having a true CEO that lets the company know where they are going and the COO letting the company know how they are going to get there. I hope you find your COO and can focus your time and energy on making your business the best it can be!

About the Author

Mike Haley | Executive Coach

Mike Haley started in the auto industry in 1985, working part-time for his father's friend at a four-bay Western Auto while also attending community college. He joined Pep Boys in 1987 as an assistant manager, soon became one of the youngest store managers in the chain, and was eventually promoted to District Operations Manager in the Washington and Northern Virginia market. He went on to serve as service and facility director for 23 service departments in the mid-Atlantic market. In 2005, he served as operations manager for CarMax Toyota, the second largest Toyota dealership in the country, where he was exposed to new technologies and processes for acquiring and retaining customers. Mike uses his decades of experience and certifications to help shop owners become successful both personally and professionally and is what Mike describes as his greatest reward. ATI's 34 full-time, certified coaches, including Mike, have helped ATI's members earn over $2 billion in return on their coaching investment since ATI was founded.

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