How I Work » Randy Stabler

June 1, 2012

In 1983, Randy Stabler co-founded Pride Auto Body, now a 152-employee, six-location company in southern California. The $22-million-a-year network aims to do more than fix cars: It strives to be the best in the industry. Stabler has maintained that mindset from the beginning.

The most important part of my day starts with a piece of paper on a bulletin board in my office. It’s the company’s core values and beliefs. They’re not just words; I look at it and gauge whether the day’s decisions measured up to our values and beliefs. They’re barometers to put myself in check. I ask all the managers to do the same.

The main focus is on the customer. So each morning I get up around 6 or 6:30 in the morning and get ready. Before I even leave in the morning I read the CSI [customer service index] surveys. If there are nice comments, I send them to the manager and congratulate them. If they’re negative, I follow up. CSI today for most companies is a marketing piece. They really don’t care about the customer. They say they do, but they don’t. For us, it’s a personal mission. I give a crap about every one of those customers. It’s our reputation on the line. Pride is not just a name that we came up with.

"The power of  getting everyone to row in the same direction is an incredible tool."

My business partner and I started Pride in 1983. I had just finished my political science degree at UCLA. Nobody in my family had ever started a business. My parents were educators, and certainly forced me to go to college. It was an expectation.

Someone might look at it as though I was a disappointment to work on cars and start a business. But as it turns out, building something from scratch—with no money, no loan, no guidance from your parents—is a tremendous feeling. It was just on a wing and a prayer, a work ethic and a drive, and a desire to not fail. It’s a tremendous gift that we have that nobody can take away from us.

Typically, I get to work each day around 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. Each day is different. Every day usually begins with some project with one of the stores, like talking with a manager about an issue they’re having, looking at sales reports and talking to a manager about how to modify payroll or load leveling. Then there’s work involved with getting a new account, or firefighting with a dealership or insurance account.

In a typical day, fortunately or unfortunately, a good part of my time is listening and hearing and mediating disparate viewpoints. I do coaching and mentoring with managers on making a better connection with their staff.

And truthfully, as much as I hate to say it, there is a certain amount of firefighting with my own schedule. I usually have a very defined task list for myself every day. Either on the weekend or on Friday I will typically set a task agenda for my entire week—a whole host of things I want to get done for an entire week. I’m never able to accomplish those tasks. Too many things come up that require my immediate attention, like an employee who feels underappreciated. I have an open-door policy, so I have a lot of conversations with employees.

Every week I go to each of our six facilities and act as a courier service. I pick up hard documents that need to be transferred back and forth, like certain payments that need to be made, or documents from a vendor. I make sure to interface with staff, say hello to everyone, and engage the manager. I thank the staff for their contributions, and reinforce the importance of the team. Then I do a facility walk-around. I look to make sure we maintain the 5S standard, which is part of our lean journey we started over three years ago. I make sure that the customer is going to have a good experience, like checking the waiting room and lobby, the staff’s attire, and going through the bathrooms. I don’t know why I do that anymore, though, because we’re doing a great job with that. I do this at all of our stores once per week.

Usually those meetings are in the morning, but not on Mondays. On Mondays I’m in the Santa Corina Valley, which is 20 miles from our other stores. I go through the two stores there and walk through and meet with managers.

On Tuesdays I have an executive conference call with our business partners. We talk about our weekly objectives, and progress we’re supposed to be making on things. Like Bob, our CFO, would talk about HR compliance issues. He’s also in charge of IT development. For me, I talk about store manager issues, sales, any thorny employee or customer issues, as well as our growth and marketing strategy progress, among other things.

Then on Wednesday morning we have a training call with all managers on how to better utilize our management systems. We spend a half-hour on computer training. It helps us learn more about online documents, estimating applications, or even Microsoft Outlook. For example, through Microsoft Outlook I use a task list, and each store has a folder. You can group tasks in Outlook by people you’ve assigned them to. I’ll go in and assign them a task, like to follow up with a technician on their welding or something like that. If we maximize the power of our computers, we’re going to be more efficient.

On Thursday afternoon we have book review. We pick a business book, read a chapter or two, or some designated amount, and talk about what we got out of that segment of the book. We read books on leadership, like we recently finished Collapse of Distinction by Scott McKain. It’s a fascinating book about what makes a difference in companies. We’ve also read The One-Minute Manager, books in Harvard Business Review’s 10 most-read books on leadership, The Tipping Point, and others.

Some of the books resonate with the managers. Some think some of them were crappy. Some think there were dry books or ones they didn’t get, which were some I liked, like some of the Harvard Business Review books. I think that I am very much different and odd compared to the stereotypical body shop business owner.

I think sometimes managers come to these meetings thinking, “This old man, he’s crazy.” But they all know over time that I walk the walk. As an example, when I come to the stores, I don’t park on my property, I park on the street. I park where my employees park. If all the employees are allowed to park in the parking lot, then I will. If I have a kid and say, “Don’t smoke and drink,” then I can’t smoke and drink. I don’t have kids, so I smoke and drink plenty.

Typically I will also visit our key dealers once a week. So I’ll just stop by and say “hi” and show my face. I take a business client out to lunch once a week. I don’t usually take a lunch break for myself.

For us it’s all about people management. It’s all about the culture. People are our most important assets—both our customers and our employees. If you don’t earn the hearts of these people, you’re not going to earn their minds. They’re not going to listen to factual data. So we spend a lot of our time trying to get results through managing the people.

My biggest challenge is making sure that we do the right kind of mentoring and documentation with employees. If I see disgruntled employees, I coach the manager so that their employees have buy-in. It’s deploying psychology. You have to reach their hearts first.

One thing we’ve done is assess our culture through a questionnaire. We spend a significant amount of time on our lean journey. It’s never complete because it’s a process of continual improvement, and that’s why we need to look at our culture.

As a team we sat down and looked at what makes us different, and what we could do to set ourselves apart. One person suggested that we stay open on evenings and weekends. We’re implementing that now. We’re going to do that with four 10-hour shifts six days a week. We’ll have three teams; two teams will work and one team will have off. People don’t work the same day every week. Sometimes they’ll work Saturdays.

Nobody was too hot on this idea at first. But after we started to have meetings and talk about it, and started really making a diligent push on it, they understood the wisdom. It will help with cycle time and give us an advantage over competitors.

We are definitely different. We are strange. Everybody’s motivated by money, and yes we all need money to survive. That’s true. But I would have made a lot more money if that were the driving force. I just wanted to work hard and do a better job than my competitors. Rewards come from that. Being part of a winning team is more satisfying. The power of getting everyone to row in the same direction is an incredible tool.

Usually, I work until about 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m., and then do about an hour of emails after I get home. It’s a full contribution. ...

I don’t work on the weekends anymore. I used to. I’ll answer a few emails, but truthfully my work is pretty limited on the weekends at this point. My wife and I play golf on the weekends. What I really love to do is fly. We have a small single-engine plane. I like the continual improvement. You always get better at that. I also ride dirt bikes and street bikes. We’re going to ride from Seattle to Alaska this summer, which is one of my bucket-list items.

Really, each day is about working toward the common goal of improving our culture and outperforming our competitors. If we’re going to the playoffs every year, we’re going to make more money. This is something I believe in. It’s not perfect, but we’re closer to our goals than most. If we do get there, that will be my greatest satisfaction. I’ll know that I left something that can endure past me.

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