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Monday, 04 June 2007 15:54

State Farm executive shares secrets of success to a sell-out crowd at inaugaral conference

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WIN board of directors, seated from left, Geralyn Kottschade (chair), Sheila Loftus (executive director); standing, from left, Catherine Babiar (international), Trish Serratore (treasurer), Frederica Carter (advisory), Gigi Walker (Secretary), Marcy Tieger (advisory), Kathy Mello (vice chair). 
    The inaugural Women’s Industry Network (WIN) conference held April 29-May 1 in Phoenix, Arizona, featured 115 attendees, the vast majority of them women. Attendees came from more than a dozen states and Canada to share insight in regards to women in the collision industry.


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 In attendance were the women of Marco’s Auto Body in Southern California, from left, Beatriz Ayala, Kristin Nelson, Tatiane Kennard, Lisa Funes, Susan Wong, Kathy Nguyen, Lillian Maimone, Rosalie Elder.

    “It was a huge success,” said Sheila Loftus, WIN’s executive director. Attendees ranged from “students to CEO’s. We had women painters, body techs, sales managers, vice presidents, shop owners, managers, and human resource personnel.”
    The conference featured presentations by industry consultants Matthew Ohrnstein and Marcy Tieger of Symphony Advisors, State Farm claims vice president Susan Hood, Enterprise Rent-a-Car vice president Mary Mahoney, and Laura Angell, a vocational instructor at Warren Tech in Colorado. The conference also featured panel discussions on how to recruit and retain women in the collision repair industry and successful strategies for women in business.
    “The WIN events were a mixture of networking and educational seminars and speakers,” Loftus said. “Everything at the conference was designed to help women advance in this industry.”
    Angell encouraged attendees to get involved in their local vocational schools, which are generally under funded. “If you work with the schools, you’ll have the inside track for getting recruits,” she said.
Mahoney shared with attendees the secret to Enterprise’s success: Treat customers like your neighbor, and take care of your employees. Growth and profitability, she said, would follow.
    During one of the panel discussions, Gigi Walker, a California body shop owner, encouraged women to “teach the male staff to be receptive to having women on the shop floor. There are women who would like to go out in the shop. Make the shop a respectable place for any person to work.”
    Walker said she was overcome with emotion after looking out at the audience during the panel. The room was full of female body shop owners, managers, receptionists, car detailers, and technicians. There were paint distributors, women who mix and deliver paint and paint reps from different companies, Walker said. “There are women involved behind the scenes that we don’t even know about. They are coming out of the woodwork.”
    “To see that whole crew of women, it’s something I’ve been wanting to see for years,” Walker said. “I’ve had my shop for 19 years, and over the years I felt very alone.”
    On the day following the panel, WIN attendees developed a list of ideas to attract women to the collision repair industry. This included being present at career days, creating pleasant work environments, speaking with students, and hosting family-friendly open houses.
    Entertainment at the conference’s gala dinner included a 13-member, all-women mariachi band. One of the attendees summed up the spirit of the entire conference in a single word: sisterhood.
    In addition to hosting the conference, WIN announced its board of directors, which includes four executive officers: Geralynn Kottschade of Jerry’s Body Shop in Mankato, Minn., chair; Kathy Mello of TGIF Body Shop in Fremont, Calif., vice chair; Trish Serratore of ASE in Leesburg, Va., treasurer; and Gigi Walker of Walker’s Auto Body and Fleet Repair in Concord, Calif., secretary, Frederica Carter of Akzo Nobel Coatings in Norcross, Ga.; Marcy Tieger of Symphony Advisors in Irvine, Calif. Catherine Babiar of Ontario, Canada, is WIN’s international director. WIN’s executive director is Sheila Loftus. Eventually, WIN will have a 12-person board of directors. For those interested in serving on the WIN board of directors, an application is available online at

State Farm executive offered five leadership lessons

    Hood, claims vice president of State Farm Insurance shared the lessons that have led to her business success. She said she believes in five leadership lessons. The first is that “planning and preparation” are essential.
    “Good leadership is a result of forethought,” Hood said. Her second leadership lesson was to “trust your people.” Leaders sometimes find this concept difficult, she said, because in trusting their employees, they are “giving up some control.” Nevertheless, “great leaders are those who can give their employees room to do the job.”
    Hood’s third lesson was “knowing when you need to act and then acting quickly.” Leaders can’t necessarily wait until all the facts are in before making a decision, she said. “Leadership is about ambiguity. Sometimes you just have to listen to your gut.”
    The fourth lesson was “knowing your role,” which entails acquiring the discipline “to remain focused on the right priorities and make mid-course corrections, to know when to get involved and when to step back.”
    “Learn from your experience,” was  her final leadership lesson. Mistakes can be good, Hood said, if they lead to knowledge. Good leaders must constantly examine their past actions in order to gauge the probable success of future actions.
    In addition to her five leadership lessons, Hood offered a revealing look at her own history as a woman in a male-dominated field. Part of this history included her and her husband’s decision to move for her career, a decision that necessitated selling her husband’s business.
Insurance control of shops will increase
    Insurers will gain increasing control over the collision repair process, Ohrnstein, a 30-year veteran of the collision repair and insurance industries told the audience at the conference.
    As a former executive with Caliber, a collision repair industry consolidator, and now the managing partner of Symphony Advisors LLC, Ohrnstein said consumers are looking to insurers to make the repair process painless for them. Insurers will be happy to oblige by keeping repairers as invisible as possible to consumers.
    One way insurers have been gaining control over the repair process is advertising, Ohrnstein said. Advertising isn’t intended only to win new customers but to solidify name recognition with existing customers. And with name recognition comes trust, Ohrnstein said.
    Last year, insurers spent $3.5 billion in advertising. GEICO alone spent $631 million “They’re not spending the dollars to let their customers go off in the wind and pick any shop they choose,” Ohrnstein told the audience at WIN.
    Insurers will look for new ways of interfacing with collision repair facilities, Ohrnstein said. While insurance-company ownership of collision repair facilities, as with Allstate and Caliber, hasn’t succeeded, other business models have.
    GEICO’s ARX program and Progressive’s Concierge program are the kinds of programs insurers are likely to build on for future programs.
    As Ohrnstein sees it, the majority of consumers want their insurers to handle the repair process from start to finish. And insurers are eager to take up this mandate.
    Collision repairers can’t expect there to be more repairs in the future, Ohrnstein said. The complexity of vehicle technology, including airbags, will lead to more totaled vehicles and therefore fewer repairs. Other factors working against repairers: the rising cost of fuel, which encourages motorists to drive less frequently, and the increasing prevalence of accident-avoidance technology.
    Despite the bleak picture of the industry, savvy collision repair facilities will survive, Ohrnstein said.
    To survive, shops will need to become better marketers, Ohrnstein said. Even more important, they will need to ensure that their repair process is as streamlined as possible. In a phrase, to succeed, shops will have to “get the process right.”
     “A lot of pieces have to come together to really work through it and have a sustainable model. But the overarching critical factor of why companies succeed or fail is implementation.”

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