After being a shop owner for more than 35 years, you get to the point where you begin to question how you fit in. In the blink of an eye, I went from a young kid with a passion to change the world to a seasoned veteran who at times finds it hard to relate to his employees.
For decades I worked alongside my employees. I shared the good times, the bad times, fought my way through the most difficult jobs and expressed every emotion imaginable. I would come in early and stay late, never asking anyone to do what I wouldn’t do. In fact, I purposely went above and beyond to make sure that no one in my shop worked harder than I did. Was I the perfect boss? Probably not; I made a ton of mistakes. But my heart was always in the right place.
At this stage in my career as a shop owner, one thing has become obvious: the marathon we call running a repair shop can’t last forever. There comes a time when you have to put away your tools, take yourself off the service counter, stay out of the bays and hand the baton to someone else. This is where I am today. I am not quite ready to retire, but running the shop to the extent I once did is now more a part of my past.
Today, I no longer work side by side with my employees. The day-to-day operations are run by my manager, Bill. Most of the critical decisions are made by him. I trust him and have confidence that he will do the right thing. However, there is a downside to this: What is my role now? Where do I fit in? Or do I even fit in at all?
The other day Bill asked me if I could road test a car. I got behind the wheel, turned the key and the car was dead. I then noticed that the technician made a note on the work order that the battery needed to be replaced, but for some reason, the service advisor didn’t sell the battery. I’d been noticing that there were other missed services on other work orders that, in my opinion, should have been sold. I lost my temper and reacted in a way I shouldn’t have. I said things I shouldn’t have. It was frustration taking over, and I was wrong to react that way—no excuses. Later I apologized to everyone, but the damage was done.
This is not the first time I got upset in similar situations. But years back I was right there in the trenches with them. If I lost my temper, we worked together as a team to work through the issue. Today, I am no longer “one of the guys.” For the most part, I don’t get my hands dirty and I don’t sell jobs. So reacting is now viewed as interfering and not understanding what they go through, and it ends up alienating people.
Here’s the bottom line: This is my company. I built it from nothing. I was 25 years old with 700 bucks in my pocket. I spent years punishing my body and lost plenty of sleep worrying about making payroll. Don’t I have the right to say what I think and react the way I want to? Does anyone know what I have been through? Does anyone even care? Ok, I got that off my chest.
The truth is my employees do care. Bill does a great job as manager. All of my employees do a great job. We have an amazing business. Did I really build it all by myself? My company is a success today because of the great people around me. Are they perfect? No one is. And, I need to be careful of my own glass house before I cast the stone of judgment.
The time has come to realize that I have a new role; the role of mentor and coach. In order to truly build my legacy, I need to build the legacies of people around me. In order to truly show leadership, I need to help my employees succeed by bringing out the best in them. I need to clearly understand my role at this point in my life and the roles of each person employed at the company.
Mostly, I need to allow the people around me to do what they do best, and that’s run the company. Stepping on people’s toes and trying to micromanage will only result in distancing myself from the people I want to help. Will Bill and everyone else do things my way? No, but let’s face it; I never did anything the way someone else did either.
Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For an archive of his columns, go to ratchetandwrench.com/marconi.