The 2017 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Awards: George Zeeks
Above and Beyond
Category: Wild Card
Director of Client Fulfillment / Automotive Training Institute
Ask a client of George Zeeks the impact he’s had on their business as a consultant, and the responses come pouring in:
He learned Russian to help a shop better reach its heavily Jewish-Russian community.
He helped repair a father-son relationship that was so toxic it was running their business into the ground.
He was the first call one of his clients made when her son attempted suicide.
He helped a veteran workaholic shop owner learn to let go and take 10–12 weeks of vacation per year.
Sifting through the nearly dozen nominations Zeeks received for the 2017 Ratchet+Wrench All-Star Awards, one theme is abundantly clear: There’s almost nothing he won’t do to go above and beyond for his clients in his role as a director of client fulfillment for the Automotive Training Institute (ATI).
“George has been a guiding light for me in both my personal life and the growth of my business,” Beth Ammazzalorso, owner of Sunny Sunoco in Margate City, N.J., writes in her nomination for Zeeks. “George is unrelenting in making you strive for success.”
When Zeeks joined ATI in 2004, he had never turned a wrench in his life. So, he spent a lot of time taking as many classes as he possibly could, eventually getting ASE certifications and L1 advanced engine performance certification. He calls it a “self-defense tactic,” meaning that he could ask or answer any questions a tech would have for him.
“[So] when a tech said, ‘You need an O2 sensor,’ I would have the right questions to ask, because I’ve never been a technician,” he says.
And to better serve his clients, he became a certified life coach through leadership guru John C. Maxwell (author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership), which led to a goal of getting every ATI coach to become life coach certified.
“We are glorified soccer moms. We are football dads. I mean seriously,” Zeeks says. “We bask in the reflection of our clients, or our members.”
In his role as a coach, he is part mentor, part trainer, part tell-it-like-it-is advisor and—most importantly—part friend.
After her husband fell ill, Ammazzalorso turned to Zeeks, who guided her in a time when she had to take on more responsibility, later helping her turn her business around for the better. But she also was grateful for Zeeks in a time of personal hardship, when her son attempted suicide.
“He helped me gain perspective and help him recover. He was the first person I called that I knew that would not be judgemental but listen with compassion and direction,” she says.
Donna Mead, owner of Ken’s Automotive & Transmissions in Frederick, Md., writes, “He taught us how to give back to the community, how to make an impact in the automotive industry by joining groups that advocate for the automotive industry.”
In addition to helping clients on a one-on-one level, Zeeks has also found ways to help the industry as a whole. In a collaborative effort with colleagues, he helped create online videos that take a presentation on a certain topic and break it down to its key elements. He eventually created ATI’s YouTube channel in which these lessons would be distributed. He is also the facilitator of Leading Ladies, the only all-female 20 Group in the industry.
And while having to tell clients the tough truths about their businesses can be difficult, the reward he finds in that is priceless.
“When you get a phone call from a husband or a wife and they’re like, ‘You know, you saved my marriage, you saved our business, you saved our family,’ I mean, that is just huge,” he says.