Leading By Example

May 1, 2016
Linda Mae Newman’s strong work ethic keeps her techs motivated at Gil’s Garage

It was, as she says, “sink or swim.”

It was Christmas morning, 1985, and Linda Mae Newman’s father, Gil Brewster, had passed away. His business, Gil’s Garage, was suddenly without its founder for the first time since 1966. And as a 17-year-old high school student, Newman was at quite the crossroads.

“We were going to try and make it, or we were going bust,” she says. “So we decided, as a family, that we would make a go of it.” The youngest of four children, Newman began to split time between studying management science and running Gil’s Garage alongside her brother and new president, Mike Brewster. As she earned her bachelor’s degree and moved into the vice president role, the 10-bay facility was poised for success.

Twenty-five years and six additional bays later, business is booming: a team of 30 working staggered shifts to repair 1,550 cars per month and pull in $5.4 million per year at the company’s Burnt Hills, N.Y., location. And Newman’s leadership has been a huge part of that.

Still living by that “sink or swim” mindset, Newman exemplifies her father’s workhorse attitude, working 12.5-hour days twice a week and 15-hour shifts the other days. She works long shifts, she almost never stops—and she loves every second of it.

“I personally thrive off the energy that our team generates at work each and every day,” she says. “I choose to work long hours because I truly believe in our mission and I find pure enjoyment from helping others and keeping our customers continually satisfied.” From dispatching calls to scheduling parts to educating customers, Newman is always on the floor with her hardworking technicians, making sure they’re happy, producing high volumes of work, and motivated by somebody leading by example.

My formal training is management science. I studied people. I studied social sciences. That’s where my personal strength is, and I know how to communicate with my staff and keep everybody motivated.

I’m applying my education every second of every minute of every day. Whether it be with customers, or whether it be with employees, you have to be able to read people. If somebody is struggling, why are they struggling? Are they struggling with the situation? Or are they struggling with you? Struggling with finances? You have to peel it away like an onion and find out where their discomfort is coming from. Help me understand what we need to do to get through this situation.

I get in at 6:15 a.m. and stack our board. I sift through the work orders to see what’s come in overnight and if there are any early bird dropoffs.

Then I stage our day. Because we’ve spent so much time together, and because we’re discussing every repair, I know what our technicians’ strengths and weakness are. We’re a very technical shop and we all have our areas of expertise with how we’re set up. I’ll plan out the day for each technician, each of whom has his own board. A work order could be staged for two or three different technicians.

We have 16 technicians, and all have their own bay. With 16 bays, we don’t have the luxury of getting a car in, tearing it down and then working in the bay next to you to do another teardown while the service writers are writing a ticket. We’re just not set up that way. Every bay is full every hour.

The fewest amount of cars we do in a day is 70. In the crazy months, we can get up to over 100. On a typical day, we’ll have 25 walk-ins, or waiters. I leave space on our board to handle up to 40 waiters. We really try to cater to them.

I track when parts will come from suppliers. Depending on the job and where the parts are procured from, we know roughly when they’ll be delivered during the day. We get one delivery from this particular supplier at 10 a.m., we get another delivery from this supplier at noon, and so on.

I’m good about shifting us to Plan B if anything falls through. Our guys are very willing to team up on a big job while we’re waiting for parts on a smaller job. We really work together as a team to knock out as many cars as we do.

Our distinct work environment with the unique mix of personalities we have allows me to really utilize my psychology background when approaching conversations with my co-workers. We are constantly striving to provide the highest quality service and repair to all of our guests in a timely manner. I always try to apply my managerial skills when making fast-paced decisions that are most beneficial to our customers

As the cars come and go, I dispatch and sell service throughout the day. I’m still selling service at 9 p.m., whether it be a tire rotation, or it be a cabin air filter. We have a fairly large stock of inventory, so I’m able to sell just about anything.

I’m always in the back at a counter, interacting with the technicians. We all work side by side. I’m not in an office. I’m not at a desk. I’m on the floor with them every day, all day long. If a technician needs something sold, then I get on the phone and I sell it. My staff is phenomenal, which makes it easier to sell service. My technicians will walk up to me and discuss what they need to repair on the vehicles. I have the luxury of being pretty technical because I’ve been doing this for so long, and my guys are wonderful about explaining the job to me. If you believe in what you’re doing and you believe in your people, it makes it easier to explain to the customer why they need something.

Actually, I should rephrase “sell service”—I’m not a salesman. My job is not to sell you anything. My job is to inform you so you can make an educated decision about fixing your car. That’s my entire job. And when I start to sell things, that’s when I need to leave my post.

I try to utilize my management background in all aspects of my daily work, from satisfying our customers’ needs, to working with fellow employees, in addition to making financial decisions. I use lessons I learned from accounting to work toward remaining a profitable business while still keeping in mind the value of our customer’s time and money.

Keeping up with the customers throughout the day is the other crucial part of my daily workload. I use my focus in psychology to work through situations with different customers based on their diverse personalities and unique needs. If we didn’t get a shipment or a part is wrong, I call the customer and explain the situation, and ask them what we need to do to make it work with their schedule. I will say, “Do you need a ride? Do you want me to round up a loaner car? Tell me and I’ll get it done.”

If you get a hold of somebody early in the day, people are rarely upset about a setback, because then they have time to get things ironed out. If you’re telling somebody the exact same story at 4 p.m., they’re all exasperated and upset because they haven’t had time to plan out for whatever happens.

As my shift comes to an end, I’ll go over all the work for the evening shifts. We have a stage for the evening work and any time-sensitive repairs we’re watching. I also like to see what’s coming in the next day. I’ll sift through and plan out how we’re going to do it.

I have to keep in mind that there are always glitches. One phone call, or one comeback, or one tow-in and the whole day changes. I’ve been doing this 25 years and I’ve never had the exact same day. Even when a day starts out rough, it always smooths out—I’ve been doing this a long time and I never panic.

I seriously can’t believe I’ve worked a 15-hour day at the end of most days. I’m pushing to be able to leave. There’s so much to do at all times that I always feel like I’m hurrying. When I hit the floor in the morning, it’s a dead run all day long—and it’s fun. I’m a high-energy person. Next thing you know it’s 3 p.m. You don’t even know where the time has gone. It flies by, and it has for all these years.

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