Front Counter to Corner Office

April 27, 2023
How Justin Wentworth went from service advisor to shop owner.

As the owner of Wentworth Automotive, Justin Wentworth is a leader who fully trusts and relies on his technicians.  

Then again, he has to: Wentworth is not a mechanic.  

Instead, his background is as a service advisor, a path that he believes builds a different kind of strength for a shop CEO.  

“Sometimes it’s frustrating that I can’t go fix a car myself, or help my technicians figure out what to do on a tough case,” he says. “However, what I am good at is the people side of it, and people are the ones who work here and who bring in their cars.”  

Wentworth, 49, joined his father’s San Diego, California, shop in 1999, a year after its founding. He began taking over the company’s reins in 2005 and became its sole leader when his dad, mechanic Dave Wentworth, passed away in 2012. 

Wentworth oversees five employees–a general manager, a service advisor and three technicians–at the general service shop, which offers gasoline, diesel and hybrid maintenance and repair for domestic and import vehicles.  

With a service advisor’s mindset, he looks at his team members as internal customers. “I want to find what they need and help them achieve it,” he says. “Building relationships is the cornerstone of growing a business. And if you’re having an ‘off’ day but people like you, it’s much easier to work past that.”  

Wentworth has held multiple customer positions since age 16, starting at a pizza restaurant where he became manager at 18 after graduating from high school. He had a job delivering legal documents to attorneys’ offices before coming to Wentworth Automotive. 

Dave Wentworth worked on cars and engines since childhood and became a professional mechanic in the 1960s. An only child, Justin knew that the long-term plan was for him to take over the family shop, which appealed to him as a chance to be his own boss. 

Luckily, Wentworth also immediately enjoyed the fast-paced life of a service advisor, as well as meeting and connecting with customers from all walks of life. Over time, he also picked up bookkeeping skills and insights into the shop’s finances and margins.   

Once Wentworth moved into a leadership role 18 years ago, the transition was gradual; employees called his dad “Big Boss”, and he was “Little Boss.” 

Wentworth says one of his smartest moves was to sign up for business coaching with Automotive Training Institute (ATI) 13 years ago. “I was good with people and my dad was good with cars, but neither one of us was necessarily good at the business part of it,” he relates. “The coach really helped me with that side of it.”   

Wentworth also has joined Business Network International (BNI) to consult with other owners and twice read “The E-Myth” by consultant Michael Gerber, who offers advice on running a business effectively.  

“I would advise any service advisor–or anyone, for that matter–to do all of the above,” he says. “Get the processes in place so you can work on your business, not in it. I had to understand that my business is my product. My job now is to work on it so that the people working for me can fix cars and deliver great customer service.” 

Wentworth also discovered that he needed to step back from daily shop operations. While he misses the regular customer interactions, having a service advisor at the front counter and a manager to handle tasks such as scheduling gives him time to be a better CEO.  

That has meant focusing on short- and long-term budgeting, marketing, five-year growth plans and employee development, including continuing education opportunities and monthly meetings with staff members to prioritize their future goals.  

“Honestly, it took a little time for me to figure out what to do all day,” he admits. “I felt a little lost, but what I came to realize was I had to trust my employees. I needed to create a culture where they could do their best work.” 

The service advisor background helped shape that service-based mentality, Wentworth adds. While his dad could simply worry about giving his employees a paycheck, he has found the younger generation of workers is looking for more.  

“We’re facing a shortage of qualified techs, so we need to take care of the ones we have and help them see this can be a rewarding profession,” he notes. “If I can learn what interests them, I can show how we can align their goals and dreams with the shop’s goals, and we both win.”  

Wentworth has developed nine core company values for guidance, leading off with “Do the Right Thing”–whether anyone is looking or not–and ending with “Set and Ask for Clear Expectations.” Additionally, he plans fun team events at least once per quarter, such as a Christmas dinner and an outing to a hockey game.  

Work-life balance is also important to Wentworth, who is married, has a rescue beagle and enjoys RV camping, Jeep off-roading, hiking and travel. He is proud of the roots he has grown in San Diego and his own neighborhood, where he has lived for 35 years.  

For other service advisors interested in one day owning a shop, Wentworth is encouraging.  

“I think we can bring a lot to the table, even if sometimes I am a little envious of shop owners who are technicians,” he says. “Knowing how to provide great service is a skill that every boss needs to have.”  

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