Looking Outside the Industry

Jan. 5, 2024
When looking for an office manager, outside experience could bring a fresh perspective your shop needs.

“Why does it have to be someone from this industry?”  

The thought jumped into Jim Willison Sr.’s mind as he was in the midst of trying to fill an office manager position at his shop, Tri-City Auto Repair. After COVID, Willison Sr. had been struggling to find the right person for the position formerly held by his daughter. After interviewing and trying out a few people with industry backgrounds, Willison Sr. found the perfect fit in someone with no auto industry experience.



Willison Sr. has been a technician since 1989 and has owned his shop for roughly 20 years. He hasn’t always had an office manager, but when his shop grew to the point that he needed one, he hired someone he knew he could trust—his daughter. She was great, but when COVID hit, she decided to go down a different career path, which left a very important position vacant.


When Willison Sr. started to look, he saw many people who came from dealerships and it just didn’t fit right. Many of those people were used to working the long hours that they did in a dealership and wanted to be compensated in the same way, which wasn’t possible for an independent shop with Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. hours. He tried out a person who had been a parts manager at a dealership, but Willison Sr. found he didn’t have the people skills he wanted and didn’t work with his staff in the close-knit way in which they were accustomed.

“There’s eight of us in total. When you’re dealing with eight people, it’s a lot more personal and you approach things on a different level,” Willison Sr. says.

Willison Sr. says the former parts manager wasn’t able to connect with the other staff members, which drove a wedge and, because of that, it didn’t work.



Willison Sr. realized he wasn’t yielding any results and he needed to try something different. That’s when he had the eureka moment that he could look at someone from outside of the industry. It turns out, Willison Sr. would find success very close to home.  

After finding success with his daughter, Willison Sr. asked his other daughter, who turned down the position but led him to his current office manager. At the time, Carl Reynolds was his daughter’s fiance (they’re now happily married) and was looking for a new career path after COVID. Reynolds had managerial experience at Mancino’s Pizza & Grinders, Papa Murphy’s, Sweetwater’s Donut Mill, and at a nightclub. He had excelled at each of these positions but decided after COVID hit to find something that would take care of him in times of crisis and wouldn’t be disposable. The auto industry fits the bill. Willison Sr. hired Reynolds and hasn’t looked back since.   


When Willison Sr. first told his daughter about his plan to hire Reynolds, she expressed concern that he didn’t know anything about the auto industry. Turns out, it hasn’t mattered in the slightest. 

Since taking the position, Reynolds has studied the industry and is taking steps to learn more, but his success comes from his attitude.  

“One person can’t accomplish anything on his own,” Reynolds says.  

Reynolds gives credit to the staff for helping him along and writing things in a way that anyone, not just someone with a mechanical background, could understand. Willison Sr. says Reynolds’ people skills and his desire to be successful have allowed him to excel at the position.   


Willison Sr. says the beauty of hiring someone from outside of the industry is it’s like starting with a blank piece of paper.  

“You don’t have to train the bad habits out of them; you’re just training good habits,” Willison Sr. says.  

Now, this obviously isn’t the case for a position like a technician, where you need industry knowledge. Still, for an office position, it can be extremely beneficial to break it down by skill set rather than experience. Do you need 5-plus years working at an auto repair shop, or do you need someone who can relate to customers and help your team bond?  

Sometimes, it’s more about the person than the background.  

8 Essential Skills  

Curious about what makes a great manager? Read on. 

If you’re looking to fill a leadership role in your shop and are willing to look outside of the industry but aren’t quite sure what to look for, an article by Gallup may interest you. The article took a look at some of its finalists for Gallup’s 2019 Manager of the Year and put together a list of the top eight behaviors for success. Read the full article here.  

  • Connect company purpose to action
  • Value the opinions of others
  • Foster a safe and honest work environment
  • Connect meaningfully with your team
  • Find out what motivates each member of your staff
  • Be sure to reward excellence
  • Truly care about your employees 
  • Be on a mission to develop your team   

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