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Owners and managers: the odd couple

by Art Little

Transmission Digest Magazine
This article appeared in the August 2001 issue of Transmission Digest.

Shop owners and managers can be like oil and water sometimes. They have been going round and round forever. They are the original odd couple if you think about it. They each have a lot in common but, are very different in many ways. Each depends on the other for his livelihood. They each have different responsibilities and sometimes they tend to cross the line with each other. However, as shop owners and managers, there are things we can do to help make this relationship work. It is kinda like finding a good wife. Each must find someone that he is compatible with and then work at developing the relationship. It all goes back to differences in people and management philosophy.

For shop owners, the key is to put together a good team you can work with and one that works well together. The manager is the key player here. If you have a good manager, he can help you put it together and keep it together. When you choose a manager, be aware that there are different styles of managers, with various skill levels and personalities. If your choice is not the right one, and you bring in the wrong manager, and it may break up the rest of the team. Each shop is different. Evaluate your shop and decide what you need a manager to do for you and then, take the necessary steps required to achieve your goal.

Owners and managers have different styles much like coaches and owners in professional football. For example, the coaching style of Tom Landry was much different than Vince Lombardi. I hate to be put in a category, or put others in a category. But, for the purpose of instruction, I will break that rule in this article and give you my take on some common styles of managers I have worked with so you can have an idea of where to start and what to look for. I will also talk about the different styles of owners I have worked for in an effort to create a better understanding of the complicated relationship between shop owners and managers.

I have always said, if you can manage a transmission shop, managing any other business is a walk in the park. It's a tough job if you do it right and even tougher if you don't. Hiring the right manager for your shop is not easy because there are so many things to consider. In an effort to help you recruit the right manager for your team, I will break down the traits of a few common styles of managers so you can identify them when you see them and hire the right manager for your team. The categories are: Hot Dog's, Green bean's, Good ole' boys, Fixin to's, and the Seasoned vet.

Hot Dog's are managers with 2 to 10 years experience in management and are a legend in their own mind. They have no concept of the word, profit. They deal in gross sales figures and commissions. They never do anything wrong. They know it all. If there is a problem they place the blame on someone other than themselves. It is never their fault. They are hard to manage and do not take criticism well. They like to manage and sell their way, and rarely will work within the system you have set up for your shop. They like to bring in their own system. They are usually great salesmen but, because of their aggressive personality, can create an unacceptable amount of customer complaints. Also, Hot Dog's do not stay in one place for very long for one reason or another. They seem to miss a lot of days work and are late for work a lot of the time. Drugs and alcohol play a big part in this. Some get along well with the technicians and some don't. Don't get me wrong, I like Hot Dog's. They are just set in their ways and are hard to change and manage. However, these guys can make you a lot of money. If you are a shop owner, new to the business without a set system, this guy might be a good prospect. You can learn from him. But, evaluate your technicians and determine if this manager will lead your team or destroy it. On the other hand, if you are an established shop owner that has a system in place that you want to use and will not vary from it, you might want to pass on the Hot Dog's out there.

Green bean's are managers with less than two years experience that can be some of the best managers you will ever run into. They are more receptive to your management than the Hot Dog's and will generally work within the existing system set up in the shop. They are a loyal employee and will show you respect especially if you bring him in off the street and train him yourself. That creates a manager for your shop that only knows one way. Your way. The technicians usually give the green bean a hard time but work with him well for the good of the shop. They seem to miss less work and are always on time. The draw back is that the green bean will miss sales or get less for the sale than the more experienced managers while he is learning the business and his production management and parts knowledge skills are still developing. However, some of these guys can really sell, have good people skills and the desire to make the big money. If you are a shop owner that is willing to train and realize he will be high maintience for a while, he will make a good prospect. On the other hand, if you are a shop owner with a very busy shop and have little time to train, you might want to pass on the green bean.

Good old boy's are managers with varying experience and skill levels that are just plain laid back. They are easy to get along with and rarely have a customer complaint or a problem with another employee. They just kinda coast through the day and try not to cause any problems. They don't like problems. They will gladly work any system you put in front of them and do almost anything you tell them to do. They generally will come to work every day and rarely are late for work unless drugs and alcohol are involved. The technicians will take advantage of the good old boy because of his good nature and inability to say no. Most, but not all, good old boys, are lacking in talent and/or desire. They are not the great salesmen in our industry because they see the customers as good old boys and listen to their reasons as to why the price is too high. Or, they will not price the job high enough to make a decent profit. Why? Because they avoid conflict. They just don't like problems. Keep in mind, most do not have the drive to make the big money and as a result are not good production managers as a rule. So, if you are a shop owner that is at the shop every day and you are the leader of the shop, the good old boy might be a good prospect as long as you control the price of the jobs and watch the production. On the other hand if you are an absentee owner you probably should avoid the good old boy all together.

Fixin to's are unorganized managers that make excuses all day long. When you ask him a question and he says " I'm fixin to do that as soon as I...." you've got a problem. If he is a green bean, then fixin to's are fairly normal but, if the manager is not a green bean, he is simply not organized and will be high maintience for you. Also, he will not be able to get along with the quality technicians because of the confusion he creates because of his lack of organization. I have been successful at organizing several fixin to's in the past and they have turned out to be good managers. But, you have to stay on them all the time. They have to be taught organizational skills. There are some really good managers out there that just haven't been taught time management. If you are a shop owner that has the time and patience to teach these skills and enforce them, a fixin to can make you a good manager. However, if you do not have the time or patience, you might want to pass on the fixin to's out there.

The seasoned vet will have at least 5 years experience in the heavy retail production shops and is accustomed to making a lot of money. He can sell with the best of them, manage production and knows how and where to buy parts. He has good people skills and gets along with everyone as long as they show him the respect he has earned. He is organized and makes sure the shop is organized and informed at all times. He enjoys his job. He has his way of selling and managing but, will give and take with the owner to make the relationship works. He understands what it takes to make a profit and has the talent and desire to make it happen on a consistent basis. Some have owned their own shop at one time or another. The seasoned vet is a loyal and honest employee that will go the extra mile it takes when necessary. He is alcohol and drug free and will not work in a shop that is not. He is a team player and gladly takes the team leadership role. He does not move from shop to shop. He likes to stay in one place and build on the progress he has already made. He is concerned about the reputation of the shop and will not lie to the customer or sell in an unscrupulous manor. He expects the customer to pay top dollar for the jobs he sells but, is willing to take care of his customer's warranty needs in a professional manor when they come back and need his help. He has a lot of pride and will show you the same respect you show him. If you disrespect him, do not expect him to respect you. If you are a multiple shop owner or a heavy retail production shop owner, the seasoned vet is the perfect prospect. He is low maintenance and a self starter. On the other hand, if you are a start up shop or a low volume shop, the seasoned vet's salary requirement may exceed what you can afford to pay.

It is equally as important that the manager consider the shop owner's personality and management philosophy before he decides to go to work for him. Let me offer two examples of shop owners that are on separate ends of the spectrum, with the understanding, that there are a lot of shop owners that fall somewhere in between the two.

The "Old School Owner" is a shop owner that looks at people as a number. He won't spend any money on parts, test equipment or training for his employees. He wants top dollar for the jobs but, forces his staff to build an inferior product. He is constantly looking for a cheaper way out regardless of what it is. He expects his employees to be loyal and put in long hours but, offers little or no employee benefits. He makes promises he has no intention of keeping and rarely pays anyone a compliment. He has a high employee turn over in his shop. He blames all the problems the shop has on his employees. He has not stayed up with the times and is reluctant to change. To be fair about it, they can't help it. If you had made your living with a set of rules and philosophies for 25 years, would you change? Employees call these shops "watering holes" here in Texas. They only work there while they are looking for another job. Some " Old School Owners " have changed and my hat is off to those guys that have made the necessary changes in their thinking to make their shop a modern work place.

On the other end of the spectrum, we are witnessing a "changing of the guard" with shop owners in our industry. I see the old guys selling out, because they can't do it their way any more, to what I call "Today's Shop Owner". This style of shop owner typically comes from a business background. He has to look at the old rules but, is willing to change the way things have always been done in our industry. He is not afraid of change and is willing to learn from his employees. Once he sees a good reason to change, he will not hesitate to pull the trigger, spend the money and make the change right away. Today's shop owner looks at his employees like people and treats them accordingly by not working them to death, giving them some time with their families and providing benefits we have never seen before in our industry. He believes in fixing the job right the first time and is willing to spend the money on parts, people, test equipment and training to make sure it happens. Keep in mind, most shop owners will fall somewhere in the middle of these two examples. Everybody is different and has his own personality and management philosophy.

It is true, that owners and managers have a history of conflict and probably always will. However, there are ways to keep this to a minimum. If you are a manager, it is important to consider who you go to work for. If you are a shop owner, it is equally as important to consider who you hire to manage your shop. The key is to try to find a compatible combination of personality traits and management philosophies before you agree to work together so you can minimize the conflicts that owning and managing a transmission shop brings. Understand that there will be times when you will differ but, be willing to give and take with each other. Remember to be respectful of each others responsibilities and try not to cross the line. It is a lot easier to get up and go to work in the morning if you like and respect the person you are working with. Make an effort every day to get along and treat each other right. Life is too short. Until next time, take care of each other out there.

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