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Don’t turn that page! Regardless of how you feel about the insurance industry, try to objectively read this article. Why should you? Because few repairers know what it’s like to work on the insurance side – yet this perspective can give you insight into situations you encounter daily and help you run your business better.
It was a day like very few others recently. The sun was out, and my backyard seemed to be a shopping center catering to the squirrels and the neighborhood assortment of birds. But the busy yard and sunny weather weren’t what made the day unusual. It was simply the pleasure of being home for a change.
Since 1995, I’ve had to struggle to get home – though when I am home, the “office” isn’t far away. I telecommute and have my official office in my house. I’m just not there much any more. So today was going to be a day of “catch up.” I’d get my desk cleaned off for the first time in four weeks, have time to organize my “to do” list and even take a moment or two to think and plan. It was going to be a great day!
And it was until I checked my e-mail and found a message from a friend. He said he’d had lunch, he said, with Georgina Kajganic, the editor of BodyShop Business. In his e-mail, he suggested I contact her, since he’d recommended having me write articles for BSB. He then asked me to give the idea serious consideration because our industry needs a balanced point of view – and he unilaterally elected me as one of the voices.
Like I said, he’s a friend. I respect him, and I’m proud to know him. More than that, I owe him and I trust him. So I considered it.
After thinking it over, I decided that I really did have things to say … and ideas came rolling out of my head.
Then I got excited. I contacted Georgina. This was going to be great fun. She and I agreed to meet at the I-CAR Annual International Meeting in Toronto.
Maybe I Can Still Get Out of This …
For the next five weeks prior to the I-CAR meeting, my thoughts kept turning to this writing task – this journey I was about to take. And I became very apprehensive, to the point where I convinced myself this wasn’t going to work.
Why? Because I’ve spent the last 32 years of my career working in the claims department of Allstate Insurance Company and as soon as BSB’s readers hear that, they’ll stop reading. Worse yet, they might continue to read but will look at everything I say as the opinion of my employer, not my own.
How can I convince anyone that I’m myself – that my conclusions, attitudes and beliefs are colored by many other forces besides Allstate, that I can I be objective?
By the way, the initial proposal was to help bring balance to the written dialogue of our industry, so I didn’t necessarily need to be an objective observer. However, as I read many of the trade papers, magazines and other documents, I was often struck with how one-sided many of our writers were. I vowed not to offend myself by being “one of those.”
But how can a person see anything clearly? Maybe I was just the wrong person for this task.
I hadn’t even met Georgina yet, and I was having second, third and fourth thoughts about doing this.
I looked around for someone, anyone to tell me it was OK to do this. No, that’s not true. I was looking for someone to tell me I shouldn’t, couldn’t and wouldn’t be allowed to do this. The easy way out was to ask my employer. “Allstate, I’m thinking about writing articles for BodyShop Business. Do you think I should?”
“Sure, why not?” they said. “If you need help, let us know.”
Nuts! I was hoping they’d tell me no. So I suggested to my boss that writing articles for a trade magazine probably wasn’t a good idea, right? Wrong. He said: “Go right ahead. Just be sure that any time you’re expressing Allstate’s corporate policy you run it past legal first.” And since I only intend to express my own thoughts, I guess even that won’t be necessary.
So I went to I-CAR. I knew I had a lot of things to say about training and I-CAR’s relationship to the industry, and I figured they’d tell me no.
You see, I’m an I-CAR instructor and have been teaching classes since 1988. I’m a member of the International Instructor Advisory Board and have helped write many of the courses we teach. I’m also the lead instructor for the state of Washington and a member of the Sno-King I-CAR Committee. I’ve assisted I-CAR and ASE writing post-course tests and am one of many Instructor Qualification Workshop (IQW) instructors. We help teach new I-CAR instructors how to teach. In fact, I was honored in 1998-’99 to be selected as the instructor of the year for the I-CAR Northwest Region.
How can I express my opinions about I-CAR and convince you, the reader, that these are my opinions, and not I-CAR speaking?
So I expressed my misgivings to I-CAR and they said, “No problem. Go ahead. If you need any help, let us know.”
But I still had one more opportunity to have someone tell me not to do this, and that was Georgina. I still had a meeting with her. So I sent her an e-mail critiquing one of her editorials. I expressed my opinions as strong as I could so she knew what she was getting into. I was hopeful she’d find some good or even not-so-good reasons why she didn’t want me to participate.
My wife, Sharon, and I met with Georgina in Toronto and, unfortunately, Georgina was polite, professional and encouraging.
Now what am I going to do? I guess I’ll have to write an article.
“I’ll write one article,” I told myself. “It won’t take long, and then I can say I did it and not be expected to do it again.”
So I made a list of things I felt passionate about.
“Now choose one,” I told myself.
But every topic began to look too big for a magazine article. Or every topic looked too small for an article. The pages were blank, the mind was empty!
Wow, this was hard!
For the last five weeks, I’ve started, stopped, complained, looked for ways out and have finally decided to submit an article.
During this process, Dick Strom kept coming to mind. Dick has owned and operated a body shop for many years, and when you read his articles, you first conclude this is a guy you’d love to know better, maybe have him as a neighbor. He’s a strong family man and a talented entrepreneur.
There aren’t many successful small business owners in our country. Dick’s very successful and we should be very proud of him and his accomplishments. He also has a style that catches your eye, your mind and almost always, your heart. Once a month and sometimes more, I read one of his efforts, which I think are terrific.
I don’t always agree with Dick, but he expresses himself well, has a perspective similar to many others and is consistent. Not only consistent, but he never ages. Have you noticed his picture is always the same? You have to believe he’s the “Dick Clark” of the collision repair world. We should all be so lucky.
But how can any of us measure up to the ones who’ve gone before us? How can I possibly do what Dick does – as well as he does it? No wonder it’s so hard to get people to write for our trade publications.
As much as I respect Dick Strom – and Dick Clark, for that matter – I don’t want to own a body shop or host American Bandstand. But I do want to be objective in the articles I write. At the same time, I’d hope you, too, will be objective – and suspend your biases and beliefs about insurers long enough to read my upcoming articles with an open mind. You may or may not agree with what I write – and that’s OK. My perspective is completely different than yours. But maybe, just maybe, by understanding my point of view, you’ll also gain a better understanding of your own.
Writer Larry Hults has been a supervisor for Allstate since 1970. Since 1995, he’s been part of the Centralized PRO Organization, supervising seven managers who handled Allstate’s relationship with 148 DRP shops in Washington and Oregon. In April, Hult’s responsibilities expanded, and he now oversees Allstate’s relationship with auto repairers in many markets across the country.