The Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) has announced the addition of two new members to its Board of Trustees: Keith Bell (Axalta Coating Systems) and Mark Verbois (Enterprise Holdings).
Boasting more than 50 years of collision industry experience between them, Bell and Verbois share the same dedication and passion for supporting the industry’s future by engaging with collision repair schools and students, and they’re looking forward to contributing in new and meaningful ways through their board involvement.
“We are excited that Keith and Mark are joining the board and bringing their vast experience to the role,” said Brandon Eckenrode, managing director of CREF. “There’s no doubt that they will be an integral part of our efforts moving forward to achieve CREF’s vision and goals.”
Since Bell began his career, he has been dedicated to the refinish and automotive industry. He is currently the distribution and industry relations director for Axalta Coating Systems, where he oversees sales and partnerships for North America Refinish. Prior to this, he worked for AkzoNobel and BASF, where he earned several positions of increasing responsibility within sales, marketing and distribution leadership.
Before entering the manufacturing side of the industry, Bell immersed himself in various collision-focused roles, thereby developing a deep knowledge of automotive repair and refinish — from spraying to sales. He first went to work for an auto parts distributor, where he focused on demonstrating and training shops on one of the store’s least popular paint lines. Before long, he had “raised it to the number one product category in our entire portfolio.”
Next, he spent a few years as a technician, working in his parents’ collision center and at local dealerships. By his mid-20s, Bell went to work for BASF as a product specialist before transitioning into sales and then into senior management. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Indiana Wesleyan University while advancing through his career.
Bell has always contributed financially to CREF, but now he’s ready to take his commitment to the next level.
“As we think about attracting and retaining young talent, it’s vital that we promote the variety of career opportunities beyond becoming a technician,” he said. “Many different positions need to be filled at body shops, distributors, manufacturers, paint companies, etc., but all of those roles require knowledge and skill.
“I’ve done the job at every level in collision repair, from prepping, welding to refinishing and can still build a car from end to end. I really want to help young people understand the variety of options they’ll have by pursuing a collision career. This industry offers so many great career paths … the opportunities are truly endless.”
Bell hopes his story might inspire young people to pursue a collision career, but he also wants to encourage others to get involved with CREF.
“We need more collision professionals who know and care about this industry and who want to engage with this next generation of collision repairers. As I round the bend of my career, I have a different perspective: I realize how very blessed I’ve been to be part of this field, and I feel it’s important to give back to the industry that has given so much to me.”
The desire to support the industry is a sentiment that Verbois shares. “As an industry leader, Enterprise is committed to the future of collision repair.”
Verbois began his career with Enterprise in 1994 as a management trainee in Seattle, Wash. Over his decades-long career, he has held positions of increasing responsibility in markets throughout the country, earning a promotion to his current position in 2021. In this role, Verbois is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategy for MSO partnerships.
Rent-A-Car hired him as a management trainee. Over the years, his career progressed, and last November, he was promoted to assistant vice president.
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the repair industry over the years and look forward to strengthening the many friendships and relationships I have built,” said Verbois. “A small MSO owner became one of my best friends, and I fly to see him every year to fish for salmon and tuna during the summer.”
Although Verbois has been acquainted with CREF for a number of years through friend, co-worker and former CREF Board Member Mary Mahoney, he’s looking forward to getting more involved now.
“The technician shortage is a critical issue. Enterprise and CREF share a commitment to advancing the industry through the development of high-quality and motivated collision repair employees. That’s also why Enterprise has invested in a first-of-its-kind Collision Engineering Program. In addition to preparing students for success, the program also aims to change perception and increase awareness of opportunities in the industry. It is important to support the efforts of CREF as we work alongside our industry partners to solve this issue.”
CREF, its executive committee and the current board welcomes Bell and Verbois as they continue seeking new and innovative ways to support collision repair schools and students.
Industry members interested in getting involved and supporting CREF’s efforts to assist secondary and post-secondary collision repair training programs should contact Brandon Eckenrode at (312) 231-0258 or [email protected]. Monetary donations can be made online.