The Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) has announced its newly appointed executive committee, which consists of seven industry professionals who are dedicated to supporting the future of the industry through engagement with collision schools and students.
CREF’s 2022 Executive Committee includes:
- Chair: Steve Schmidt (State Farm)
- Vice chair: Kevin Burnett (Gerber Collision & Glass)
- Secretary: Doug Irish (Fayetteville Technical Community College)
- Treasurer: Ryan West (GEICO)
- Trustee-at-large: Don Mikrut (Wejo)
- Trustee-at-large: Brenda Hogen (Parts Trader)
- Immediate past chair: Tom Wolf (PPG Industries)
“The CREF Board of Trustees encompasses a fantastic cross-section of the industry,” said Schmidt. “Each participant is eager to work toward CREF’s vision and goals, and they are open to sharing their wealth of knowledge to bolster CREF’s success. I enjoy listening to their thoughts and learning from each of them during every BOT meeting. It’s great group — I am honored to work with them on the board!”
Schmidt entered the collision repair industry “as a high school kid at a dealership body shop and never really left the industry. While I ultimately went to work with an insurer after six years in collision, I still stayed attached as an I-CAR instructor for 31 years, holding classes in 18 different states and enjoying the opportunity to get to know so many great repair facilities and technicians. Now, my goal is to help young individuals get their start and continue their development to be a far better and more successful tech than I was or ever could have been.”
“I look forward to continuing my work with the board and the executive committee, helping to ensure the industry is able to attract and retain enough qualified technicians,” said Burnett. “I like the fact that the board is made up of people from all sides of the industry, which enables good, lively discussion.”
After spending the first 10-plus years of his career in information technology, Burnett switched roles when “Gerber had a need to fill a general manager position in their largest store. I took on the challenge, and with the help of a great mentor, Neal Gerber, I was able to learn the business — starting in a production role, moving to GM and up from there. I’ve enjoyed my almost five years on the board and look forward to continuing on the executive committee.”
“This is my first stint on the executive committee, and I am looking forward to having a great impact on the discussion for where CREF is heading,” said Irish. “I have served as a trustee for a few years now and enjoy participating in the meetings and collaborating with other trustees to map out the goals and objectives for CREF. Serving on the executive committee will provide a voice directly from the education field on how CREF can best serve the needs of the education community.”
Irish began working in a friend’s family body shop when he was just 15 years old, attending a high school collision repair program during his junior and senior years and returning to the industry after serving three years in the military. “I worked as a technician and manager in multiple shops and dealerships for 15 years until jumping the fence to the insurance side of the industry. I spent 20 years with an insurance carrier working my way up from appraiser to management before retiring in 2012. I then began a quality assurance company working with collision repair shops to identify quality issues during the work in process so the shops could correct the deficiencies before they became a safety or legal concern.
“In 2017, I was contacted by Fayetteville Technical Community College and asked if I was interested in managing the new Collision Repair & Refinish Technology program that was started with a major contribution from CREF and industry stakeholders. I have enjoyed the challenges of recruiting, managing the program and teaching classes for the past five years. I am confident we will remain a major provider of talent for years to come.”
West is “happy to help as much as I can when it comes to supporting a mission as important as ours. I have found this board and its past members were all in it for the right reasons, which is encouraging.”
“I am one of the few members of our industry who has spent their entire 30-year career with the same company,” West continues. “I am very thankful that my company, GEICO, supports important efforts like CREF and that they support my work with our board.”
“Being involved with CREF’s board is important for multiple reasons,” said Mikrut. “The most important reason is that it’s a great opportunity to give back to the industry that we love by cultivating and identifying ways to support the industry, and one of the most beneficial ways we can do that is by making sure that schools and students have the necessary equipment to learn our industry.”
Like many other industry professionals, Mikrut found his collision industry career inadvertently. “While I was going to college for marketing, a classmate’s parents who owned a collision business approached me to represent their business to the insurance companies and agents — and they wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. They sort of yanked me in. I wasn’t looking for this industry, but once I got into it, I fell in love with collision and just never left it.”
“I’m new on the executive committee and joined because I really enjoy helping students realize their goals; it’s very rewarding,” said Hogen. “I also enjoy being part of a larger initiative to resolve issues within our industry, particularly related to the technician/labor crisis. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to pay it forward.”
Hogen also shares a fun fact about her industry career: “I’ve been fortunate enough to have a career has taken me to all 50 states. I can’t say I like one over the others … I like them all!”
In addition to the Executive Committee, CREF’s Board of Trustees consists of:
- Stacy Bartnik (Intertek)
- Mike Croker (Chief Automotive)
- Paul Folino (LKQ Corporation)
- Ty Gammill (Caliber Collision Centers)
- Andreas Hecht (CCC Intelligent Solutions)
- Mark Helvenston (Insurance Auto Auctions)
- Ken Hudson (Farmers Insurance)
- Sean Huurman (Service King Collision Repair)
- Scott Kohl (Kemper Insurance)
- Josh Krentz (Forbes Road Career and Technology Center)
- Sandee Lindorfer (Allstate Insurance Company)
- Mary Mahoney (Enterprise Holdings)
- Jay Sharp (National Coatings & Supplies)
- Jeanne Silver (retired)
As a brand-new addition to CREF’s board, Krentz is excited to contribute his experience and insights. While attending Forbes, he worked at a local dealership body shop as an entry-level apprentice, and after graduating high school, he attended UTI in Texas, working in various body shops and a restoration shop before branching out to try fabrication and welding for three years. In search of a job that offered advancement opportunities, he moved to parts, progressing to parts manager for six months while beginning to teach some adult night programs.
“I always wanted to get into teaching, and when my former high school instructor decided to retire, he let me know so I could apply for the position,” said Krentz, CREF’s 2019 Instructor of the Year. “I spent six months teaching auto mechanics at another school before assuming the Forbes position when he retired. I also complete contract work for VeriFacts, an OEC company, performing independent OEM collision repair program inspections. All of my experience relates to auto body, and my background in multiple aspects, especially education, will benefit my role on CREF’s board.
“Education is the biggest thing, and that’s my strength. The board has people from different aspects of the industry who contribute their thoughts as we try to determine how to best support CREF, and I feel it’s vital to have voices that represent the education side because industry members who don’t spend time in the classroom can’t know what’s going through our doors every day. We have to focus on getting the right kids in the classroom, rather than merely filling seats. If we have the right people, we’ll be able to fill the void in the industry as it relates to job openings.”
Trustee emeriti include J. Laurence “Larry” Costin (CCC Information Services, Inc.), Lirel G. Holt (U, Inc.) and Chuck Sulkala.
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, managing director of CREF, at (312) 231-0258 or [email protected]. Monetary donations can be made online.