Justin Furman, an estimator at Bill Brown Ford in Livonia, Mich., is on the fast track to becoming a manager. He largely credits his career successes to the support he received from the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) and PPG.
“The scholarships I received from the industry enabled me to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in technology management, virtually debt-free,” said Furman.
“Unburdened by worries about college debt, I was able to focus my attention on my passion for the automotive industry. Additionally, my relationship with CREF provided a solid foundation to show the industry that I’m seriously invested in pushing myself to the utmost limits of success, including by having the proper tools and equipment, which were funded by CREF’s Tool Grant.”
A Passion for Cars
Furman’s passion for cars began when he was a young boy, playing with Hot Wheels and building model cars.
“My desire to pursue a career in the collision repair industry reached the tipping point when I purchased my first vehicle, a 2000 Dodge Dakota Sport,” he said. “I didn’t even have my license yet, just my permit, and I backed into a fence post while pulling out of the driveway. My uncle, who does restoration, showed me how to restore the vehicle back to pre-accident condition. From there, I was hooked and knew I wanted to learn all I could about the auto body industry.”
Although Furman traded his first car for a 1999 Dodge Dakota R/T, he continued experimenting with repairs.
“The R/T trim model has a V8 and some other upgrades as well, and I completely refinished it back in 2011,” he said. “This truck was the starting point for increasing my knowledge for customization, mechanical, body and refinish work. To this day, I still own this vehicle.”
Furman’s second vehicle, a 1999 Dodge Dakota RT, “was the staple for me in helping my knowledge for customization, mechanical, body and refinish work.”
Applying for Scholarships
While pursuing his degree in technology management through the 3+1 program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Furman applied for various scholarships from CREF and other industry organizations. The 3+1 program allows students to complete three years at Washtenaw Community College and transfer to EMU for one year before graduating.
During his days as a student, Furman received $8,000 in CREF scholarships, plus he was the recipient of several grants that provided him with vital training and tools. In 2011, he was awarded a $1,000 Lon Baudoux Scholarship as well as a tool grant, which provided him with a 268-piece mechanic tool set with lift-top case, in addition to a Microtork torque wrench and a 10-drawer ball bearing tool chest.
CREF also awarded Furman a $2,000 Collision Repair Education Foundation Board of Trustees Scholarship in 2012, and in 2013, he received a $5,000 PPG Industries Foundation scholarship, in addition to the Alcoa Foundation grant for aluminum repair technical training at the I-CAR Tech Center.
“Just applying for these scholarships caused word to spread quickly around the automotive department at WCC, and my instructors could see how passionate I was,” Furman said. “They helped me expand my network within the automotive industry. Graduating virtually debt-free allowed me to invest in tools and equipment, which opened job opportunities. Receiving the scholarships from CREF and PPG, plus having the proper equipment to do the job I was being hired for, enabled me to land high-end jobs quickly and move up the ladder faster than if I hadn’t been so fortunate.”
“We are thrilled Justin is working with Bill Brown Ford, one of Ford’s Certified Collision Network locations,” said Dean Bruce, collision marketing manager for Ford. “Ford is committed to supporting collision repair educational programs to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with career opportunities. Collaborating with CREF and its industry-leading efforts is one way we achieve this goal.”
Getting to Work
During college, Furman worked in the painting department at Roush Industries, where he refinished Mustang accessories and roller coaster rides for Disney theme parks. After a couple years, he pursued an opportunity at J&J Collision in Dearborn Heights, Mich., working as an estimator and assistant manager.
When the possibility of moving from a small independent shop to a larger MSO presented itself, Furman seized the chance to hone his skill set and challenge himself by accepting a position at Collision Damage Experts in Canton, Mich.
“In just one year, I was afforded the opportunity to expand my knowledge in the industry, learning more about CCC One production management software, direct repair programs and how to increase production levels,” said Furman.
In 2016, Furman applied for an estimating job at Bill Brown Ford, which promised potential room for growth.
“I’ve now been with Bill Brown Ford for a little over four years as an estimator, with the future goal of becoming a manager. My job responsibilities have increased from communicating with insurance companies and customers to having a much greater insight on body shop management. I’ve become quite fluent with both CCC One, Mitchell Connect software, obtaining OEM repair procedures and position statements, along with familiarizing myself with I-CAR’s RTS Website.
“I’ve learned so much more about shop chemistry, workflow and efficiency. I have the wonderful benefit of working for one of the highest-selling Ford dealerships in the country and one of the largest body shops in the state of Michigan. The volume of work and experience I’ve obtained at my current job is priceless. My future goal is to become a well-known body shop manager.”
Working and Teaching
In addition to working in shops, Furman has worked at WCC for the past eight years. He has been a teacher’s assistant, co-teacher and finally a lead instructor. His classes include the fundamentals of estimating, CCC One navigation and proper estimating practices. Furman hopes to “help recruit students in the industry and give them a place to get their feet wet. I’m excited for WCC as the ‘Collision Repair and Refinish Technician’ certificate, by name, is being discontinued, and the main certificate program, ‘Auto Body Repair’, is being expanded to offer students the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree under ‘Transportation Technologies.’ In addition to collision repair and refinishing skills, students will be able to take courses to gain skills in welding, composite repair, powder coating electives and automotive service, thus allowing students in automotive service repair and collision repair to work toward the same degree.”
A Nice Career
Furman’s career successes have allowed him to provide for his family.
“Being the lucky recipient of several CREF scholarships, as well as the PPG scholarship, has allowed me to quickly progress in my career and take care of my family comfortably,” Furman said. “We have a nice roof over our heads, along with some toys. My wife and I just had our first child, and it’s wonderful knowing that we can breathe comfortably, knowing we have a solid financial foundation.
“I appreciate all the support I’ve received from CREF and everything the industry has done for me. Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of where I started and who helped me achieve my goals.”
Industry members interested in supporting CREF’s efforts to assist high school and college collision repair training programs should contact Brandon Eckenrode, director of development, at [email protected].