Don't Shoot the Messenger! Ohio's Jack Lundberg - BodyShop Business

Don’t Shoot the Messenger! Ohio’s Jack Lundberg

Faced with the challenge of registering Ohio's collision repair facilties, Jack Lundberg has been called a savior by some, the devil by others. Throw in a few death threats, and you know how Lundberg feels by 10 a.m.

BSB: Your title is the executive director of the Ohio Board of Motor Vehicle Collision Repair Registration – and what a title that is! – but what exactly does it all mean?

Lundberg: Basically, it means I’m given general direction from the board, which is made up of six members from the collision repair industry and one public-at-large member. Fortunately for us, we’ve been blessed with an extremely professional, forward-thinking board that’s given us a great deal of latitude in terms of turning those ideas into reality. It’s a terrific working relationship. On the other hand, if I don’t perform [up to] the board’s wishes, I can be terminated [from the position]. Unlike many government workers, I don’t enjoy the protection afforded others by the union.

As for titles, I’d prefer a shorter, more easily remembered name for the agency. Internally, we refer to ourselves as “The Crash Dummies,” partly because going in, I don’t think anyone – myself, the staff or the board – truly recognized the monumental task we undertook – namely, registering all of Ohio’s 3,000-plus collision repair facilities, along with efforts to protect and enhance the industry.

BSB: How’s registration going?

Lundberg: We’re roughly halfway there, since about 1,600 or so are still unregistered. It’s been a huge challenge – first, because “we” are government and that’s a terrific hurdle to overcome; secondly, shop registration is a new requirement and has met with resistance and lots of skepticism. Lastly, and I suppose our biggest hurdle, is convincing shop owners that our joint efforts can positively impact the industry. In literally hundreds of instances, we’ve been stymied in our efforts to demonstrate what this agency is all about simply because shop owners haven’t bothered to attend our presentations or telephone us to learn what we’re trying to accomplish.

BSB: Other than the fact that it’s the law, which obviously hasn’t been enough motivation for many, why should shops want to register? How’s your agency working for them?

Lundberg: Unlike other government entities, we’re working to provide a return on the shop owner’s investment, like registration fees. Shop registration in Ohio is aimed at leveling the playing field. Yesterday’s backyard operation is largely responsible for today’s dim view of the industry among consumers and for the current state of affairs within the industry overall. Their presence, in current form, drags down legitimate operators and helps fuel cutthroat pricing competition because the backyarder’s cost of doing business is substantially lower than that of a legitimate shop. They also serve to depress survey results in Ohio and nationally, which affects every shop owner.

Another of our objectives is to monitor and report to shops the legislative and judicial activities that may affect them. Historically, the collision repair industry has largely been inactive in the democratic process. This results in the industry being on the receiving end of legislation aimed at promoting the interests of others at the expense of the industry.

We also provide information about public and private programs that shop owners can utilize, often at little to no expense, to operate their facilities more efficiently and profitably. We’re also working on addressing some of the major problems in Ohio, such as steering, parts and materials capping, training, education and the like so, hopefully, one by one, they fall by the wayside.

BSB: As you know, people often distrust government. How do you respond to people who label your agency just another bureaucracy?

Lundberg: First, we don’t share the government mentality. We’re here to work with and for this industry, period. I’m a tight-wad, and we run this agency like a business. Anything we can do to conserve or stretch a dollar, we do. Second, neither myself, the staff nor the board became involved in this endeavor simply to collect a paycheck. In fact, I took a sizable hit on my yearly income to take on this challenge; the same can be said for the staff and board members. Third, I was raised to work hard for what I earn and provide a tangible end result.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that many in government circles don’t share that same view. I despise government waste, ineptitude and incompetence. I have to deal with it every day and it drives me nuts!

BSB: I gather your background isn’t in government?

Lundberg: No. I’ve been working since I was 8 years old. I’ve done everything from mow lawns, bale hay, erect fences, milk cows, pump gas, flip burgers, wait tables, build homes, drill oil and gas wells, manage a law firm, own theaters, develop land, work as a consultant and more.

Prior to accepting this position, I was a financial consultant, assisting start-up companies. I arranged funding, developed business plans, acquired facilities, equipment, personnel. I know what work is. Last year, I put in over 3,432 hours of work – 1,432 of that unpaid. (I’m not entitled to overtime). That works out to roughly 9.5 hours a day every day of the year.

BSB: You really are a “Jack of all trades.” Ha! As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Lundberg: As a kid, I wanted to build and live in a log cabin in Labrador, Canada, where I could hunt, fish, trap and live off the land. During second grade, a man named Sheldon Colvin, a professional trapper, gave a presentation at my school and I was captivated. He showed me all his secrets for trapping animals, making scents and handling furs. I learned he was responsible for having re-introduced both the beaver and wild turkey into Ohio. What an experience for a kid! Later, I wanted to become a wildlife biologist and later still, a photographer. While in college, my dad recommended taking some business courses since you can apply those principles to just about anything. Lo and behold, I got a finance degree and became a businessman.

BSB: Why did you accept the executive director position?

Lundberg: I saw this position as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to start something from scratch – a brand new, government agency – and the opportunity to better the lives of body shop owners.

BSB: Being part of a government agency is enough of a stigma, but then you also have to overcome the fact that you don’t have a collision repair background.

Lundberg: Tell me about it. In fact, prior to assuming the position, I’d never even been in a body shop – 25 years of driving and not a single accident … knock on wood! Given my background, I’m no expert on collision industry matters, which numerous shop owners have pointed out to me.

On the other hand, not too many shop owners have the benefit of my varied experiences or training. Business is business, and the bottom line is profitability. Yes, the factors change depending on what industry you’re speaking of but, from a business perspective, you either make money, lose money or break-even.

Sometimes being too close to the situation can blur a person’s perception. A good example would be two photographs of a person taken years apart and that of seeing yourself in the mirror each day. Day to day, we don’t notice the years creeping up on us, but the photos are proof we’ve physically changed. I believe that by not being an industry insider, I’m able to objectively assess what’s happening and move to enhance or thwart those trends, depending on how they affect the industry.

BSB: How have Ohio collision repairers responded to what you’re trying to accomplish?

Lundberg: Early on, most shops were extremely upset. Now, an increasing number are becoming or have become supportive of our efforts because they’ve seen the [proof]. Still, a good number of shop owners remain apathetic and hold onto a “that’s the way it is” mentality – giving up before even getting started. I’ve seen firsthand what people can accomplish, not only here but elsewhere, when they’re united by a common purpose and goal. This industry can shape its future, can correct the problems facing it and can survive intact if people get involved.

On the other hand, some owners haven’t been apathetic at all – they’ve gone so far as to threaten to shoot me!

BSB: Has your agency prosecuted anyone? For non-compliance, that is.

Lundberg: No – even though we have the power to do so. But we recently began providing hundreds of unregistered facilities with “notices of suspected violation.” This is step one in the prosecution of those shops. These notices provide a 60-day timeframe in which to register or establish they’re exempt from registration. Those that don’t respond are then provided a formal “notice of violation” and are given an additional 30 days to register. After that, we file formal charges and begin prosecution. We’ve been generous in providing opportunities for unregistered shops to comply. Some shops have received as many as three, sometimes four, notifications. When we do begin prosecuting violators, it definitely won’t endear us to the non-compliant shops operating illegally in Ohio. Unfortunately, it seems we have no other choice.

BSB: Speaking of endearing yourself, on an industry Web site discussion forum, a shop manager recently accused you and your agency of “being backed by someone with an evil agenda.” It sounds like a scene out of a really bad Jean-Claude Van Damme movie* and you’re starring as the bad guy. It has to get frustrating.

Lundberg: It is frustrating and, very often, demoralizing. Many days we hear nothing but how evil we are, how this is some kind of communist plot and [all sorts] of other wild accusations. I suppose what keeps me going is that I know we have nothing but the best intentions, that criticism is part of the job and that, ultimately, what we’re attempting to do – and hopefully are successful in doing – will better people’s lives. Most, if not all, of the criticism is founded upon nothing more than ignorance of the facts.

BSB: Your job is awfully serious. How do you relax and have fun?

Lundberg: I recently resumed taking guitar lessons – after a 29-year lay-off. I also try to play as much golf as possible. I like the challenge, the surroundings and the camaraderie. Both my wife and I also love to travel. We recently vacationed in Hawaii for the first time and loved it. Two years before that, it was Thailand! Next on the agenda is Australia.

BSB: How did you meet your wife, Evelyn? What about her made you realize she was the woman for you?

Lundberg: I met my wife during filming for a campaign commercial she was shooting.** I’d known of her through my work with the law firm I was with. One of the partners stuck her head in my office and asked if I’d like to be an extra in the commercial. It sounded like fun so I agreed. The rest is history! I was impressed with her reputation and her background – she was born and raised in Thailand and is the daughter of former Christian missionaries. And I’m a sucker for long, blonde hair. As a person, she’s about as beyond reproach as they come and to my knowledge, has no skeletons in her closet; that’s difficult to achieve in this day and age. Not only that, she’s a great companion and Mom.

BSB: Where do you go from here?

Lundberg: I really can’t say where I envision myself in five years, or 10 for that matter. I’ve entertained the notion of playing golf on the senior tour when I turn 50, but who knows if that will ever happen. More realistically, I’m not sure I’ll continue to be involved in government; it’s a stifling environment, and I’m much more entrepreneur-oriented than it allows. Maybe I’ll go back to launching new businesses or get involved on a national level within the collision repair industry. That’s the beauty of the future … you never knows what’s around the bend! All you can do is be ready when opportunity knocks.

Writer Georgina Kajganic is editor of BodyShop Business.
*It’s worth noting that every movie ever made by Van Damme has been really bad.
**Lundberg’s wife, Evelyn, is an Ohio Supreme Court Justice.

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