It’s raining. The pack on the recruit’s back is heavy, the 20-mile hike is over tough terrain and the challenges are many. But it’s done, and the goal is accomplished.
Fast forward to present day. This former National Guardsman is now a shop owner and the newest chair of the Automotive Service Association (ASA).
If you’re picturing a tough, matter-of-fact comrade in the collision repair industry, you’re right. But if you’re picturing that comrade as a man, you’d be wrong.
It almost goes without saying that Geralynn Kottschade isn’t your typical woman. In fact, she’s not your “typical” anything. And although she says her greatest accomplishment is surviving basic training, some parents might argue that it’s even more impressive that she somehow manages to get her children to do their own laundry.
What’s not debatable is the fact that Kottschade is one busy person. She’s a dedicated wife to husband Jerry; a mother to 17-year-old Dan, 11-year-old Laura, Sadie (a yellow lab), Montel (a chocolate lab) and several fish; a former National Guardsman; co-owner of Jerry’s Body Shop in Mankato, Minn.; and the new chairman of the Automotive Service Association (ASA).
She’s also been named one of the industry’s Most Influential Women, awarded the CEICA Outstanding Contribution award and inducted into the Hall of Eagles.
Though there’s always someone surprised to see a woman in charge – whether at the shop or at ASA – Kottschade believes the industry accepts those who lead well, get to the heart of the industry’s problems and just get involved – whether that person’s a he or a she.
BSB: You’ve served ASA for a while now – secretary, treasurer and general director. What made you want to get involved?
Kottschade: It seemed only natural to be involved. My parents encouraged us as children to be involved in student counsel, student activities, in our community and in our church. When I met Jerry, he was Minnesota ASC president. For our entire marriage, it seems ASA or association work has been part of it.
BSB: What do you bring to the position?
Kottschade: Patience, which is very difficult when you work with business owners who often expect immediate responses. I also like to look at things from three different directions: historically, in the present and the future.
BSB: Your husband served as chair in 1995. How will his experience impact your role?
Kottschade: Jerry has a unique way of looking at situations and asking the right questions. He very rarely overreacts, so he helps me to put things into perspective, study the problem and approach it from a common sense way. My role seems about the same as his. Seems like as much as things change, they stay the same.
BSB: What’s your job at the shop?
Kottschade: Daily I help with production, parts problems and problem files. I handle the financial end of the business and the day-to-day operations.
BSB: What was your first job?
Kottschade: My very first job was babysitting. Then I moved on to being a waitress at a small diner. I did an awful lot of babysitting when I was in high school. I learned responsibility in dealing with children. It’s a lot like dealing with painters [laughter].
BSB: What’s your educational background?
Kottschade: High school and several college classes, but I haven’t graduated yet in business. I quit back in 1992 when Jerry became Collision Division Director. It got to be too much with the business.
BSB: Are customers surprised by your knowledge of collision repair?
Kottschade: Customers don’t expect me to be one of the owners. I always like the statement, ‘You probably don’t know this, but …’ Most of the time they trust and believe me.
I think the funniest story is when someone called from Florida and wanted to talk to ‘Geralynn the chairman of ASA. Is he in?’
I say, ‘This is Geralynn. Can I help you?’
‘No,’ he says, ‘I need to talk to the gentleman who’s the chairman of ASA.’
That’s me. Geralynn,’ I say.
He hung up.
BSB: Do you think that’s an industry thing or something that happens across the board to women?
Kottschade: I think that it’s the case, to an extent, no matter what business you’re in. You have to learn to deal with it, accept it and move on.
BSB: What’s the most pressing issue for the collision repair industry?
Kottschade: Unity in the industry. I’m not sure what I can do as chairman of ASA, but this industry needs to respect each other, accept each as respective parts of the industry and work for a common goal. Each group has their agendas. We need to accept their agendas, not criticize. When it comes to key issues, we need to stand together with a united front.
BSB: A lot of affiliates have re-joined ASA in the past few months. Why do you think that is?
Kottschade: We’ve gone through some major organization changes. We have a new face in Ron Pyle, who’s brought a very open-door policy. He’s reaching out to a lot of people who we didn’t reach before. … We’re [now offering] different [options for] how to join. It’s not stringent. And health insurance and other benefits are harder and harder to get unless you’re a multi-shop or belong to a network.
BSB: What motivates people to join associations?
Kottschade: Value in an association is a strong motivator. I think the biggest factor is that our industry doesn’t understand the value of belonging. … To engage members, we need to show value, show that we’re working for them in Washington and trying to make their day-to-day better. But overall society is changing. Fewer and fewer people are volunteering. Time is becoming too valuable and scarce.
BSB: Who are your role models?
Kottschade: My mother. She’s always put everyone in front of her. I’m sure she didn’t do very much in her life that she wanted to do, but she always made sure we children and Dad were taken care of. She pushed us to be the best we could be and to go for it – and have fun doing it. She stood behind my father and protected us kids.
My professional role model would be Eleanor Roosevelt. She stood behind her husband, raised her children and went on with her career. She had her values and was able to put personal and professional in order.
BSB: You’re a wife, mother and businesswoman and chair of ASA. How do you find time to do it all?
Kottschade: I have a great family. Jerry has done a wonderful job of helping at home. The kids do a great job in helping maintain the house and their own laundry. I guess you could say we’re a team.
BSB: When you do have spare time, how do you spend it?
Kottschade: With the kids and Jerry. We have a lake home in Northern Wisconsin. That is the place to get away. We golf, canoe, walk and work around the yard.
BSB: You have a teenager and a soon-to-be teenager. What’s the bigger challenge: battling insurers or getting the kids up and out of the house on time?
Kottschade: I think the kids. Well, you know, sometimes I can reason with my children, but more and more it’s harder to reason with the desk adjusters because they have so many rules over them now. But yeah, my children are still the challenge [laughter].
BSB: What’s it like working with Jerry?
Kottschade: Jerry is very easy to work with. We each have our job and work well together. Work has to stay at work, and home stays home.
BSB: You were in the National Guard. What was that like?
Kottschade: My MOS [military occupational specialty] was personnel. We were a headquarters company so we maintained and processed orders and files for five companies.
For basic training, we trained with the males, which was interesting. … It was kind of confusing though. I remember one time I was sitting on a curb after doing a 20-mile march through grenades, I’m smoking a cigarette and my legs are kind of separated. The drill sergeant came over and said, ‘Put your legs together. You’re still a woman.’
Wow. It was a balancing act, trying to maintain being a woman, but still going through the rain, walking 20 miles and carrying a pack. I learned a balance there – to be in a man’s world, but to try to maintain your female perspective on things.