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A passion for people is what drives industry veteran Stuart Faid

More than 30 years in the industry across the globe, regional vice-president for the Fix Network across Asia, Australia and New Zealand and now director at the ACIA, Stuart Faid has garnered a lot of insight into the industry and has a lot to share.

A diverse and well-travelled career has contributed to Stuart Faid’s extensive automotive industry experience and now he is working to give back to the Australian repair industry both in his leading position at the Fix Auto Network and more recently in his newly appointed role as a director of the Australian Collision Industry Alliance. It is in this new role that he is harnessing his experience and focus to develop solutions for the pressing recuitment issues facing the industry.  He hopes to tap into the passion of young people that can help shape their careers and a future industry.

For Faid, his own industry passion began at a young age in distant Buckinghamshire.

“I grew up in a place that would go on to become Milton Keynes in England. Back then that part of the world felt like the Detroit of the UK. You had the Volkswagen Group on one side of the road and then Daimler Chrysler on the other,” he says of his formative years.

“I worked with Volkswagen and did their graduate programme and then stayed within the group for seven years. Then I moved over the road to Daimler.”

“What followed then was the beginning of an international career that ultimately led to living and working in  seven countries and managing operations in more than a dozen. I have spent a considerable amount of time in the Middle East and Africa, as well as Asia. I lived in China for almost five years, establishing and heading up operations for a global leader in automotive consulting and business services”.

Faid describes it as an unconventional journey into smash repair but one that has brought learnings from multiple sectors within the automotive industry.

“I’m a 30-year veteran of the automotive industry. After I came through the OEM Graduate Management Programme, I went into retail, and then came out of retail into corporate strategy with a consulting and advisory business. This pathway gave me insights into every facet of the industry and appreciate just how integrated we are.”

It was the chance meeting of an Australian girl in China that brought him to Australia more permanently, but  it was his global and Asian exposure including China that was a major drawcard to Steve Leal, the global boss of the Fix Network who hired him in 2018 to deal with the complexities of the global organisation in the region.

“We’ve got the Novus Glass brand and Fix Auto in Australia, but we’ve got half a dozen branded businesses in the broader aftermarket space in 13 countries globally. I’m based in Australia, and I look after our Asia operations that currently consists of, businesses in Japan, South Korea, China and the Philippines as well as Australia and New Zealand.”

For Faid, the Fix Auto business has provided a revealing insight into the collision industry,

“Fix Auto is a window into the rest of
the industry. The collision industry in Australia was historically made up of  “mum and dad”, small to medium type businesses. In recent years we’ve had a real proliferation of consolidators, and that is changing the very landscape of our industry. I’ve always believed that our industry is a prime candidate for consolidation and I believe there are a number of ways to consolidate while retaining the heart and soul of who we are.”

Faid says this consolidation has taken a number of forms including the large-scale consolidations that have scooped up a big percentage of the overall work supply, to smaller multi-site consolidators with 10-20 workshops.

“I think there’s a sweet spot with multi-site operations where you can keep consistency in terms of culture and operating practices and commercial control,” he says.

For Faid this ‘sweet spot’ lies in the franchise model he has worked with in the past, both with OEM dealers and workshops, and has now been successfully implemented by Fix Auto.

“I think the industry needs to consolidate to create the required efficiencies that will continue to drive down cost and create value. The challenge with consolidation at a corporate level is that you lose a lot of the real positives of having an independently owned business so Fix Auto is the best of both worlds. We have that ‘mum and dad’ mentality, those with skin in the game and their heart and soul invested in the business.  For some of our network, the shops have been in the family and serving the community upwards of 50 years.

“The challenge for those businesses is that the world is a very different place today to where it was 50 years ago and they need to better understand how to stay relevant and create a sustainable future. This is where Fix Auto comes in; we overlay their heart and soul and their customer focus with corporate governance, processes, procedures and state of the art systems.”

Fix Auto can give those small to medium sized enterprises the reporting, analytics and business improvement support that would typically only be available to much larger and corporate businesses that invest in that infrastructure.

“We provide a far greater insight into the financial health and operational performance of our shops than business owners normally have time to organise for themselves.

“Fix Auto don’t just produce reports at the end of the month, they interpret that data based on an intimate understanding of each of their shops and then roll up their sleeves to support the implantation of any required changes or improvements to optimise that specific shops performance.

“We provide that hands-on support, coaching and guidance. We are totally connected to our franchisees. We have real time access to all their data, if our system flags or things are tailing off or there’s a problem somewhere, we are quick to respond and help the shop right the ship and get things turned around.  We are an extra set of eyes, ears and hands for our network and our absolute focus is helping them be the best they can be.” 

This balance of independence and support is one of Fix Auto’s strengths he says.

“We are all of the corporate governance and support that a big corporate MSO has but with the heart, soul and spirit of a family-owned business, who cares about every customer that comes in because they’re of the community and for the community.”

Faid believes the model affords them significant economies of scale but because they are independently owned, it means a far leaner organisational structure. While this adds to efficiency and reduces costs, in the end, it is all about helping the industry’s most valuable asset.

“When you talk about the real positives that exist in the industry, I’d say that the industry comprises a vast majority of well intentioned, honest, genuine and hardworking people that want to do the right thing by their customers. They want to make a fair and honest living and provide the opportunity for others to do so within their business; I think that’s what underpins the industry. This makes our network and the wider industry a joy to work with. That’s why I love what I do.

“I spend the majority of my time talking to long standing or second-generation business owners invested in their communities invested in their people and passionate about what they do. They may be unsure about how they navigate this new landscape with all of its pressure. You’ve got really good people who are through no fault of their own are at risk of losing everything they have built because of administrative or bureaucratic issues affecting their day to day working lives.  So I ask our team both locally and internationally, how can we remove that burden for them, set them at ease so they can do what they love to do for their customers;  fix cars and delight their customers. We’ll take care of everything else.

“That’s essentially the model,” he says.

It is also this human resource and ensuring it is an industry asset into the future that has drawn Faid to the Australian Collision Industry Alliance and a new focus on recruitment for the next generation.

He says COVID has not helped recruitment, training, and the wider impression of a career in the industry, but he believes the problem has been longer in gestation.

COVID hit many workshops hard but the support of a network helped

“I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to building a pipeline of skilled labour for more than a decade. We have a significantly ageing workforce with little new talent coming through, and seemingly a lack of awareness about why they should join and what a career in the industry really looks like.”

This is where ACIA has a positive and active role to play, he says.

“I think the long-term strategy is about re-establishing the industry as a viable opportunity for kids at a much earlier stage in their development and comprehension of making decisions about their future. I think it’s about doing that in a way that is relevant to today’s marketplace, because the reality is there is a whole lot of choice for these young kids that didn’t exist 10 or even five years ago.”

There is money attracting young people to new and emerging industries but there is also strong competition from traditional industries such as the mining and construction sectors where high demand is also driving marketing campaigns, and highly competitive recruitment.

“We’ve got to reposition ourselves as an industry in terms of how the opportunity to work in in the collision industry competes with all the other choices these kids have.”

Part of this strategy is to target the young people with career options far earlier in their schooling life and when they are shaping their career choices.

“We should be finding ways to connect with kids much earlier in their development.  If we are waiting until they leave in year 12 or trying to influence them in year 10, we’re already too late. We need to be working with these education institutions far earlier down the line.”

Faid believes the industry also needs to tap into something more intrinsic in a new generation, a deeper passion that has driven the industry for decades.

“Where would you find an average six-year-old kid that doesn’t sit on the floor and push toy cars around and bash them into each other or draw or colour in cars in their colouring book and put car posters on the wall?” he says.

“There is an age where these kids have a genuine, unexplainable, unqualified passion for all things car. And for me, you tap into these people as early as possible so they can translate this unknown fascination into a career choice. And if you talk to most people in our industry, they will tell you that they love cars.”

“We need to be figuring out how we tap into that nucleus of young talent as early as possible, to foster their interest. Look at spray painting as an example; there are a heap of kids out there that are artistic and are creative, and if they understood the skill and the process of applying paint to vehicles, especially with today’s paint technologies and colours, is absolute artistry in a lot of ways. It’s an artistic and creative vocation and we need to be explaining that.”

For the ACIA, this vocational advocacy for the industry will be a priority.

“Our first objective is to establish ourselves as a single source of support for the industry, to be able to provide a single go-to environment to help with their processes of trying to recruit and retain  talent into their business.”

“Our objective is to create a holistic environment and support mechanism that reinforces the collision industry as a career of choice first and foremost. Then it’s about if we want to be a career of choice, who do we want to be making that choice?

“Then it segments up and I think the Alliance’s role is going to be looking at those different segments and understanding the strategies that are going to be required by the industry and the people within the industry to make that happen. It is likely there will need to be different strategies for each of those segments, youth apprenticeships versus mature apprentices or reskilling and retraining.

“There is also a big role to play in retention; how do employers create an environment that encourages people to stay, whether that’s physical,  cultural, or philosophical.”

The skills issue is a broad one, but one Faid believes the industry can tackle together.

“The aim is to reposition people’s perspectives of the industry, but then it’s ensuring the industry aligns with those perspectives once you’ve set them.

“That’s a shared objective for everybody.”

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