We caught up with James Knox to look at his impressive personal story, how a one-time investment banker became CEO of an industry-leading collision parts supplier, what advice he has for those starting their careers, and his plans for boosting Auto Parts Group’s success.
Auto Parts Group (APG), the leading independent supplier of collision parts in Australia, is going from strength to strength under the stewardship of James Knox, the company’s dynamic new CEO, who joined APG roughly seven months ago.
“I’ve been in the industry for quite some time,” Knox said. “I’ve been part of the automotive repair industry for the last 20 years covering insurance, smash repair and now collision parts.”
Originally working in Corporate Finance, Knox soon transitioned to the insurance industry, where he found himself engaging more intimately with the ins and outs of auto repair.
“About 20 years ago, I started at Suncorp and ended up as the CFO of the Personal Insurance business, running a portfolio called Suncorp Insurance Ventures, which was our supply chain private equity arm,” he said. “This portfolio had investments in Capital Smart, ACM Parts and Home Repair, introducing me to the smash repair industry.”
Knox’s understanding of the collision repair industry expanded when he served as the inaugural CEO of Repairhub, which gave him first-hand insight into the operational challenges and opportunities present in the sector.
“I spent four years there, expanding it from just five shops to just under 20 when I left, making it the second largest smash repairer in the country,” Knox said. His role at Repairhub is where he initially crossed paths with APG, as the company was one of his major suppliers at the time.
APG’s dedication to providing a comprehensive and convenient service is central to its operations. The company ensures quality control and expedited deliveries with their dedicated delivery team, as well as around-the- clock support with their phone-based customer service teams.
Such dedication – together with its internal work culture – impressed Knox immediately.
“The founder of APG, Stephen Campbell, and I have known each other for 10 years. Knowing APG as I did, and admiring their work, when it came time for the founder to step back from the business, I was brought on to take over the CEO role.”
Leading the way
Under Knox’s leadership, APG, formerly known as All Crash Parts, has solidified its position as a trusted partner in the automotive industry. Boasting an extensive product range covering more than 45 vehicle manufacturer brands and a substantial inventory of over 44,000 SKUs, the company has an unwavering commitment to offering top-quality parts for a competitive price.
“We are not just collision parts providers; we aspire to be trusted partners in the industry, seeking to provide our customers a real advantage,” Knox said.
Looking forward to celebrating its 30th anniversary next July, APG has already achieved a significant milestone.
“Our biggest milestone is becoming the largest and leading independent supplier of genuine and aftermarket replacement parts in the country,” Knox noted with pride.
APG’s successful expansion is apparent from the numbers. “We now have national coverage with over 10,000 customers nationally serviced through our five distribution centres,” he added.
The company’s dedication to growth and service is clearly reflected in other recent initiatives: a new warehouse in Sydney has already been launched, and construction is underway for a new facility in Brisbane.
However, these new facilities are not just about increasing APG’s physical presence. They’re integral to the company’s broader mission of catering to the increasing demand for alternative parts in the automotive market.
“Our main goal is to support the growth we’re experiencing and the demand for alternative parts,” Knox said. “This past year, we’ve grown about 20 per cent as a business and are reaching a point where we are outgrowing our infrastructure.
“These new facilities will support our push into not only our genuine range but also expand our certified aftermarket range.”
What’s next on the agenda?
Under Knox’s guidance, APG’s impressive trajectory is set to continue well into the future. As it gears up to celebrate its 30th anniversary, the company’s commitment to innovation, quality, and service remains as strong as ever.
As a relatively new CEO inheriting a very strong company, Knox has high ambitions for what he can contribute to the company’s future success.
“We aim to continue the corporatisation of the business, growing our professionalism as an entity,” he explained. “We also want to drive the push into the aftermarket opportunity, which will require changing perceptions within the industry and among our customers.”
Innovation and technology also play critical roles in APG’s ongoing growth and Knox’s forward-looking strategy.
“Technology has always been a significant part of our business, along with our depth of service and capabilities,” Knox said. “For instance, we have APGiQ, our online sales and service portal, where customers can order parts, check availability, understand list prices, and track their product from being picked in the warehouse through to delivery.”
At the heart of APG’s success is a strong commitment to nurturing meaningful relationships within the industry. “Indeed, a significant part of what we’re trying to accomplish as a company is to partner with our customers. This critical aspect of partnering with the industry is something we don’t take lightly,” Knox said.
APG’s commitment to industry partnership extends to maintaining a proactive presence in the field. The company employs on-road, Territory Managers to stay connected and responsive. Knox’s own approach includes actively engaging with customers: “I personally get out there and speak with customers as much as I can. I love it. And it’s essential to always keep your ear to the ground and learn from what customers are telling us.”
Beyond interpersonal connections, APG participates in industry initiatives to foster and consolidate stakeholder relationships. By way of illustration, Knox pointed to APG’s support of initiatives like the Women in Collision promotion and its foundational partnership with the Australian Collision Industry Association (ACIA).
Recognising the challenges faced by its partners, APG advocates for better remuneration from insurance companies and brings awareness to profitability concerns in the collision repair industry. “We understand that advocating for better remuneration from insurers and raising awareness about profitability are important challenges for our partners.”
Believing that profitability can be boosted through options such as certified aftermarket and independent genuine, APG actively promotes these options. This approach is paired with support for partners, pushing for better pricing from insurers, and sponsoring industry initiatives – forming a comprehensive strategy for industry growth and sustainability.
The complex remuneration landscape has traditionally resulted in a bias towards OEM dealer products. Knox and his team tackled the issue by highlighting the lack of incentives for repairers to choose more economical parts.
Knox put forth a concept called Shared Value to address the issue. The principle behind this concept is simple: if insurers want repairers to opt for less expensive parts, they need to provide the right incentives. “If you want a repairer to source a more cost-effective part for your car, if you want to shift the mix to more certified aftermarket or alternative parts, you need to incentivise the repairer to do so,” he said.
APG’s mission to tackle this challenge involves raising awareness and pushing insurers to reconsider their remuneration models. Knox noted that this engagement has led to positive shifts in the industry, with Suncorp lifting its non-OE dealer parts remuneration to 80 per cent of OEM list for all alternative parts.
“It’s a significant challenge for us, but through constructive engagement, we’ve seen a positive shift in the market.”
Advice for the next generation
In his position as CEO of APG, Knox has gained significant insights and wisdom that might prove valuable for those seeking to enter the industry.
NCR also asked him what advice he’d give someone at the beginning of their career.
Firstly, Knox stressed the importance of being practical, commercial, and data- driven in your approach. Understanding the ins and outs of your business, using data to guide decisions, and holding people accountable are all essential for success.
“Any good leader needs to understand their business and use data to inform decisions or identify issues and hold people accountable. That’s a significant part of what I’m driving at APG.”
Another crucial aspect Knox underlined is the need to act decisively. He believes that even if you might only get 90 per cent of decisions right, this is better than making no decisions at all.
“It’s about being prepared to make that call, and then measuring, monitoring, and following through with it.”
Finally, as a career progresses, Knox emphasised the importance of investing in people.“Another key takeaway is the importance of taking care of your people,” Knox emphasises. “They are everything.
“Building great teams is something I truly enjoy, along with the interactions I have with people, both customers and employees.”
It’s this blend of business acumen, decisive action, and a people-first mindset that aspiring professionals should look to emulate as they navigate their own paths in the collision repair sector.
And it’s a blend that James Knox embodies and exemplifies as CEO of Auto Parts Group.