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Jumping in: enthusiasm and flexibility in the workshop

If there is one adage that seems to come back again and again to workshop manager Simon Thi, it is nothing ever goes according to plan.

Future leaders in the repair industry can take different pathways and bring different passions and skills as they become floor managers but their input is vital to a thriving workshop culture.

Whether it is in his own career path or the busy schedule of managing Fix Auto Mulgrave’s workshop floor, it is Thi’s sense of flexibility, being prepared and having the willingness to try something new that ensures things turn out with the best successful outcomes.

Thi once envisaged himself as an architect but somehow the attraction of designing beautiful buildings diminished when he learnt how much of the occupation had to be done on computer.

Instead, he tuned that attention to detail and fine lines, coupled with a passion for cars into an apprenticeship in panel beating which he completed with relatives of his current employer.

“I love cars, so I did a pre apprenticeship course in panel beating, then the apprenticeship and I thought, ‘I’m actually good at this’.”

Having completed his apprenticeship, he tried a variety of jobs outside the industry but none held his interest and then while looking for a panel beater role, he chanced upon a job as an assembler.

Image: Simon Thi

“I thought hang on, I should have been an assembler when I was looking for a break from panel beating,” he says.

“It was a good opportunity. There were a lot of high-end cars to work with and I learned a lot and grew a lot.”

Then, as he had a young family, he was looking for some stability and went back to work with Fix Auto in Clayton and it was here, as it merged with Fix Auto Mulgrave, that he found he really thrived and has been with them ever since.

Fix Auto Mulgrave is a bustling repair shop, and he manages the two floors with up to 25 staff.

“I love the pressure,” he says. “I have my own personal team that I rely on. And if there’s an important job, they are my go-to. If I tell them I need this done today. They will meet the targets. I’ll put it together and I’ll make sure we go above and beyond. “

He said open communication was crucial in operating under pressure, but it was also important in speaking with customers at the shop.

“And sometimes you just do that little extra to keep them happy; if they’re a bit stressed that they’re going get their car a bit late, or to buffer an extra panel. It’s all about customer service, something I’ve learned along the way.”

He loves still being on the tools and believes a hands-on approach helps the rest of the team but also gives him a fuller understanding of what each job involves. This is particularly important with the advancing technology being seen in the workshop and he has dedicated himself to learning as much as possible online, in his own time.

“I am always on the internet at home, just scrolling through about panel beating and new equipment. Europe and America are so much more advanced. I follow all these European and American panel beaters on Instagram and I just try to incorporate it into what we do here.”

His approach to innovation that he tries to communicate to his team is continually asking; what will get a great result but make the job easier and more efficient.

Image: Simon Thi

He also recognises the changing technology which is affecting workshops and is keen to stay up to speed. Recently his boss, Lana Pagiamtzis has invested in EV training to make sure Simon and the team are ready for the future transition.

“A lot of people are afraid to go jump into that but I’m actually looking forward to it. It’s a bit like foreign territory but if everyone is going in that direction, you’ve got to follow or else you get left behind.”

He says the industry holds a lot of promise for the future when it is done well.

“I would one day like to own my own business or buy into this business,” he says.

Wherever that is, he would like to incorporate the business commitment as well as capture some of the family atmosphere at Fix Auto Mulgrave that makes it unique and lives up to the network motto of ‘Better together’.

“Lana always says treat this like you own it and I do. It’s like my baby. And Lana and her partner, they treat me like I am their son and I see them like they’re my parents.”

“Hopefully, in the future I would like to incorporate the same thing, because it’s what makes this panel shop so different to every other panel shop.”

Do you know someone who is a future leader in the industry?  The Future Leaders series run by The National Collision Repairer is a showcase of individuals in the industry who display outstanding future potential and growth. NCR extends the invitation to organisations and businesses to nominate people who fit this description. NCR believes this is a great opportunity to promote the best of people in collision repair and create role models for other up-and-coming staff.  This series is not limited to young people but anybody within the industry who has demonstrated a level of excellence and displays a potential for growth and leadership.

Send the National Collision Repairer magazine a name and a few lines on what they do and why you think they qualify as a future leader.

Email eugene.duffy@primecreative.com.au

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