Contributed by Tom Bemiller (EO Philadelphia), founder and CEO of The Aureus Group, which serves as the management company for three auto body shops with the goal of Repairing the Repair® Process. We asked Tom about his entrepreneurial journey. Here’s what he shared:
My entrepreneurial journey began when I was eight years old: I started doing yard work for neighbors because I desperately wanted a Nintendo. I grew it into a decent landscaping business as a teenager.
In college, I got my degree in pre-med but decided not to go to medical school after graduation. I moved back home. While I figured out what to do with my life, I started helping a friend who owned an auto body shop with special projects.
Identify the opportunity
Over six years, my role expanded into shop manager and director of operations. Accidental exposure to the auto body industry opened my eyes to just how awful the industry is. I saw a significant opportunity to improve it. When the plan to take over my friend’s business fell through in 2012, I started Aureus Auto Body (which is now The Aureus Group).
I started my own company to create a better environment and process for fixing cars because I realized that just about everybody in the business was frustrated, tired and beaten down. As an industry, auto repair severely lacks leadership, which creates awful work environments. A bad employee experience translates directly into poor customer experiences, so it’s no surprise that everybody hates getting their car fixed.
Our goal is to change that entire dynamic. We call it Repairing the Repair® Process.
I knew that if I could improve the repair experience for the people doing the repairs, it would translate into a better repair experience for vehicle owners. Now, 15 years later, I’m still at it —because there is still so much opportunity to get better.
Improve the environment to benefit all stakeholders
I am not a “car guy.” I’ve never fixed them, I don’t race them—I don’t even own a car!
At The Aureus Group, it’s not about fixing cars; it’s about fixing the way we fix cars. Our purpose is to Repair the Repair Process:
- We’ve created a better environment—our shops are organized and clean, there’s no animosity or baloney, and we appreciate each other as we work together to find better ways of doing things.
- We want to create the fastest process for restoring vehicles to pre-loss condition. Other shops might cut corners on the quality of repairs to go faster, but we are not willing to jeopardize safety.
- We aim to create a transparent, fast and easy process for consumers to get vehicles repaired after an accident.
- We believe that we can improve the repair experience for all parties—teammates, customers and stakeholders.
Hire like-minded people
One of the most surprising things that I’ve encountered while Repairing the Repair Process is that not everyone wants to make things better. Personally, when I see something that is inefficient or doesn’t work well, I instantly start thinking of ways to make it better. Not everyone does that.
I wasted a lot of time and energy hiring people and expecting them to want to participate in process improvement efforts. I learned that some people are quite happy with the status quo, some people are afraid of change, and others just don’t care. I am much better now at finding people who believe things can be better, those who believe work doesn’t have to suck, and want to participate in making it better. Everything gets better when we are working towards common goals.
Joining EO in 2018 was life-saving—or should I say “business-saving!” I realize now how little I knew when I started out a decade ago; I was good at running body shops but I knew nothing about building a company. When I joined EO, I was welcomed into an absolutely amazing Forum. The learning opportunities, including the Entrepreneurial Masters Program at MIT, are nothing short of extraordinary. And on top of all that, I now have a global network of business leaders that I frequently tap into for help. EO has also given me a sense of community, a sense of belonging, something that I was missing for most of my life.
Never stop improving
The pandemic years were tough for the auto repair industry, but we are very excited about what’s coming down the pike for us. We’re anticipating 100+ percent growth this year, as customers and insurance companies are seeing the value of working with us.
But we’re just getting started. I believe that we can reduce repair times by up to 75 percent of where they are now. We are going “all-in” on Lean Principles, which align perfectly with our culture. I believe we can help people achieve their career and life goals. We are launching a talent development program this year with an eye on creating opportunities for our people to improve and advance. And, I believe in sharing the wealth; we are exploring avenues to create ownership opportunities for our teammates.
Our goal is to be the best company to work for in the industry. That means we will be the best company at developing people both professionally and personally and the best at fixing cars — so our employees can feel satisfied with their hard work and go home happy at the end of each day. I know that if we can improve the employee experience, we will also, by default, improve the customer experience—and that is what we are all about.