|Catching Up with Gary Lubner in Germany
During the Best of Belron competition in Nurburg Gary Lubner, the companyís CEO, took time out of a busy schedule to speak with AGRR editor Charles
AGRR: How has the past year been for your companyís operations around the world? In the United States?
GL: Six to eight months into the year, itís been a very strong one for Belron across the board. Iím pretty confident that weíll have another record year in sales. A lot of it has been driven by the acquisitions weíve made in North America, both in Canada and the United States which were not part of the business in 2005.
AGRR: Even discounting the acquisitions, things are good around the world?
GL: Yes, very much so.
AGRR: In the U.S.?
GL: In the U.S. in 2006, weíve made the Maverick acquisition so our business has grown substantially since we acquired Elite 18 months ago. But all the issues Iíve raised at the Auto Glass Conference about the U.S. market still remain. (See AGRR July/August 2006 page 40 for coverage of Lubnerís remarks at the meeting in Tucson as well as Deb Levyís interview with Lubner in the September/October 2004 issue of AGRR.) Itís one if not the toughest market Belron operates in.
AGRR: Have you seen changes in the U.S. market since you reentered it?
GL: No, I havenít seen any changes at all. Iíve heard lots of words about encouraging quality and service and pricing. Maybe itís too early, but I havenít seen any change yet.
AGRR: Are things in the U.S. going according to your plans when you reentered it? Have they gone as you thought they would?
GL: We donít have some great master plan for the U.S. Thatís not the way we operate.
Do we want to have a business in the U.S.? Yes we do. Are we going to be growing that business? Weíve tripled the size of that business in 18 months. We grow by acquisitions and acquisitions come and go at different times. Opportunities arrive at different points. We will do things when they make sense for us and for our customers.
AGRR: The plan is to grow and to have the company be successful and to make acquisitions when the time comes and the time is right. Thatís the plan?
GL: Right. For all our businesses, our strategy is based around profitable growth. We believe that we will grow and we will only grow if it is profitable. Not just for the sake of it.
The U.S. is such a concentrated market and it is so competitive that the only way you can grow significantly is through acquisition. That has been our position from the beginning.
AGRR: Is a lot of hindrance to growth in the U.S. due to lack of technicians?
GL: I think that finding and holding onto good people is something that always stretches the organization. As youíve seen at this competition, weíre committed to having the best technicians and people throughout the organization.
But, no, I think in the U.S. there are excellent techniciansómany thousands of them and I donít think itís a constraint to growth.
I think what is much more a constraint to growth is what is going on in our market generally, rather than our internal capabilities.
AGRR: What changes would you like to see in the U.S. market?
GL: Iíd like to see an acknowledgement by key customers of whatever persuasion that service and quality are actually important and they can only be delivered by investing heavily in internal capability whether that be training or technology. Only by doing that can you give good service and good quality.
I would like to see an acknowledgement that we do look after the motorist properly. And that means we have to be able to get a price for the work that is fair. Thatís all I ask for is a fair price for the service that we offer. And I donít think thatís what happens in the U.S.
What else would I like to see? Iíd like to see some more rational thinking around the whole process of pricing. Iíve said this before: NAGS does not have credibility in the industry, and everyone I speak to in the industry wants to see a change.
AGRR: Do you have a sense of what that change would be?
GL: I think that the work done by the Chicago Auto Group is very good and should be encouraged by everyone in the industry.
AGRR: Arenít you discouraged by the amount of time it is taking that group to bring forward its proposal?
GL: Not at all. NAGS has been around for decades. I think itís naÔve to think itís just going to change overnight. So, no, Iím not discouraged at all. I think theyíre doing the right thing, theyíre doing it properly, with proper governance around it, with integrity and that will have to take as long as it takes.
AGRR: What should people look for from Belron in the next year?
GL: I donít think people should look for anything from Belron. I think they should get on with running their own businesses.
Try to run them as successfully as they can because Iím a firm believer that if the industry is doing well then Belron will do well. In all the businesses that we run around the world, a responsible industry leads to success for everyoneómost importantly our customers.
AGRR: And do you see the U.S. as being a country that does have a successful auto glass aftermarket industry?
GL: Itís got an auto glass aftermarket industry. Is it successful? There have been times in the past when it has been very successful, but more recentlyóitís a tough, tough industry. Can it improve? Absolutely.
I look at it from the customerís point of view. Things like quality and safety have to be good for everyone. They have to be good for the insurance companies as well as the glass companies. Itís naÔve to think that you can offer great quality and great service and look after the customers in every sense and not get a fair price for doing so.
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