Volume 14, Issue 3 - May/June 2012

Feature

The Domestic View
President and CEO of the Country’s Largest
Installer Discusses His Company, Legislation and More

by Katie O’Mara

Tom Feeney has been the CEO of and president of Safelite Glass Corp. since July 2008. He joined the company in 1988, and served as an executive vice president and chief client officer for Safelite Solutions LLC since 2003. Before Safelite, Feeney worked in management positions at Tenneco Automotive Retail, Hertz and American International Rent-a-Car. Katie O’Mara, contributing editor for AGRR™ magazine, sat down with Feeney at the Best of Belron competition in February. Below are excerpts from the interview. For a full transcript, please visit www.glassBYTEs.com/Feeney.

AGRR: So, Tom, you’ve been in the job going on five years now. What has surprised you the most about the job and the business?
TF:
This is my fourth year. I’ve had a good understanding of the auto glass business and the solutions we have. I wouldn’t say I [have] learned anything new. I think what [has] surprised me the most is the talent of our associates, how they wanted to believe we had a bright future and that we were going to transform our business and grow the way we’ve grown. That’s been a very pleasant surprise.

AGRR: How do you measure your success in the job?
TF:
I think it’s for others to measure. I don’t think I have any right to determine if I’m successful or not. Clearly, there are performance metrics, profit and loss, sales, profit growth, how much have you improved the business, investments paying off; but I think the real determination of a leader in my role is the way the business responds to the leadership, and whether the business accepts the leadership and the direction the company’s going, and moves forward. In that respect, I think we are. I don’t declare myself a great leader, that’s for others to decide, but I’m very happy with the transformation our business has undergone; the direction we’re having; the accomplishments we’ve achieved; and the work we’re all doing.

AGRR: It seems like the communication from top to bottom is really a great challenge for a large company. Is Safelite unique in how it communicates?
TF:
Communication is all about trust, and that’s born out of telling people what’s going to happen and doing what you said you’re going to do. This doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years. We’ve embarked on numerous communication strategies. We talk to our associates many times each month, and it’s two-way. We have an “Ask Tom” website where people can ask questions and I will give a reply within 72 hours, and there’s nothing off limits. I answer my own phone and emails; we visit the markets a lot; we hold town hall meetings; we have many recognition awards; business letters; webcasts; voice casts; everything we can to let our associates know what we stand for, and what their role is in the success of the company.

AGRR: I know the year started out with a transition with Allstate (see related story in September/October 2011 AGRR, page 14). How has the response been to that?
TF:
I haven’t seen much response at all. It was announced six months ago, and for the last six months we’ve been getting prepared in our contact centers primarily. The transition was seamless. We committed to Allstate that we’d work with LYNX and vice versa, to make sure there’s no bumps along the way, and that their policyholders wouldn’t feel any different. Feedback from Allstate says they’re very pleased with the transition, and it’s only the first month. We’ll continue to improve upon it and listen to Allstate agents. I’m very confident that we’ll run this program as well as we’ve run other programs.

AGRR: I wanted to touch on this because I know there’s been some talk in the industry that maybe some people are not getting as many Allstate jobs. Can you respond?
TF:
I don’t know how many leads they would’ve gotten before, so it’s hard for me to compare. As I said, we’re running this program the same as we run other programs. The industry should’ve expected or known what was going to happen, and there’s still a lot of Allstate business to go around. Tons of it.

AGRR: Are you in discussion with other insurance companies?
TF:
Always. That’s part of our growth. We’re pleased to have as many insurance companies on the contract as we do. But we’re a growth company, we always want to be talking to insurance clients and, not just about signing contracts, but just about explaining how we can help them save money and improve service to policyholders. We believe very strongly in our model, that it provides value, efficiency and effectiveness; and we believe we’re partners to our insurance clients. We know what that means and we’ve earned the right to be a partner to them.

AGRR: Okay, I’m going to change directions a bit here. In your opinion, is there an issue with repair quality within the windshield repair industry?
TF:
Again, I don’t know from others, but I know we’ve seen a tremendous increase in the quality of the repair since we’ve implemented [the new] resins. If you didn’t have them, yeah, there’s probably a difference. We feel our repair is far better than the competition’s.

AGRR: What kind of responses have you gotten from insurers following the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) partnership (see related story in January/February 2012 AGRR, page 18)?
TF:
They love it. They’re very happy that we’re partnering with NICB and are anxiously awaiting things to come out of that. Positive things to help fight fraud. It’s a big issue for insurance companies.

AGRR: I wanted to ask you about that, if you’re still seeing a big problem with fraud …
TF:
Fraud is still an issue, yes. There are companies we’ve referred to as harvesters; they spring up one day, close down, come up under new ownership. They tend to operate in states with no deductible. They bring fear and misrepresent the truth to people. They knock on doors. We’ve known instances where they’ve broken the glass themselves and forced people to do things. We’ve helped insurance companies to understand that, and how quickly this came on, and help develop solutions to attack it. Where we’ve attacked it, we’ve done it successfully, and we’ve saved them $15 million this year. What happens is they’ll go away and come back in another company with another name. They’re in this for the wrong reason; they’re not part of the auto glass industry. They’re in it to make money and hurt consumers. That’s not our competition. They shouldn’t be in this industry.

AGRR: I had asked Gary [Lubner] but he thought this would be more of a question for you (see related story on page 32): how does legislation affect what you can get done with the company? Why do you fight it?
TF:
We’re going to fight it because we think it’s wrong. We believe in free market, that the person with the best mouse trap should win. We’re not afraid of competition and we encourage healthy competition. We think this legislation is from competitors whining, as opposed to something being done wrong. We don’t think there need to be laws on the book to intervene with the free market. It’s against the capitalistic structure of the United States to go at it this way. The reality is I think the industry ought to be careful what they’re asking for, because they may not like what they get. I’m finding strange bedfellows in this arrangement. People [who], on the surface you wouldn’t think align, but they’re aligned to come after and hurt us. I think they should put their energy in growing and investing their business like they are, opening new stores, refreshing their stores, buying new vans, new equipment, and fight for the business the old-fashioned way. Try to earn your business; don’t try to legislate your way there. We’re going to fight it.

We follow the scripts of insurance companies, these aren’t our scripts. We record 100 percent of the inbound and outbound calls. We record not only voice, but data, so we can see the keystrokes. We make mistakes, but, people complain—this is an industry that creates myths and rumors, and they try to create initiatives around them instead of answering them with facts.

Katie O’Mara is a contributing editor for AGRR™ magazine. She can be reached at komara@glass.com.


AGRR
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