Interview with Myron Boncarosky and Mike Holmes of Virginia Tire & Auto
April 9th, 2014
Written by: Admin
This interview is part of a yearlong retrospective blog series commemorating TPO@20! – TPO’s 20th Birthday. These conversations with TPO partners, clients and executives focus on what has and hasn’t changed in “how we work” over the last two decades–and what we can learn for the next 20 years. This interview is with one of TPO’s clients, Virginia Tire and Auto. Mike Holmes and Myron Boncarosky, are the company’s CEO and Chairman/Founder, respectively.
TPO: Thank you both for participating in TPO@20! Mike, let’s start with you. What does Virginia Tire and Auto do?
Mike Holmes: We are a family owned and operated, full-service auto repair shop with 430 employees in 12 locations, founded in 1976 by Myron. Our mission, essentially, is to keep people mobile–going to work and living their lives.
Myron Boncarosky: I like to say I have the same role as Charles Schwab. As the chairman and founder I built the business and have overseen everything from the back office to customer operations to sales. There’s nothing I didn’t do for the business. And now it is Mike’s turn.
TPO: What were you doing in 1994, the year TPO was founded?
Myron Boncarosky: The same routine I kept 6 to 7 days a week for 35-odd years: At the stores by 6 am and working on operations until 1 pm. Meeting with vendors from 1 – 3 pm. Then from 3 – 6 pm, working on the business, answering calls, fixing problems.
TPO: Mike, what were you up to 20 years ago?
Mike Holmes: I was actually a freshman at James Madison High School in Vienna, VA. I wasn’t even driving in 1994. I had no inclination my future was in the auto repair business, but I did have my heart set on driving a Jeep with big tires—which I did end up owning.
TPO: Since 1994, there’s obviously been a huge increase in real-time, always-on communications. Has that been a positive thing for you–or not so positive?
Myron Boncarosky: Email, for example, has been great in many ways, but it still comes down to the front line. You have to touch and talk to customers, so you can’t overuse email in our business. I remember while making plans for a deal with Shell Oil, we started emailing back and forth with their rep, and all the sudden there’s so much email that you have less time for the primary responsibility of managing the stores.
Mike Holmes: Overall it’s been positive. I haven’t really known a different way to communicate than online. My early recollections are getting busy signals for my dial-up Internet access. I used Netscape. I played chess on the Internet. AOL was my portal to the online world. That was where you went for news and everything. Then in college we used a system called Pegasus, and in business school seven years later, everyone was using Blackboard.
TPO: In terms of changes in your job that have had a significant impact on “how you work,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Myron Boncarosky: You cannot sit still for a moment. You cannot stay the same. The business matures, so you have new requirements, computerization and more accountability. And you really have no choice since these are things your competitors are doing. The metrics for success are always changing.
Mike Holmes: A good example of the metrics actually relates to our work with TPO. We saw that our turnover was high, and TPO helped us make some important changes in the way we screened, interviewed and recruited employees. Their onboarding process used a very specific data-driven methodology that gives you early insight into how quickly a new employee is becoming productive.
Myron Boncarosky: Measuring employee turnover or satisfaction is something that has definitely changed. When you’re a smaller company, you can tell someone’s not happy—it’s just not working out. And you hear it from other people. So you sit down and talk and you find out that, sure enough, it’s not a fit. As you grow, you can’t have that same level of personal involvement and understanding of how everyone’s doing. You need a process.
TPO: Anything else come to mind as a major change over the last 20 years?
Mike Holmes: Yes, actually. I worked for Arthur Andersen, which eventually imploded after the Enron and WorldCom scandals. I started at Andersen on September 10, 2001, and Enron restated earnings in October 2001. Andersen went from 72,000 employees down to zero in 2002. This was one of my first experiences in business, and it made a very big lasting impression about business ethics and how a big firm can be taken down by a few bad people. So at Virginia Tire and Auto, I think about what we can do to control against a rogue employee taking us down. A big part of the solution is transparency and culture. We are transparent with customers. We give loaners to ease independence. Back to the big changes over the last 20 years with technology, transparency has absolutely increased with customers and employees. Information is at everyone’s fingertips. Google is in everyone’s pocket. Same for our internal culture. How do you get the right info into employees’ hands so they can do their jobs better? Just a keystroke away.
TPO: Thinking back 20 years, what was your definition of Human Resources then, and what is it now?
Mike Holmes: I was a numbers guy, so HR was a soft, nebulous area and hard to define. Not a science. Nor was it very exciting. I thought it was kind of wimpy. The University of Chicago, where I got my MBA, was very numbers- and finance-oriented. I took a class called “Managing in the Workplace,” and thought I was signing up for softball HR class. But it ended up being about how to compensate people, and it was the coolest class I ever took. It was so much fun getting into new concepts about how to develop and incent people and how different types of people are attracted to different companies. I still refer back to that frequently. And today, the people aspect is the most important part of our business—every decision I make is an HR decision.
Myron Boncarosky: My wife worked in the HR department for The World Bank, so I knew the value of it. Things have changed drastically since I worked for Texaco early in my career. At one time you brought someone onboard looking for a career position, and both sides worked hard to form a relationship. Now the employer has to do more work to earn loyalty, and the employer might not get a second chance if the employee is dissatisfied. This goes back to the transparency: people are more aware of their options.
TPO: Name something about “how we work” that hasn’t changed in the last two decades.
Myron Boncarosky: The ingredients of successful people have not changed. They are passionate. They have high standards. They communicate very well and are disciplined.
TPO: Do you remember the first performance review you received?
Mike Holmes: Yes, I recall that I didn’t appreciate the importance of social connections and managing upwards. If I could do one thing over, it was that I thought doing a good job was good enough—and that I didn’t have to think about making my boss’s job easier or make him look good. I’m not talking about blowing smoke or taking credit for things, but just checking in with my boss more regularly, asking things like, “Am I communicating effectively? Is there a different way of communicating that you’d prefer?”
TPO: What impact has TPO had on your business?
Myron Boncarosky: TPO is helping us make a transition. Candidly, I was skeptical at first about what they said they could accomplish to reduce turnover, but they’ve more than fulfilled expectations. I’m from Missouri, the “Show Me” state, and they’ve certainly shown me.
Mike Holmes: (TPO CEO) Dana (Papke) and her team are great to work with. They’ve come in and helped us think more strategically about connecting our people priorities to our business objectives. Before TPO, we were using another firm whose definition of HR was “compliance.” That’s not wrong, but HR is about much more. Going back to my earlier point, every business decision we make is an HR decision. So we were struggling with people development, selection and retention, and I had a sense we could do something more with HR. TPO and Dana were the only company we spoke to that understood what I was looking for—a more holistic and strategic view. They actually helped me verbalize what I needed.
TPO: This discussion has been incredibly informative. Thank you both for helping us celebrate TPO@20!
Myron Boncarosky: My pleasure and congratulations on the milestone.
Mike Holmes: Likewise, we are very happy to participate.