From the Ground Up

By Mike Davey

Bill Hatswell has grown Craftsman Collision by promoting talent. 

Bill Hatswell founded Craftsman Collision, a chain of collision repair facilities operating 40 locations in Western Canada, with expansion facilities operating in the US and China. He also founded something else: an internal culture that reveres technical knowledge, practical experience and promoting from within.

In 1970, Bill was the owner/operator of a shop in Adelaide, Australia. The facility was a success, and to this day is one of the most successful collision centres operating in Adelaide. Which raises the question of what prompted him to sell the business and move halfway around the world.

“A friend of mine invited me skiing,” says Bill. “I tried it, fell in love with it, and it became an absolute passion. I told my wife I wanted to move to Canada. She thought I’d lost my marbles.”

There’s no question that relocating to British Columbia was a good move for Bill, his family and his business. Today, Craftsman Collision is a large chain that has gone multi-national. Including staff at head office, Craftsman employs over 400 people. Bill’s experience with the hands-on part of the business led him to value those who started out as technicians and painters, and the culture at Craftsman Collision encourages them to go as far as they can.

Mark Greenberg is the Business Development Manager for Craftsman Collision’s Canadian and Chinese operations. In fact, he was heavily involved with opening the store in China and ensuring it would be a successful venture. Like many people in top spots with the organization, he started out as a working tech. “I just loved cars,” says Greenberg. “I got into an apprenticeship right out of high school and started working.”

Greenberg left the collision repair industry to pursue a career in real estate. It was a successful move. He spent the next decade working in the lucrative world of Vancouver real estate, pulling down the top sales numbers for several consecutive years. “I would absolutely say that my experience as a technician helped me in my real estate career,” he says. “Real estate hinges on details. That sort of ability to see both the details and how they relate to the big picture is essential to a technician.” Greenberg was successful in real estate, but monetary success doesn’t always equal happiness. “I was in a position where I didn’t see my kids much or have much time for work-life balance,” he says. “I started discussing things with Bill and came to work for Craftsman Collision as a store manager.”  From there, he worked his way up in the organization, eventually leading the expansion into China, a virtually untapped market for collision repair services.

Mike O’Callaghan is Craftsman Collision’s General Manager of Operations. Broadly speaking, his responsibilities include supervising everything to do with operations. This can be a big job at a single high volume facility. Expand that by over 40 locations and 450 employees, and you’ve got a rough idea of how tough the job must be. O’Callaghan takes it in stride, in part because he knows the staff are well-trained and have a can-do attitude.

O’Callaghan has been with Craftsman Collision for 18 years. His start in the collision repair industry was born of necessity. “I was working at a car lot, and the boss told me to back up one of the cars,” O’Callaghan recalls. “I didn’t want to tell him I couldn’t drive a standard, and I ended up smashing in the side of a nearby Volvo. My boss said ‘You’ve got to pay for that!’ I didn’t have the money, so he ended up teaching me how to do bodywork instead.” An apprenticeship followed, but after a time O’Callaghan decided to apply his skills in another area: insurance. He worked at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) for four years before taking a job as assistant manager at one of the Craftsman Collision stores.

His latest endeavour with the company has been designing and rolling out a new set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) with his team. “Our in-house tech team designed the program and we’re now in the process of training staff on the details,” he says. “I think my early years as a technician gave me the ability to understand why a given process might be more difficult than it needs to be. Frankly, I removed more from our SOPs than I put in. A lot of what I do is talk to the techs. I can say to anyone in collision repair management, if you really want to know what’s going on, what challenges you’re going to face and how to overcome them,  you need to talk to the folks on the floor.” 

Rick Hatswell is Craftsman Collision’s Chief Operations Officer. The last name is not a coincidence. He’s the son of the company’s founder, but if you think that’s how he got his job … well, you just don’t know how Craftsman Collision operates. 

He started doing bodywork when he was about eight years old, sanding panels on an old MGB his father had purchased.  “Where I got serious was about age 13,” he says. “We got an MGB and I worked three summers in a row restoring it. That’s where I learned how to weld, patch and paint.

By the time I was done that car probably had 10 gallons of filler, but I learned a lot about cars from working on it.” Like a lot of people, Rick wasn’t much interested in university after high school. Luckily for him, he had parents who supported his desire to enter the trades. He started an apprenticeship, and worked as a Red Seal apprentice from 1993 to 1997. “I worked on the floor, got my paycheque and that’s what I lived off,” he says. “The experience has given me credibility over the years, and it’s made me more well-rounded. You can learn to run the business as a business, but if you don’t have that experience, there’s going to be a lot going on behind the scenes that you don’t know.”

Rick might not have wanted to go to university right off the bat, but he’s had his share of higher education since. He did an executive undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University, and most recently he received an MBA from a prestigious joint program run by Queens and Cornell universities. “That was full time for two years, with every Saturday in class plus three residencies,” he says. “It’s a difficult course to get into, but they value life experience and family business experience.” The culture in any business starts right at the top, and Craftsman Collision is no exception. Without Bill Hatswell’s attitude, the company likely wouldn’t have the culture it enjoys today. “I’ve always believed in promoting talent,” says Bill. “There’s no better way to know a business than from the ground up.”


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