Six Years of Service: A Q&A with AASP/NJ Past President Jerry McNee

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

During AASP/NJ’s 2023 Annual Meeting, the association elected a new president (Ken Miller of 821 Collision; North Haledon) for the first time since 2017. Although Past President Jerry McNee will continue serving the organization and the industry as collision chairman, New Jersey Automotive sat down with him as he reflected on his six years of service as AASP/NJ president and took a look at what the future holds in his new role. 

New Jersey Automotive: What were your greatest accomplishments during your time as the AASP/NJ president?

Jerry McNee: In one respect, I don’t know that I can claim any “great accomplishments” because my goal was always simply to give back to the industry by sharing the things that I’ve learned over the years. Any time that someone took that information and was able to utilize it, that would be what I consider my greatest accomplishments. Over the past six years, I’ve received many calls from other shop owners telling me how they were able to implement information that I shared, but it always astonishes me when people are surprised by my desire to help others; it’s not a crime to want someone else to do better, to encourage them to get outside of their four walls to get involved, pay attention and learn something new that they could take back to their facility. That engagement is invaluable. So, no, I haven’t done anything significantly “great,” other than sharing information; I’ve spent my time as president helping others to just take little bites of the apple.

NJA: What were your biggest disappointments or challenges during your time as the AASP/NJ president?

JM: For me, the biggest challenge was getting new faces to show up for events and meetings – and that was also my biggest disappointment. We see the same faces over and over again, but there are so many more shops in New Jersey that never show up. I guess they have it “all figured out,” which is the reason we are in this situation. I understand that it may be hard to drive an hour or two after work to attend, but we need people to pay attention to what’s happening in our state. They say there are two guarantees in life: taxes and death! But there’s one more…a guarantee you will learn nothing without the effort in. Those seminars should have 200 people in attendance, but so many guys think they’re smarter than everyone else. And those are the same guys who can’t afford to compensate their technicians and admin staff, buy equipment, properly train their employees or stay current with technology due to the lack of compensation for the work they do. I’ll say this again: either you’re doing the work and not requesting reimbursement, or you’re not doing the work at all; two wrongs don’t make a right. We need to control our businesses, but people don’t understand there’s strength in numbers. They keep their heads buried in the sand and insist it will never work…and it won’t work because they’ve never tried it. I hear this all the time: “Well, no one else is requesting it, if only you guys would stick together and stand up for yourselves…But you don’t!”

Everyone needs to read the emails from the association or enact the improvements you’ve learned about when you attended a meeting. Because even when the turnouts are great, there are so many people who refuse to actually DO something. What did you do yesterday, today or tomorrow to help improve your business or the industry? I like to correlate it to a football game where you want to get as close to the goal line as possible to make a touchdown, but even though the coach explains the play, the quarterback just stands there and never throws the ball; no one runs toward the goal line. What was the score when you woke up today? What will it be when you go to bed? 0-0! If you’re happy with a tie…don’t bother reading the rest of this, as we can repeat the same messages over and over, and it seems like it’s the first time anyone has heard that information. 

Now, I’m grateful to everyone who has shown up, put in the effort, supported the association and participated, but there just aren’t enough of those guys. Too many people want to hide behind their locked door because they’re afraid to confront anyone. (Oh, and I have a word for that!) What kind of fighter are you? Are you willing to fight for your business? The world we live in has changed, and we cannot continue to live 30-40 years behind the times, yet many of us want to continue operating the same way we did in the past. Well, Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. We need to try something new. That’s the key to being successful in life and in this business. 

NJA: How did your position as an independent shop owner allow you to serve the interests of New Jersey auto body shops while you were the AASP/NJ president?

JM: I’m on the front line; I face the same battles they do every single day, and I know there’s no such thing as getting enough education. I’m not playing Monday morning quarterback based on Sunday’s game. I DON’T BASE ANYTHING ON THEORIES. I’m not insulated from reality. I’m in the trenches all day, every day, so I can relate to what they’re going through. When AASP/NJ hosts training seminars, we’re providing real-world information about the challenges we all face, not theoretical ideas. No one can say I don’t understand what they’re going through because I’m standing right next to them, dealing with the same challenges. 

NJA: What is your favorite memory of your time as the AASP/NJ president?

JM: The get-togethers, the golf outing, the NORTHEAST® Automotive Services Show, the annual meeting, the classes…All of that is fun to me and can be listed as some of my favorite moments because you can’t think of it as work. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, experience and passion with others and helping them succeed on a task as small and simple as adding 0.3 hours to an estimate because they realized that they could request payment for a process they’ve already been performing on every repair. When someone picks up something new, when that lightbulb goes off for people, those are my absolute favorite memories. Sharing is caring; someone is getting paid for an operation, so why not me? If you’re paying someone else, you can pay me too.

NJA: How will your role within AASP/NJ change now that you’ll be serving as the collision director?

JM: My title is changing, but what I bring to the table won’t change. Helping others is my purpose within the association, no matter what role I’m filling, so I’m going to continue bringing the same passion and mindset. Now, I may be a little less “diplomatic” since, as the president, I’ve had to tiptoe through the tulips at times because people get so offended when they’re called out for doing something wrong, but I believe in healthy conflict and constructive criticism. After all, how else will you improve? Because you’re not doing it on your own. If someone is inefficient, I don’t see a reason for them to be offended…it’s time to grow up. Those numbers are real, but they’re just numbers. There’s no reason to get your feelings hurt because someone tells you that your numbers suck. Maybe you just need to put in a little more effort, and that could make all the difference. Look, I’m not perfect. I put my pants on the same way as everyone else, so if I’m doing something wrong, I want to know so I can move the needle in the right direction. Shouldn’t we all be willing to make a change and move in the right direction? 

NJA: What do you wish you knew before accepting the position of AASP/NJ president?

JM: Absolutely nothing. I came in ready to help tackle the problems as they appear because I believe in facing challenges head on. Sometimes, I get frustrated at seeing the same faces over and over again, and I wish our members understood that operating this association takes money and effort by a Board that volunteers our time. Maybe then they would take that drive to come participate in everything we’ve set up. Would you still think it’s too far to drive if you knew you could add 0.5 hour to each estimate? Wouldn’t that be worth spending three hours at a meeting and an hour driving each way? It’s sad that so many shop owners are afraid to get outside their four walls and invest a little time today to make big improvements in their business tomorrow and in the future. Ten repairs a week times at 0.5 per repair…do the math; you get the idea. 

NJA: What advice would you like to offer your successor?

JM: Don’t take no for an answer. You know right from wrong, so be vocal about it. Hold people accountable. It’s a volunteer position, so it can be tough, but I’ve already told Ken that he’s not going to be by himself; he does not have to do this alone. I’ll support him in any way I can. And I’ll still be the same old me, just without the presidential filter.

NJA: Any regrets?

JM: Not a single one…Unless it’s maybe not pushing the members and the Board hard enough. COVID has slowed us down for our on-going educational training, it’s time to step up.

Want more? Check out the November 2023 issue of New Jersey Automotive!