An Icon Retires: Tim Morgan Reflects on Industry Education, Equipment and Evolution

by Alana Quartuccio

Tim Morgan has worn more hats in the collision repair space than most. Body technician. Shop owner. Educator. Equipment distributor. Leader. Industry expert. His work has taken him all over the globe, and he’s certainly racked up a number of successes over his many decades…not to mention airline miles! 

This spring, he announced his most recent move – the decision to retire as Chief Operating Officer for Spanesi Americas, a company he took from $0 to $60 million in sales in the US over a span of 12 years. 

“I think I shocked people when I said ‘retirement,’” he confesses. “I turned 62 the day after the NORTHEAST® Automotive Services Show. I am now legally old enough, and I’m looking to see how the next chapter in my life is going to play out.” 

Morgan humbly stressed that he is not seeking out any big celebration in honor of the occasion. Although he’s not certain about what his next steps may look like, he is certain that he wants to relax. He’s started the first leg of his retirement taking the time to regroup and enjoy conversations with people – something he has not been able to do in quite some time.

“I spent the past 12 years working seven days a week. I missed a lot of personal things that I could have been doing with my family that I’m going to catch up on. I have some hot rods and motorcycles in the garage to play with, so I’ve got projects. I’d like to travel a little bit more and spend some time working with the dogs.” (One of Morgan’s many projects is the establishment of 2nd Chance Ranch, a non-profit pet rescue organization.)

Morgan knew he wanted to pursue a career in automotive at the young age of 14, an interest launched by working on old cars in a neighbor’s garage. But when it came time to talk career moves with his high school guidance counselor, he actually was met with resistance. “I told him I wanted to be in the auto body program, and he said ‘No, you’re too smart for that. You need to go to college.’ So my parents actually had to go to the school board and go against the direction of the school to get me in the auto body program. It amazes me because I have run into that same guidance counselor at events as I grew up through the industry, and I’ve joked with him about what he did, and we laugh. 

“You just never know what someone’s potential could be,” he added. “He’s told me ‘Ever since you, I’ve really had to sit down with people and think a little bit more of what’s in someone’s heart instead of what’s between their ears all the time.’”

Morgan’s own experiences as the frustrated owner of a small body/mechanical shop and towing company have really helped serve others as his career evolved. “I was really getting beat up by the insurance companies on how they wanted the cars repaired,” he recalled what led him to sell off his collision repair facility. 

“I truly understand how the shop owner struggles being managed by an insurance carrier or by a third-party vendor. They shouldn’t be getting managed, because they don’t know what that person’s bottom line is. They don’t know what the guy had for breakfast, but they’re going to try and tell him how to run their business? So that’s why, all along, I’ve always tried to look out for the technician, shop manager and owner to make sure they understand a way to be more profitable. And to make sure that they are getting the practice or tools and equipment to do the job.” 

After leaving his shop, he went into education. “I was working as the director at Ohio Technical College where I bumped into Ron Kuehn of I-CAR. Not long after that, I got a call from a headhunter asking if I wanted to go to work for Car-O-Liner. I started out there as their technical and training manager for North America, due to the introduction through Ron, so I owe him for getting me into the corporate side of the equipment business. I was at Car-O-Liner for 14 years.” 

During that time, Morgan served as Car-O-Liner’s global technician training manager “overseeing the global operations. I spent a number of years traveling the world for them. For a couple of years, I was based between the US and China. I traveled to Thailand and India. I actually spoke to the Chinese government and the Indian government about collision repair, so I got sort of a worldwide education. 

 “In 2009, I got the opportunity to go work for what I would call a consolidated group in the collision equipment business called Equinox that was based in Switzerland,” he continued. “I helped manage both Celette, while it was in its bankruptcy stages, and Elektron. Celette was a French company, and Elektron was German. Everyone is familiar with Celette, not so much Elektron, which was welders and spot welders and other equipment. I worked with both groups to get them out of bankruptcy, up and running and sold off.”

Morgan then got the call for his next opportunity. “I was sitting there one day, and my Skype app went off, and there were a couple of people who wanted to talk to me about coming to work for Spanesi. Their first question was whether I thought there was room for another player for collision repair equipment in the US. Six months later, after we had spent some time going back and forth and trying to put together a business plan, they asked me to come in, put it together and run it. I think in about 12 years total, from consulting to managing, it was able to go from zero in the US and Canada to make a pretty decent name for the company. In January, we just celebrated that we had sold over $60 million in collision repair equipment in that short period of time.”

His career has allowed him to experience various things, especially by traveling the world. “I really enjoyed the time overseas, to be able to learn other cultures and work with other people like in Sweden, France, Germany and Italy. Every culture is different. The food is amazing. 

“My time in China, I learned a lot about communication. I would be there for 10 days at a time, and then I would return home for five and back to China for another stint. I did a lot of work with some of the OEM manufacturers trying to get some of their programs off the ground, do shop inspections and try to add in training. When you try to explain to a technician who has five children, his parents and his grandparents at home that he needs to wear a welding helmet because he’s gonna go blind if he doesn’t and then he won’t have a job, it can get lost in translation. But when I went back to that shop a second time, the guy had his helmet on his head, so it obviously didn’t.”

Not only has Morgan experienced different cultures, he’s also witnessed the differences in collision repair in other parts of the world. “If you look at the collision repair business in Europe compared to the US, there is no dictation by the insurance company telling you how to repair the vehicle. They follow the OEM procedures, and that’s it – case closed. This is the way they are going to repair the vehicle, this is the cost, and it’s repaired or replaced.

“I would have to say I’m really proud of the effort that we’ve put forward and what we’ve been able to grow while I was at Spanesi Americas,” he reflected. “To go from zero in a short period of time to the amount of dollars that we were able to succeed at. I remember the first booth I did at the NORTHEAST show was a 10 by 10, and I think this past time we were 50 by 30. That’s pretty exciting stuff for me.”

Morgan admits he’s found himself wanting to slow down a bit, noting he wasn’t moving around as fast as he used to. He racked up over two million airline miles over the course of his career. He may have indicated retirement was on the horizon when he “got a little crazy back in 2023 and started the John Madden theory that I was going to go everywhere I could in my bus. That should have made people realize retirement was coming! To be honest, that actually helped me center myself to continue because I could go back to my own place. I didn’t have to go out to dinner. I could make my own and be in my own bed every night. In the past year, I think I put 30,000 miles on it. It was really nice to be able to go from show to show and be happy and ready every time I needed to go to an event.” 

Morgan has undoubtedly seen many things over the years, so what does he foresee for the future of collision repair?

“I think you’re gonna see more consolidation. I think you’re gonna see fewer shops. And I think people are going to have to specialize a little bit. I would love to see the OEM repairs really be done the right way. I get sick to my stomach sometimes going on Facebook to some of these sites and seeing some of the repairs because a person is uneducated. It doesn’t mean that they want to do it wrong. They just might not know where to get the information from. I’m not blowing smoke when I say that the NORTHEAST show is probably one of, if not the best in the nation because of the education you find there. There is also education happening on the show floor because the vendors show new technology and what’s going to come in the future and give demonstrations. I think we need to move away from how the repair process is handled so it becomes less of a third-party dictation of how repairs are done; it should be more about the procedures on this particular vehicle that XYZ needs to be performed, and here’s how it’s going to be done.

“There is a big problem trying to get people into our industry,” he added on the growing tech shortage problem. “Like I said, it goes all the way back to when I was 14 years old, and I was told to go do something else. There needs to be a re-education on the perception of our industry, a rebirth to show what really happens and that people can make money repairing cars the correct way. 

“We need to work harder to get better at education, educating everyone from the consumer to the insurance person to everyone in the shop. Everyone in the shop has a process that needs to be in place for them to make sure that they’re doing the right thing for the customer. And the other thing with the customers that you have to remember is that once you have them, it doesn’t mean you have them for life. People will change brands. People will change lots of different things if they don’t get the right customer experience. That’s part of why I’ve always worked the way I did is to try and bring the right customer experience.” 

Want more? Check out the May 2024 issue of New Jersey Automotive!