When our host Evan Hackel attended the International Franchise Association Convention last year, he happened to meet two inspiring men who have created leadership development and other training programs for Christian Brothers Automotive, a fast-growing automotive service franchise headquartered in Houston. They were Josh Hitchcock, Director of Leadership Development at Christian Brothers and Josh Parnell, Director of Service Development.
Many organizations focus on serving their customers. But Christian Brothers takes service to a higher level, based on spiritual ideals. Evan wanted to speak with both Joshes in-depth about their philosophy of training. We know you will want to watch the entire Training Unleashed Podcast that resulted.
Until you do, please read some edited excerpts of what we know you will agree is a completely unique conversation.
Evan Hackel: I met these two gentlemen at the International Franchise Association Convention. I sat at a round table, and I was literally blown away with their commitment to lifelong learning and their company’s culture. So, gentlemen, whichever Josh wants to go first would be great. Tell us about how your company develops such a culture and what that culture is like and why it matters.
Josh Parnell: I think we need to begin with the end in mind. It begins with our mission statement. Our mission statement is to glorify God providing an excellent automotive repair service for our guests.
And so we know that our mission is ultimately to further God’s kingdom, and we happen to be using the best automotive repair to do so. And so we know what our mission is, we know what our purpose is, what our why is. It’s much easier to have that foundational approach when it comes to culture, service, sales, relations, all of the above, because we know what the end in mind is.
And so speaking to the culture of what we do, we focus on loving our neighbor as ourself. And so while we understand that sales are important, we know that in order to make a profit, to stay in business, and we know that people and syndicators drive those sales. But ultimately, if we are loving our guests, taking care of our guests and serving our guests and doing it well, our goals can and will organically happen as a byproduct of the exceptional, standard-setting service. So that speaks to the culture of who we are.
Josh Hitchcock: Evan, thank you for having us on the program. It is just an honor to be here. And I can tell you that the culture we developed in terms of what we have, I should say, in terms of learning and openness to training, is what Josh said. It’s a commitment to excellence, right?
All of us want to do our jobs well, all of us want to add value to those around us. All of us want to operate from a position of excellence. And we realize and recognize that the only way we can do that is through constantly getting better, through constantly growing, constantly stretching. And the only way that happens is through training. So through that, our culture has just kind of been developed and embraced. And really the cool thing is it isn’t a forced thing. We don’t have to force it. We’re not trying to preach in an unwanted area. We’re not trying to speak to a group of people that are not receptive. These are all individuals that are receptive and want to grow and want to become better. And it’s just really, really cool to watch that.
Evan Hackel: Tell me just a little bit about senior management and their commitment to training. And do they trust you and just leave it to you? What is their role in creating this culture?
Josh Parnell: They play a pivotal role. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to live out our passion and what we’ve been called to do and what we’re so happy to do day in and day out. And the support system that they have for us is unbelievable. The trust that they have in what we’re doing is too. And without them, we wouldn’t have the opportunity.
Evan Hackel: And the other Josh, I’m going to ask you the same question. But let me interject that in most companies, the failing is that senior management doesn’t take training seriously and people thus don’t respect training. But I know you have a totally different story
Josh Hitchcock: That’s a great point, Evan. And I agree with you, I one thing that we’re blessed with our senior management is, number one, there is a commitment of trust and empowerment. Dream it, build it, see the value it and if for some reason you trip, you fall, you fail. That’s okay, learn from it. And it’s not really a failure if you learn from it.
And the leadership development program that I have the pleasure of serving in is a relatively new program to this company. It started about a year and a half, maybe two years ago. And again, it all began as a dream, as a possibility. If we could add value, senior leadership said, go for it.
Evan Hackel: How did this training program get started? How did you get approval in the system to make it happen?
Josh Hitchcock: When I originally came in with the brand, I was told, if you see a need, fill it. So I saw the need in this area, and it began as a proposal. So we put proposals to upper management, to get their approval on it. And then once we did that, there was already kind of a budgetary structure.
There were a couple of meetings where we had discussions. But I will tell you, from an upper management perspective, it was relatively easy and smooth to get this approved. And it’s because, again, it’s the openness and the culture that we have at our brand of let’s try, let’s see if it works and if not great, we’ll move on to something else and try it and see if it works.
Evan Hackel: I think you’re making an amazing point, which is that not everything is going to be successful. And if you’re only willing to do what you know for sure is going to work, you’re going to do very little. And I like the company’s willingness to just say, okay, we see the need. We’re going to take a leap of faith. Then of course you track it, follow it, see the numbers, which is great.
Josh, how did you take this program to your franchisees and how did they embrace it?
Josh Parnell: Great question, Evan. I want to backtrack real quick on the last question to speak to it again. Josh alluded to the empowerment and the trust that leadership has, which again, is phenomenal. And I think that it goes back to the idea that you mentioned, where if we’re not failing, we’re not learning. And if we’re not learning, we’re not growing. And if we’re to grow through anything, we’ve got to be willing to go through anything. And so they simply give us the chance or the option to fail, knowing that some things might not work. But when they don’t work, it’s still a win because we’re learning.
To specifically answer your question as it relates to franchisees, franchisees recognize what our heart is, what our mission is, and what our intent is. So that the beauty of what’s coming from our department typically is met with open arms. Franchisees are saying, hey, you guys have a proven process! You’ve had proven programs in the past. So whatever is coming out of the service development department, we want a part of it. And so it really wasn’t a buy-in when we introduced the leadership development program because of the proven programs that we had prior to it.
Josh Parnell: Our company’s been around for 40 years. We began in 1982. We began franchising in 1996. We are now in 31 states, 250 locations nationwide. I may be off by a store or two. I feel like we’re growing so rapidly, which is incredible. We have about 3000 team members throughout Christian Brothers Automotive.
Evan Hackel: What’s it like onboarding a new employee? What if I’m a new employee? What would I expect?
Josh Hitchcock: Well, I’ll tell you this from what was one thing that stood out to me. So I’ve been with the brand almost three years. And what stood out to me from the moment I got here and started the onboardings, was the over-the-top friendliness in a welcoming environment, focusing on you as a person, not a number in the machine.
I’ve never experienced something like this in my life. I went home that first day and said, okay, is this real? And what I’ve realized after almost three years of being here, it’s 1,000% real!
The same way the people acted the first day I got here, the way they valued me, the way they treated me, the way they served me is the same exact way they’ve treated me and served me two and a half, three years later. And on the flipside, I’m attempting to serve them and honor them and value them. So I can tell you from an onboarding perspective, it’s what makes it unique here, at least relative to my experience. And what I’ve noticed is much more people focus, less performance focus. Is it performance focused? Absolutely. Do we have a 90-day conditional employment period when you first get hired? 100%, just like every other company. But I can tell you, during those 90 days, while we do expect performance and we do focus on performance, that valuing and serving the whole person is much more the focal point of the onboarding program versus just productivity.
Evan Hackel: I’m really impressed. I knew you were going to be great guests. I knew that when I met you. But what you’re speaking to is absolutely critical in training. And I love what I would call unselfishness. May I ask, if you had one tip to share with our audience, what would it be?
Josh Hitchcock: I think one tip I would share for anybody listening would be, remember that today counts. We can talk about tomorrow. We can focus on yesterday, the successes, the wins, the failures, the losses, all of that. But we can focus on today and say, hey, today counts and develop a culture and a mindset of habits matter.
Today counts. Let me bring 100% today. I can’t focus on yesterday and I can’t bet on tomorrow, but I can focus on today and getting better and growing today. So my one tip would be focus on today, each and every day. What can I be doing today to maximize the value I’m adding and maximizing what I’m doing in my personal life?
Josh Parnell : And I’ll say, in a world that’s ever changing, don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Exercise with humility, transparency, vulnerability, and recognize that you don’t have to have all the answers if you’re leading a team through, letting yourself view it in anybody in any former shape or size. You don’t have to have all the answers. A person would rather follow someone who’s always real than someone who’s always right. And so recognize that if you’re your true, authentic self, you’re going to do just fine.
About Our Guests
Josh Hitchcock is Director of Leadership Development at Christian Brothers Automotive. Josh Parnell is Director of Service Development. Christian Brothers Automotive is a fast-growing automotive service franchise headquartered in Houston.
The story of Christian Brothers Automotive begins in 1981. That year, a man named Mark Carr was working as a graphic arts salesman for a photographic mural company. Despite the success he was having, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he should be doing something else with his life.
Mark prayed on this and one night asked God to show him a path towards a different vocation. The very next day, while Mark was at a Sunday school event presented by his church, a friend walked up to Mark and the two got to talking. This friend was an automotive technician who was looking to start an automotive repair shop. And he needed help.
They went on to name their new company Christian Brothers Automotive (inspired by the circumstances of their first meeting) the following year. In August 1982, Mission Bend, Texas was the site of the very first Christian Brothers Automotive repair facility. Today, Mark Carr is still the Founder and Retired CEO of Christian Brothers Automotive.
After 38 years of business, Christian Brothers Automotive celebrated its 200th location in 2019. Since then, that number has grown to more than 230 locations. Christian Brothers Automotive has yet to close a single location—an indelible testament to the principles Mark knew could change the way people experience auto service.