The Canadian Technician of the Year
by: Alan Janssen
A technician with a lifelong drive to prove – to himself if no one else – that he’s at the top of his game has been named the Canadian Technician of the Year.
Brian Madeley, owner of Madeley Automotive Diagnostic Services in Kingston, Ont., was chosen by a panel of judges from 48 nominees in the first-ever award contest established by Canadian Technician magazine.
“I am absolutely overwhelmed by this award,” he said. “It’s so nice to see something of this caliber for independent shop guys. And it’s very humbling to be told you’ve won it!”
The title is not all he’s won. The award comes with $5,000 in cash and $10,000 in prizes donated by the sponsors of the competition: Snap-on Tools of Canada; Robert Bosch, Inc.; Spicer Professional Grade Chassis; Mevotech; and ChevronTexaco.
Described as “an ambassador for his industry,” Madeley easily met all the criteria for the award, which is designed to celebrate the technician as a whole person – highly skilled, well trained, customer oriented, and community minded.
Among the highlights of his nomination which really captured the judges’ attention:
- a proven reputation for quality work and honesty in business;
- a commitment to ongoing training both for himself and his staff;
- industry qualifications such as Master ASE tech status, and membership in the British Society of Diagnostic Engineers;
- involvement in the local auto apprenticeship board;
- dedication to his community, as a frequent host of child-seat inspections;
- unique business initiatives, such as hiring an image consultant to teach his staff how to present themselves professionally to customers; and
- some very interesting hobbies such as horology (the collection of fine watches) and flying.
Madeley has exhibited an uncompromising drive for excellence since arriving in Canada from England in 1989. Courted by a Kingston BMW dealership, he left his homeland to pursue his profession here.
Though he passed a trade exam which allowed him to work in Canada, he opted to take it a second time to earn an interprovincial ticket.
“Even though I had no interest in working anywhere else in Canada, I had to prove it to myself that I could do it,” he says. His biggest stumbling block was learning Canadian mechanical terminology. “For example I’d never heard of a brake rotor in my life. I’d only known a rotor as a part of the distributor. In England, it’s a brake disc.
These days we have world cars, and everyone uses the same terminology and technology. But not back then.”
Similarly, he earned his ASE Master Tech status because he couldn’t stand the thought that there were qualifications out there that he didn’t possess.
“As a Class A technician, you can stay on the job for years without any extra training, but you’ll lose touch with the latest automotive technology,” he says. “I like ASE because at the very least it shows that I’m committed to getting recertified on a regular basis. I have pride in my job and I want to prove that I’m up to it.”
He stayed at the dealership for six years until they moved to a flat-rate pay system.
“And I don’t like flat rate,” he explains. “I like to work thoughtfully, logically, methodically. And that isn’t always conducive to getting the car out of the bay quickly. I don’t like to just pull and replace every part just to get the job done quicker.”
Four months after leaving the dealership he started Madeley Automotive.
“The transition to business management wasn’t too hard,” he says. There was a lot to learn but he built slowly, bringing in apprentices as needed and training them through to their licenses.
“I wanted to train my own guys because it can be hard bringing people in and then finding out they have a totally different attitude from mine or a work ethic that doesn’t jive with mine.”
Through the process, he came to understand what makes a good tech. It’s a quality he sums up in a single word: desire.
“You have to want it,” he says. “I’ve seen people who have the capability of being great techs, but they don’t thrive at it because they’re lackadaisical,” he says. “I’ve also seen guys who have to work harder at it and they succeed because every day they put more of themselves into the job. They really want it.”
Madeley wants employees who push themselves, much the way he pushes himself.
“I aspire to be the best. I always want to get the best score or the highest mark. It’s not because I want to prove anything to my wife or my employees or my customers, it’s because I really want to prove to myself that I’ve learned a thing or two in this business,” he says. “I feel like I’m up there, and it would be cheating myself if I didn’t give 110 per cent.”
His shop operates now with four people turning wrenches – himself and another licensed technician, and two apprentices.
“It seems to be a nice size for the clientele we have,” he says. “We’ve had stronger teams in the past. I don’t normally have two apprentices going, but it’s nice because we all seem to work pretty well together.”
It does mean that he’s been doing more work in the bays lately, but it’s work he enjoys.
“I like working on cars, and I especially like being able to choose what I’ll work on,” he explains. “I take the jobs I enjoy. The diagnostic stuff. The technical stuff. That’s where I excel. I don’t have to lift a heavy transmission anymore. I just take the jobs that really turn me on as a technician.”
Madeley’s approach to running the business is as demanding as his expectations in the bay. He takes the ethical temperature of every situation, expecting nothing less than total honesty and morality in business.
“Look, you can make more money being tougher, being more aggressive in selling repairs, and perhaps being a bit of an alarmist, but it’s certainly not my way of doing things,” he says. “I will sometimes tell people that a vehicle is not worth spending any money on. It’s not that I don’t want to do the work. It’s just that I’d hate it if someone thought I’d put my own interests ahead of theirs, keeping a clunker on the road, or pushing through an unnecessary repair.” He admits that the ethical approach to automotive repairs comes at a price.
“Sometimes you feel like you’re moving backwards because you’re effectively talking the customer out of doing a job, but you’re doing it because you’re treating him the way you’d like to be treated.” To avoid missed opportunities, however, and to ensure better service for his clients, he’s preparing what he will call the ‘Madeley Automotive Service Schedule.’
“I’ve got people who come in for an oil change on a regular basis. So if the timing belt breaks, is it their fault because they didn’t ask me to change it or is it my fault because I didn’t bring it to their attention?” he says. “If they’re a regular customer, it’s easy for me to look into the computer and say, you know, we’ve done two oil changes now, I’d recommend we do the ‘B’ service. And most of my clientele wouldn’t even ask what the ‘B’ service was or what it costs. If I recommended it, they’d go for it. I’m doing them a service because we do good work and this would enable us to care for their car even better. If they say, no thanks, I think I’d just like an oil change, no problem. At least I asked.”
He’s constantly trying to educate his customers about the importance of proper maintenance… and how it will save them money in the long run.
And he’s not shy to try unusual business tactics to earn his customers’ trust and loyalty.
He once contracted an image consultant to address his staff to talk to his staff about their presentation and how to deal with female clients.
“At the time, I had been having problems with an employee who was always very dirty and it occurred to me that if he ever had to run a customer home, or work at the desk in my absence, he could ruin my reputation for running a clean shop,” he says.
The session gave everyone a better understanding of how presentation helps build acceptance and trust, especially from female customers. His wife, Judy, says dealing with female customers has always been his strong suit.
“I work with him on a daily basis and, what has always impressed me about him is that when a women comes into the shop, he will sit with them and explain everything he can about their vehicles,” she says. “And he doesn’t belittle them or condescend. That really impresses me because I know what it’s like for a woman to come into a shop and feel a little leery and a little lost. It’s not their environment.”
She adds that he’s very patient with his customers, never giving the impression of being tough and gruff, like what someone might think of a mechanic.
“He has a flair and it’s very impressive to see it,” she says. “I’ve complimented him on it many times.”
When Madeley is not in the shop, he has some interesting outside hobbies that keep him busy.
For example, you might find him at the local track, racing his 20-year-old Porsche 944.
“It is a Porsche, but it’s not very impressive,” he’s quick to point out modestly. “It’s actually in the shop being repaired more than it’s on the track these days!”
But the hobby inspired him to become an authorized Porsche Technical Inspection Centre, so that local Porsche owners wouldn’t have to drive all the way to Ottawa or Toronto to get ready for races.
“I got involved with Porsche not only because I wanted to inspect my own vehicle and make it easier for me to race locally, but because I think it has a real nice ring to it.”
The status doesn’t bring in much extra business, but it may lead to referrals since the opinions of Porsche owners on where to get a car serviced might carry some weight with consumers.
“The thinking is, if you lived on his street and didn’t know where to take your car for service you might ask the Porsche guy because he seems to know about cars. That’s my angle on that.”
Similarly, he earned his motorcycle technician’s license because he figured motorcycle owners probably also own cars, or will someday own cars.
And if he’s not in his Porsche, he might be in a two- or four-seater airplane, accumulating even more hours toward his eventual pilot’s license.
“I’ve always had a love of flying. In England it was totally out of my reach. Over here it is still expensive but within my reach, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity,” he says. “We’re really blessed here because we have a local airport quite nearby, we have very few fly restrictions, and the thousand islands are so beautiful to fly over. As soon as you’re up in the air there’s stuff to see around here.”
His outside interests also include another highly technical mechanical device, but it’s not a vehicle. He’s collects fine watches. “It gets pretty expensive, so I can’t afford everything I like, believe me,” he says. “I just have a real appreciation for them, mainly because they’re mechanical, and so precise. The workmanship is phenomenal. Everything fits together so well, and has its own little job to do. The engineering and design is just amazing.”
He gets animated as he flips through the watch magazines in his reception area. (“The customers always wonder what these magazines are doing here!”) He points out interesting new time pieces and examples of new time-keeping technologies – such as a new watch with 13 drive belts, referred to as a V4 because of it’s similarity to a timing belt driven engine.
He owns about a dozen high-quality watches, displayed at his home. They’re not necessarily old but they’re known for their quality workmanship. Most are self-winding watches which must be kept on a machine which turns them to keep them losing time.
“Everyone has outside interests,” he says. “Mine are still mechanical. I guess you just stick with what you love.” It’s a philosopher that he takes to work every day.
“If you approach each and every day wanting to do good work, you’ll probably do great work,” he says. “A love for this trade is so important. If you don’t really love it, you’re going to dry out. You won’t last.”