An employee of the month must have integrity, honesty, and above all be a people person. Ron Bennett is a daily example of that as parts and service director at Brad Deery Motors in West Burlington.
“I try to do the best job I can. I like the people who come in; that's been my main focus, to take care of the customers who come through the door,” Bennett said. “I still have a business to run, but I like the variety of the people coming in, making them happy as can be, being as they probably don't want to be here. They bought a brand-new car and it broke and shouldn't be broken.”
Bennett has been with Deery Brothers, Inc., at 200 S. Gear Avenue in West Burlington, for 30 years. He joined the staff back when the business was known as Arledge Auto Plaza.
“He's innovative, honest, and has integrity,” president Brad Deery said of Bennett.
Born in La Harpe, Ill., Bennett grew up in Terre Haute, Ill., and graduated from La Harpe High in 1975, then went straight into the work force.
"My first job was building grain bins for a farm company when I was 14," he said.
In his sophomore year, Bennett signed up for an auto mechanics class. Like a lot of boys back then, Bennett had his own car problems.
"My first car was a '69 Plymouth Fury with no engine,” he said. “Once I got it, I tore it all down and rebuilt it. I had to build an engine to put in it."
Bennett landed an on-the-job-training position at Fred Gibb Chevrolet in La Harpe when he was a sophomore, and he continued to work there until graduation.
"I worked the wash rack, washed cars, worked my way up to lube technician, then line technician. Then I went out on my own,” he said. “After I graduated high school, Fred kept me on and I worked there for ten years.”
Bennett decided to start his own business, a full-service station selling gas and repairing cars. Bennett's Service and Repair lasted five years. The changes in automotive technology raised the cost of for small owners to an excessive degree.
“That's what really got me out of running my own business, the technology," he said. "I started in '82 when computers were just coming out. I had some experience with computers. Then in '85 these cars were getting out of warranty and I started seeing them coming through my shop with 'check engine' lights and driveability complaints , and I went to the tool dealer and got some prices on equipment.”
He discovered he'd need to fork up almost $20K for proper diagnostic equipment just to stay competitive.
"At that time I thought, I'm a single, small-business owner: $20K is quite a chunk of money.' So I decided to hold off,” he said. “Then in '87 I got to the point where everything coming through my door was 'check engine' lights and drivability problems. There's 29 different sensors and 18 different computers right now that can turn that on, you know? I had to do something different.”
So Bennett got a loan and went back to the tool man to order the new equipment.
“He said, I'd love to, but I can't even get updates for those. That turned on a light in my head: If I spent $20K two years ago, I'd have to turn around and spend that much more money again? To possibly outfit myself to work on these cars? Where's this going to take me as a small business owner? I just can't do it,” Bennett said. “That's when I came over here and luckily got a job as a service advisor and worked my way up from there."
Bennett joined the Deery clan in 1987 and he's never looked back.
Today, Bennett has 58 employees working for him: mechanics, parts personnel, advisors, office support staff and a collision center.
“I like being exposed to all the new technology,” he said.
These days, having a “wrench feel” — that sense of touch that tells you when to stop tightening a bolt or twisting a screw — has little application to computers, except maybe when installing one into a car.
"The technology was only going to get more intense,” Bennett said. “And it has. People come in now, and the old adage is, 'I just want my car fixed, it's not rocket science.' Well, it is rocket science now. People don't realize that, but it is rocket science."
One of the hardest things for Bennett, making the switch from business owner to employee, was understanding the customers weren't angry with him when they had problems.
“I was running my own business for five-and-a-half years, so everything that would happen was directed straight at me,” he said. “I had to take responsibility for it. So that was a tough thing for me, to take responsibility for something somebody else did. I finally learned that they're not upset with me, they're upset at the situation, and how to deal with that."
So, does Bennett think Brad Deery made a good investment in him?
"I hope so,” Bennett said. “I've been here 30 years, so he must think I'm doing something right."
There's no doubt about that.
“He's absolutely the best employee when it comes to service,” Deery said. “If we can't get it fixed, if there's a problem, he'll go back there and roll up his sleeves and figure it out himself.”
OK, but how does Deery really feel about Bennett?
“If I told Ron Bennett to stand out in the middle of Gear Street and not to come in until he found a pink elephant with a tattoo on his right shoulder, he'd be out there and he wouldn't stop,” Deery said. “He has the same tenacity for his employer as he does for a customer.”
But what if Bennett couldn't find that pink tattooed elephant?
“If Ron couldn't find one, after a time he'd make one and bring it in,” Deery said.
The second Sunday of the month the business section will focus on an employee in the area. The Employee of the Month will showcase the excellence of the everyday laborer, the engine behind a community. For suggestions please email firstname.lastname@example.org