December 5, 2013
Safelite Group CEO Tom Feeney has spent his career building goodwill in the need-based automotive industry.
“Nobody wants a windshield. I cry myself to sleep at night,” Feeney joked with a sold-out audience for the Columbus Chamber’s second installment of the CEO Insights executive interview series.
He spoke before a crowd of more than 100 yesterday at the Dawson staffing agency office and was interviewed by WBNS-10TV’s Kristyn Hartman on topics ranging from his upbringing to the company’s revival.
The second of six children, Feeney’s father instilled in him a strong work ethic. Feeney began his career at Hertz Corp. and American International Rent-a-Car.
He served as vice president of franchise operations for Tenneco Automotive Retail before joining Safelite in 1988. He held several senior positions with the company before being appointed CEO in July 2008.
Soon after taking the position, Feeney said he realized “the honeymoon was over.”
The company was struggling in the recession. Feeney set about instituting a new vision based on his People First, Customer Delight initiative. His goal for the company was to double business by 2012.
He would do so by tapping into the talents of Safelite associates in order to better serve consumers. Happy employees yield happy customers, he said.
Feeney stopped the 401(k) fund contribution cuts and wage freezes that, he said, the company put in place “in the name of profits.”
The move contributed to Safelite’s doubling of profits since 2008. Company revenue reached $1.06 billion in 2012.
Feeney attributes the success of the company, its employees and executive team to ongoing development. “I have to evolve along with that in order to stay successful,” he said.
The 65-year old company founded in Wichita, Kan., moved its headquarters to Columbus in 1990. Today, 1,500 of Safelite’s approximately 10,000 employees are based here. Belron, a multinational vehicle glass-replacement company purchased the Safelite Group in 2007.
Belron introduced brand building into the Safelite playbook, Feeney said. Though the company was well-known by insurers and industry clients, it had no real direct connection to consumers.
Feeney said the company is now a top radio and television advertiser that has increased awareness among consumers by 7 percent since the acquisition.
Acquisitions are among Safelite Group’s five growth strategies. Earlier this week, Safelite announced its purchase of the Guardian Glass Network. Guardian is the company’s sixth acquisition in two years. Only a few of the companies that pitch a sale to Safelite make the cut, Feeney said. “ We do not want to be reliant on acquisitions.”
Instead, the company’s growth should be organic, based on good people, good products and a good brand. “We want to do business the right way,” he said.
Feeney praised Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman and Gov. John Kasich for working together to build a strong business climate in central Ohio. He lamented the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act. While good in theory, the health-care law is costing Safelite several million in fees, he said, and is creating communication issues with the staff.
“No government should ever get between a company and its employees,” he said.
The Columbus Chamber CEO Insights was presented in partnership with Columbus CEO magazine. The series will resume in March. Featured executives will be announced at http://columbusceo.com.