“Right there. This is where I had my very first job in the industry.”
Jeff McFadden stands with his first boss, Powell Paint & Body owner Jimmy Powell. Photo captured by chance as Powell visited his son, who runs the operation today.
It was here - the East Dallas neighborhood McFadden grew up in - at Powell Paint & Body that Service King President Jeff McFadden would engage a life-long calling.
Hired as a senior in high school by his girlfriend’s father and business owner Jimmy Powell, McFadden was simply in need of a job. Little did he know that the decision to take on this venture at a business still operating third generation today and now over half a century old, would ultimately define his career.
More like a father to McFadden, Powell provided the eager novice purpose and direction and taught the future executive the value of hard work.
Fair, honest, and direct, Powell served as one of McFadden’s greatest mentors and was tough on the 17-year-old– teaching him the importance of quality and taking pride in your work. “But you always knew that he really cared,” he said with a smile.
It was under his guidance, that the earnest McFadden would grow to understand the business impact of efficiency, productivity and controlling costs in the industry - something that’s not negotiable when running a single location.
“You have one opportunity to get it right,” he said.
As each passing day brought invaluable industry insight and experience, it was at this single, family-owned operation McFadden began to recognize his affinity for the business.
From washing cars to learning the craft, performing paint and body - McFadden admits he had no choice but to pick up the trade quickly and possess a readiness to take on any role.
“I could count the team on one hand,” he remembered.
Soon after, the bright-eyed and bold now 21-year-old managed a Texaco station that just so happened to neighbor and supply mechanical work for a small collision repair group called Service King, which had just opened its third location in Mesquite, Texas. This was McFadden’s introduction to the company.
“I liked who they were,” McFadden said, as he reflected on the early years of Service King.
It was 1988. Everyone knew everyone. Everyone was young. It was truly a budding industry in which the possibility of big business was just beginning to take shape.
Employees helped out from location to location and never hesitated to come to each other’s aid. With some days here and some days there, the small but growing Service King team always did what it would take to get the job done and to do it right.
It’s no wonder this experience has been monumental in shaping McFadden’s ‘team’ centric attitude and leadership style. It’s ultimately the foundation of the organization that’s now greatly multiplied, operating 341 locations today nationwide.
“I never saw myself in the industry,” he admits, “but I started to like the people and the technical aspect… and the rest is history.”
For someone who fell into the line of business by accident, McFadden’s accomplishments certainly do not fall short. Reaching a proud tenure as a Service King teammate of 30 years, the man has truly done it all.
McFadden worked his way up excelling in roles in all facets of the business. Beginning his career as a service advisor at Service King, it’s no surprise that the work ethic of the young and enthusiastic leader-in-the-making was soon rewarded by a promotion to step in as the Carrollton location’s assistant manager.
“I worked hard. I put in the time and the energy,” but above all, “I never said no to any challenge offered up,” he reminisced.
McFadden accepted every position, every opportunity and, even every transfer. It is this attitude that has carried such advancement and great success in his career. And more importantly, it’s the early establishment of the organization’s family values that were pivotal in creating large opportunities for those who were willing to earn them like McFadden.
From General Manager to Trainer to Start-Up Operations Manager, McFadden grew his career with the company throughout all stages of its infancy.
What served as his guide? The industry veteran believes it was the faithful leadership of Service King founder Eddie Lennox. Lennox led by example and consistently demonstrated the value in accomplishing the organization’s goals as a team. He also allowed McFadden the opportunity to “make mistakes” and adjust strategy as needed while the business gained momentum across the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
Lennox would always say, “It is our responsibility to provide the opportunity to maintain and attract the best talent,” McFadden recalls.
“I bought real estate, developed and designed facilities, operated facilities and drove sales,” he said. Eventually, McFadden grew to “manage the internal and external brand” as Service King’s Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Business Development, prior to his running title of Service King President.
The longtime teammate notes that it was throughout this journey that he truly learned “how to treat people.” From sweeping floors to managing the organization on a national scale, McFadden’s legacy was built on knowing how to treat his teammates, business partners, and customers.
It is this deep understanding of business application that lights the fire in the torch of McFadden, as he, among other executives, guides the Service King team, which consists of over 6,000 teammates today.
It may have been by chance that McFadden began his career at what would become an industry-leading operation, but it is opportunity and the culture that has kept his passion for the business alive. In addition, it’s these values that have stabilized the business in the midst of the industry and organization’s explosive growth.
Managing and exceeding the expectations of the customer, the auto insurance carrier, as well as the original equipment manufacturer, is no small task for those running operations in the evolving industry. It’s a balancing act. And there’s no question as to how vast the complexity of the business is.
“While challenging, the business is rewarding and the industry is intriguing,” McFadden acknowledges.
But having a sustainable business model that continues to provide a quality product and motivates its teammates to deliver safe and superior repairs is the backbone of the company’s mission.
Everything at this stage must be “scalable to be successful,” McFadden has learned, and “when you take care of the customer, you take care of everyone else,” he said.
Leaning on his expansive knowledge and ample experience over the years, McFadden has come to recognize the urgency of keeping up with industry innovation.
“Embracing change in a 30-year career is really critical,” he laughed.
This reality remains especially relevant in a business that is now over 40-years old. Furthermore, this veracity has allowed McFadden to grasp the gravity of support provided by private equity.
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you have a plan,” he said.
Developing models for training, introducing state-of-the-art equipment, implementing technician O.E. certifications and more, McFadden and the team have played an integral role in creating a business model that sparked the interest of big investors.
In fact, it was when Service King opened its first location outside the state of Texas in 2012 that McFadden was named the organization’s President.
But this was just the beginning of Service King’s intense growth.
In turn, the organization’s increased revenue caught the eye of private equity. Since, it’s no doubt that the backing of the investment is what granted the MSO the opportunity to truly flourish.
McFadden found that having the resources to consolidate the business, and watching the opportunity this bred for those around him, was very fulfilling and even “life-changing.”
So, how does the MSO keep up? For starters, The Service King Promise distinguishes the business – A promise of superior customer service, and above all, providing a safe and quality repair. But it is the values in which the organization was built upon that the Service King family continues to hold close and tight.
Amidst the brand’s emergence in the acquisition space, McFadden’s background and Service King’s roots have taught him “it’s the people that keep it all going.”
“We spend a lot of time at work and it is important to make sure we’re listening,” he said.
This finesse in adaptation has been vital to sustaining the organization, which is bound by a shrinking labor force – a challenge experienced by the entire industry.
As a product of his environment, McFadden’s passion is deep-seated in developing opportunities for training and growth. So when the organization began to design a solution to bridge associated pressures with the labor skills gap, McFadden was quick to jump on board. Officially certified by the U.S. Department of Labor, Service King’s Apprentice Development Program provides future technicians a hands-on experience under the mentorship of skilled and experienced Service King technicians.
It has always been top priority under McFadden and Service King’s leadership to provide its teammates with the motivation to perform. Understanding the value in trust, he believes true leadership is built on relationships. Being transparent and straightforward has been essential to his success and gained respect.
“Show others that you care, show empathy and hold people accountable,” he said.
A duty taken in deep thoughtfulness, McFadden spares no effort to protect the company’s cultural heritage since being passed the baton. He says the easiest part as Service King’s President is standing behind the brand and being a part of the integrity it represents.
His advice to those aspiring to follow in his footsteps?
“Date the right girl,” he joked as a nod to his entry in the collision repair space.
Irony aside, the disciplined and seasoned industry warhorse understands the power in a strong spirit and a willing hand.
“Embrace the opportunity,” is the answer McFadden thoughtfully returned. “Always work harder than the person next to you, and most importantly, find a mentor.”