Keep Turning the Wrenches

Al Oramas’ Message for Auto Shop Owners Looking to Do Good and Stay Honest

Keep Turning the Wrenches
Originally published on:
Tekmetric Community Leader Al Oramas was raised to be honest, no matter the consequences.

“You guys are crazy.” 

It just slipped out of my mouth, one of those uncontrollable moments you realize you can’t take back. I’d taken the feathers out of the pillow.

All eyes were on me, the entire room staring like I was out of mind. 

Someone—I don’t remember who—went, “What in the world did you just do?”

In 1991, life was going great. I was working for a Honda dealership in Colorado and had become a master Honda technician, one of the first trained technicians for Acura vehicles.

I was even on my way to the next level, a Gold Wrench Master Technician. I was gonna do every bit of training, all their online courses, to hit these levels and get that Golden Wrench.

I was committed to it. I went to the training center on my days off, got with the trainer whenever I could. I asked if I could finish it, all my online testing. If I turned everything in, I’d get a plaque, a ring, and a jacket. That’s what made you a Gold Wrench Master Technician.

I was on the dealership career path and well on my way to that recognition, and figured I’d stay there—until the day management at my dealership called me and my colleagues into a meeting to give us an important message. 

The message they had for us? 

“We need sales and we need dollars on tickets, no matter how you get ‘em.”

Immediately, my internal alarm went off. 

I didn’t feel it was right to lie to get more money out of customers. There are all these perceptions about the automotive industry, you know, people associating auto shop owners with being crooks. And I had a father who was, like, beyond ethical.

He worked as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking countries at the United Nations’ General Assembly. He used to say, “If you don’t lie, you never need to remember what you said” and “A liar, a crook, and a thief are all in the same place.” 

I had a mother who was a businesswoman. She ran her own beauty salon, Lucy's Hair Stylist in New York. She knew what it meant to work hard and do honest business.

My parents had worked hard, and raised me and my siblings with a strong sense of right and wrong. I couldn’t get on board with what these guys were telling us.

And so it came out: “You guys are crazy.”

The room was silent. Guys were still looking at me, you know, like, “What did you do?”

So I kept talking.

“You’re asking people who have been with you for years to be unethical.” 

Management didn’t like that.

“No, we didn’t ask that.”

“Yeah, you did,” I said. “You pretty much did.” 

They didn’t like that either.

“You can excuse yourself from this meeting,” they said. 

And so I did. 

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I went back and packed my stuff, and I walked out of there.

Out of the 14 technicians in the room, I was the only technician without a wife and kids, but I was still leaving a lot on the line—my friends and the stability of a Honda paycheck. 

Getting fired was a shock—when isn’t it? But it was also the happiest day of my life, a blessing in disguise, as they say. It’s what propelled me to become a shop owner. I didn’t have two, three years to twiddle my thumbs and weigh the pros and cons of starting my own shop. 

front of pro auto care shop

It was one of those “now or never” moments, and I just went for it. 

In March of 1992, I opened the doors of my first location. Nowadays, I run two locations with a wonderful team, which includes my kids. My twin daughters and two boys are really involved. 

Family or not, I teach my staff to run an honest shop. It’s one thing for me to run the shop and be honest, but it’s not just about me running the shop. It’s about ingraining that in everything we do, and hiring honest people to keep that up.

Everyone in our shops always has somebody available to give them a second opinion. If anyone is ever wondering if they did something right at the shop, there’s always someone to turn to. We're going to do this right or we're not going to do it at all, and that’s everyone, from the lube guys to the service writers in the front end of the shop. They all hold themselves accountable. 

That’s how we do things. It's a cultural thing, and we talk about it. It's important to us. 

Whenever I look at my shop’s logo, I remember that I’ve come a long way since getting fired in October 1991. I never got to be a Gold Wrench Master Technician. When I got fired, they told me I couldn’t get my awards, even though I’d earned them by doing all the work. No plaque. No ring. No jacket.

I could have gotten bitter and upset about it, but I decided not to. In life, you just have to keep turning the wrenches. I added wrenches to my shop’s logo, my own reward for doing the right thing and building a shop people can count on. They’re not golden. But they’re mine.

And I’ve been turning wrenches my own way ever since.

Read more about Al’s leadership principles and his philosophy on giving back. For more information on Al’s shop and his team, check out Pro Auto Care.

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