Brandon Eckenrode Promoted to CREF Executive Director
Published June 8, 2023
Congratulations to Brandon Eckenrode, newly named executive director of the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF).
While Eckenrode’s collision industry career began in 2002 in I-CAR’s marketing department, he joined the foundation’s team as associate director of development in 2009 while the organization was “transitioning from distributing curriculum to collision school programs to becoming the philanthropic focused organization it is today,” he recalled, identifying his early responsibilities as “educating the industry on the new focus and showcasing how CREF is uniquely positioned to facilitate industry support to collision programs in need.”
As director of development from 2012 through 2021, Eckenrode was heavily involved with CREF’s successful growth through his management of various projects and events that helped the organization gain visibility within the industry and beyond.
For the past two years, he served as the foundation’s managing director, a role that has required him to “work closely with CREF’s Board of Trustees, staff and our partners to execute the organizational goals and strategic mission.” His skill and passion have earned him the well-deserved promotion to executive director of the foundation.
“On behalf of the CREF Board of Trustees, we are thrilled to have Brandon promoted to the executive director position,” said CREF Chair Steve Schmidt of State Farm. “Brandon’s performance over the past two years, his thoughtful leadership and his support of the CREF staff all contributed to this decision. With Brandon leading CREF’s efforts, we look forward to the future and to supporting the fantastic CREF team’s focus on continued growth and success within its mission to ‘support collision repair educational programs, schools and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities.’”
“It’s been a pleasure working with Brandon over the past few years,” agreed Vice Chair Brenda Hogen of Parts Trader. “His dedication and industry knowledge are second to none. Taking on the executive director role was an obvious next step given his leadership skills and industry knowledge. Brandon has represented the Collision Repair Education Foundation well by educating and advocating for students and schools for many years. His professionalism and expertise will serve to not only fulfill the mission, but also cultivate and utilize the team to their fullest potential. We’re fortunate to have Brandon’s dedicated leadership to continue to promote CREF’s mission and vision in ensuring we have sustaining programs to fulfill industry needs for technical expertise. We look forward to continued success.”
Eckenrode is honored by the opportunity to “lead the amazing CREF team. I have very big shoes to fill after CREF’s previous Executive Director Clark Plucinski. I feel very fortunate to be part of an industry and organization that I deeply admire. I plan to utilize my incredible network of industry contacts to get feedback and guidance while in this new leadership role, so we can continue to strengthen our longstanding reputation of supporting collision programs and ensure the industry is connected with these instructors and students nationwide.
“I believe that CREF, in conjunction with its partners, will play a significant role in helping to educate the public on the technical trades being a viable career path option for students to consider and more specifically collision repair industry,” he added, regarding his future aspirations for the foundation. “This is possible by investing in local high school and post-secondary collision programs, ensuring they have the necessary tools and equipment needed to provide a quality technical education, removing financial barriers for students through scholarships and tool grants, and connecting students with the wide array of collision industry employers to address the aging workforce this industry faces like many other technical trades. Industry stakeholder engagement and collaboration will be essential for this to happen, and I envision CREF being a leader in facilitating this work.”
Eckenrode’s promotion comes shortly after the addition of two new members to CREF’s philanthropic family.
Meg Whalen recently joined the foundation’s team as administrative assistant. A Chicago native, Whalen boasts more than 20 years’ experience as an administrative assistant who has worked for a wide range of industries, ranging from an oil company to a retirement community.
“Each company came with new challenges and lifelong friendships,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the same here at CREF as I learn more about the collision repair industry and how I can best support the foundation’s goals."
As the new donor development coordinator, Kate Piazza will largely be focused on “putting the puzzle pieces together to really communicate impact to our donors and sponsors by providing missing data, connecting relationships and making informed decisions based on real giving history and capacity,” she explained.
Having worked with nonprofit organizations for the past decade, she hopes to “really enhance the capacity of the foundation to grow more strategically by having a clear set of actionable steps to help reach those funding goals.”
“I am excited about CREF’s recent team growth, which will help the organization execute its goals,” Eckenrode noted. “I look forward to focusing on how I can be supportive of the full CREF team and ensuring that they have the tools and resources for the organization to be successful moving forward.”
Industry members interested in getting involved and supporting the Collision Repair Education Foundation’s efforts to assist secondary and post-secondary collision repair training programs can contact us to learn about the many ways to get involved. Monetary donations can be made online.