Tuesday, 15 May 2018 18:21

AMi: Out of the Shadows

Written by
AMi President Jeff Peevy AMi President Jeff Peevy



The Automotive Management Institute, better known simply as AMi, began in 1989 as the Automotive Service Association Management Institute.  

Perhaps because it was so closely tied to the Automotive Service Association (ASA), which focuses heavily on the mechanical, rather than the collision side of the business, and/or perhaps because AMi did not have a high-profile person to represent the organization to the collision repair industry, AMi stood mostly in the shadows and was for years virtually invisible to the collision repair world. But this did not belie the fact that AMi provided and continues to provide a great service for both the mechanical and collision sides of the business. Eventually, the organization became known simply as AMi.

As described on its website, AMi is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to providing industry-recognized professional management designations, certificates and career paths to the service and collision repair segments of the automotive industry. As a nonprofit, AMi collaborates with training providers across the industry, reviewing, recognizing and awarding credit hours for quality management and leadership education.

In other words, and contrary to what one may think, AMi does not actually create training content, but rather vets and approves content created by other entities within the industry that fits into a pre-determined curriculum as designated by AMi. When the student completes the assigned curriculum, they earn a professional management designation such as AAM (Accredited Automotive Manager) or AMAM (Accredited Master Automotive Manager). The curriculum focuses not on the technical side of the automotive business, but on what might be called “soft skills.” To earn the AAM designation, a student must complete courses on such areas as time management, effective communications, customer relations, phone skills and more. To best describe what AMi does, think of it as “I-CAR for the collision shop’s front office, customer service representatives, estimators, shop managers or owners”--- anyone who has direct contact with the customer.

With that said, there are places where AMi works hand-in-hand with other industry training and support entities. For example, AMi has two estimator professional designations: ACE and AMCE. They require verifiable achievement from AMi, I-CAR, ASE and estimating systems. It is the most comprehensive recognition in the industry for estimators.  

In 2015, Jeff Peevy, former I-CAR senior director, was hired as president of AMi and tasked with updating the organization’s infrastructure, designations and accreditation process to ensure ongoing relevance and value to the industry. Finally, AMi had a high-profile person to help raise its visibility to the collision industry. And most recently, industry veteran Mike Cassata joined the AMI team and was named Director of Industry Outreach for Collision for AMi. 


Recently, Autobody News caught up with Peevy and Cassata to check on their current status and future plans.

ABN: Mike, those who are able to attend CIC and other industry events have seen you at these events for several years. But please give our readers a quick review of your background.

Cassata: I grew up in Rochester, NY, where my family had a body shop. I did some repairs but knew I was not cut out to be a technician. But I certainly knew the business, so I ended up running the shop for over 10 years. Eventually, I sold the shop and became an independent appraiser. That led to my long career with Amica Insurance where, among other things, I was their DRP manager, catastrophe manager and salvage manager. I got to work with a lot of shops and learned a lot about the industry.

ABN: Mike, how did you first get involved with AMi?

Cassata: For years, I have been very active with I-CAR and served as the Committee Chairman in Rochester.  So of course, I knew Jeff Peevy. Working as the DRP manager with Amica, I got to know our DRP shops pretty well. I knew their technical skills were good at making safe and complete repairs. But for some shops, their customer service skills and financial and business management skills needed some help. This is true of many shops around the industry. AMi provides the help these shops need. So when Jeff called me about the position at AMi, I knew it was a perfect fit.

ABN: Who in particular are you trying to reach?

Cassata: I will be reaching out to shop owners, estimators, shop foremen---basically anyone in the shop who touches the customer. I also want to reach others, including paint company representatives, insurance estimators, insurance managers, independent adjusters---basically anyone who supports the industry. In a nutshell, this would be anyone who attends events like CIC. If we are going to raise the level of professionalism of the industry, it’s important that everyone be involved. We need full industry support to continue our work.

ABN: How is AMi relevant to today’s collision industry?

Peevy: Walk into any hospital in America and look around. Most of the people that you see working there have to be accredited or have some sort of degree to work at their profession, and must take additional training each year to maintain that accreditation. Why? Because it is a profession. They do a job where people’s lives and well-being are at stake. They are expected to act responsibly and be knowledgeable about the business of medical care and what they do. This is the same for many professions.

In collision repair, we have the I-CAR individual Platinum status for technicians and estimators, but little emphasis is placed on people skills or other business skills for shop management, the front office and many others in support positions. This is what makes AMi relevant---to help increase the professionalism of the entire industry, including most support people---not just technicians. 

ABN: What makes AMi relevant now?

Peevy: It’s no secret [that] the entire industry is growing more complicated in the way cars are built and repaired and in the way we do business. Customers are more sophisticated and discerning. And the industry is contracting. Fewer accidents in the future will mean a need for fewer shops. Competition for the next repair is more intense than ever. At AMi, our core belief is “Knowledge equals competitiveness; learning then is the only source of a sustainable competitive advantage.” And I believe that is true. The knowledge you gain today may be obsolete tomorrow. So we must keep learning and growing, both with technical information and with people and business skills that help sustain your shop’s business model.

Cassata: The more we learn, the more we empower ourselves.

ABN: Mike, what is your overall vision for your new job as Director of Industry Outreach?

Cassata: I am going to start by approaching the people I know and branch out from there. Jeff Peevy and I will be attending industry events and, between the two of us, will become the face of AMi.

ABN: Jeff, what are you doing to reach and communicate with shops?

Peevy: We send out email blasts called the “Management Minute” to over 13,000 shops. It contains, among other things, a note from myself, a short profile on an AMi graduate, information about one or more courses and other helpful information.

ABN: Jeff, you have been AMi’s president for about three years and already have brought AMi to a higher visibility within the industry. Besides naming Mike Cassata as your Director of Industry Outreach, what other changes have you made? 

Peevy: I spent my first seven months just looking at the company and learning everything about AMi. I had to get my arms around it, and that took a while. AMi had been basically “flat” for several years--- out of sight and out of mind. It needed a “jolt.” I’m not sure that anyone had a vision of AMi out this far into the future. 

But we put some great people on our team--- like industry veterans Darrell Amberson of LaMettry’s Collision and Bob Keith of Assured Performance, and things started happening. On June 20, 2016, we launched what we called the “next generation of AMi” initiative with a state-of-the-art website and Learning Management System with over 130 online courses.

ABN: How many different classes do you have now?

Peevy: We presently have about 350 instructor-led classes and 160 online courses. Some of our instructor-led courses are taught by some of the best people in the business, including veterans Mike Anderson, Mark Claypool, Frank Terlep and of course our own Mike Cassata.

ABN: Jeff, do you have plans for any new or additional classes?

Peevy: We are constantly looking at new classes. It seems like every day we have different companies presenting us with great material. But it takes time to review the material, vet it and see if it fits our model. It just takes time.   

ABN: Jeff, what is the toughest challenge to get people to take advantage of AMi classes?

Peevy: Basically, it’s just becoming visible and letting industry people know we are out here, we exist and can help professionally and personally.

ABN: Do you have any future plans?

Peevy: We are working on a curriculum for high school students and will be looking for local body shops to sponsor a student. This is in the early stages.

Cassata: I spoke at a high school a short time ago about a career in the collision industry. All the students had the same preconceived idea that everyone in the industry simply bangs on fenders for a living. They had no idea there were so many other positions and career paths open to them, or that it took so many people to support that one person banging on that one fender.

ABN: Mike and Jeff, what is your end game? What is your vision for AMi?

Cassata: I’m hoping to increase the visibility of AMi and obtain industry support from all stakeholders. This includes stronger participation in donations and of course, class participation. 

Peevy: We want to play a part in raising the professionalism of the industry. We want AMi to be the instrument of change. We want to be out of the shadows---and we have a good start.

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