"Collisionista:" She's Retired, But Not Out of the Game

"Collisionista:" She's Retired, But Not Out of the Game

If you have ever collided with Petra Schroeder, you know why they call her "Collisionista," because she isn't afraid to take on any challenge in this male-dominated industry.

If you ever encountered her at a Women's Industry Network (WIN) event or at any industry conference, then you know that she is dedicated to helping the industry as a whole and the women who work in it specifically.

Schroeder recently retired after working for the same paint company since 1969, although it has had several different names over the years, she explained. "I worked almost 47 years for Herberts/DuPont/Axalta on two different continents, first in Germany and then in the USA starting in 1995," Schroeder said. "I now enjoy retirement, but am still very active as a volunteer in many of the North American industry associations and proudly serve as the current chair of WIN and as a trustee for Collision Industry Foundation (CIF). I also regularly attend CIC, NABC Board meetings and other meetings during industry week."

In 1995, Schroeder came to the United States and landed in Plymouth, MI, where she worked for American Standox as its Director of Technical Services until 2000. From there, she worked for Dupont Performance Coatings in brand development and then finished her career as a Standox brand manager and Industry Relations Manager for Axalta Coating Systems.

From 1969 to 1995, she worked in various positions in color service, product management and strategy for Hoechst/Herberts/Standox, in Wuppertal, Germany, where she learned about the automotive paint world. "I did an apprenticeship for a paint company, but wasn't anywhere near paint at first," she said. "I was in the business/administrative side and eventually it morphed into learning everything about the refinish paint--how it's made; the chemistry behind it, research and development as well as product management. I was hooked at that point. Paint is a sticky thing and it tends to do that."

While working in Germany, Schroeder had to gain respect from her male counterparts by establishing trust and continually proving herself, she said. "When I would meet with clients in many countries on different continents, they immediately assumed that I was the secretary or the assistant," she said. "So when they found that I was in charge, they were a little shocked. But once they saw that I knew what I was doing, they came around quickly. I had no problem with it, because my attitude has always been that once I prove myself with my knowledge and demeanor, respect will follow. Many of these relationships that were built back then are still going strong."

When Schroeder first came to the U.S., she immediately witnessed a big difference from the collision repair industry in Germany, where technicians are highly-skilled craftsmen. "The education and curriculum to be a technician in Germany is very intense and the certification process is stringent," she said. "To become a master painter or a master body technician, you have to go through 2-3 years of intense schooling and then a series of additional classes to achieve the highest level. In general, I would say that it's a more well-respected profession in Germany, but we are catching up in this country."

How did Schroeder initially learn about WIN and how did her role within the organization evolve? "I was at the first WIN conference in 2007, and that's when I immediately connected with other females in the industry and I haven't missed one of their conferences yet," she said. "After joining, I decided to get involved as much as I could, so I started speaking out and joining committees. Now I am the organization's Chair and [am] delighted to be doing it."

If you're not familiar with WIN, it is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to encouraging, developing and cultivating opportunities to attract women to collision repair. WIN recognizes excellence, promotes leadership and fosters a network primarily among women. To learn more about WIN programs or for information on becoming a member, please visit the WIN website at www.WomensIndustryNetwork.com.

Schroeder has seen the organization grow in leaps and bounds and welcomes both men and women to join WIN. "We just hit 508 members in 2016, which is amazing, because we thought that 300 was going to be hard to reach just a few years back," she said. "Many people don't realize that we also welcome male members from the collision industry to join WIN. In fact, we have 30 men who are members now and whose support is greatly appreciated. We invite more to join."

Currently living in Ypsilanti, MI and retired but surely not out of the game, what advice can Schroeder give to young women entering this industry? "I talk to young women in this industry on many occasions and work closely with 7-8 of them on a regular basis. We talk or text with them quite a bit about how to succeed in collision repair. I tell them, don't get frustrated if you're not immediately accepted. Do your job and the respect will come. If you can do your job and give respect, you will get it in return. You can achieve so much in this industry now--the sky is the limit. I tell them that it's not a matter of if; it's just a matter of when."

And one last question for Schroeder--why the nickname "Collisionista?" "It is a fantasy name, derived from the word collision," she said. "Once I used it, people seemed to like it, so it's been my moniker ever since."

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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