Heidi Foster at Crash Champions is In It to Win It

When Crash Champions Vice President of Operations for the Mountain Region Heidi Foster had a stroke in 2020 it slowed her down, but not for long.

Heidi Foster has been fighting battles her entire life.

She went up against the best as a Division I college softball star athlete, entered an industry where she wasn’t initially embraced and, two years ago, experienced a stroke that would have sidelined many people permanently.

It’s fitting that Foster now has a leadership position as vice president of operations for the Mountain Region at a company called Crash Champions, because there’s no doubt she is truly a champion when it comes to winning at the game of life.

A high school all-star in Orange County, CA, Foster received a full ride scholarship from Purdue University to play softball, where she was an MVP, team captain for two years and named to the All-Big Ten and All-Mideast Region teams. She earned a bachelor's degree in sociology and communications as a Boilermaker, two disciplines ideal for working in the collision repair industry.

Her career in collision repair has exposed Foster to a wide range of diverse roles in the space, all of which she’s used to learn about different aspects of the industry.

As a leader for MSOs, Foster has experience working alongside large teams of technicians and service advisors, achieving high customer ratings and earning praise from her co-workers and industry leaders.

Foster was initially introduced to the world of customer service through her mother’s employment with the Auto Club of Southern California. She was hired to work in the call center, then the claims center, and began to demonstrate some leadership skills right off the bat.

“I was cross trained in multiple areas of claims, then went on to adjust claims where I found my niche," Foster said. "I excelled quickly and found that I really enjoyed helping people while learning the body shop side of the business.”

Once Foster transitioned to Sterling Collision Center in Tustin, CA, specializing in eight high-end certifications, the veteran technicians she encountered chided her about things like her inexperience and shop attire, she said.

“These guys told me; you can't come in here dressed for a board meeting," she said. "Moreover, I wasn’t as experienced as my coworkers; in fact, that was my first time in an actual shop. Needless to say, it was easy to feel out of place.”

Today, Foster thanks those same techs who educated her on the ins and outs of shop life.

“It took me about a month before asking a few technicians to help me understand repair procedures and repair times. Soon after that, I was running with the big boys. I was writing better sheets, achieving top customer service scores with major DRPs, and I really started to enjoy the body shop business," she said. "The technicians made me better, and I will forever be grateful for the foundation of estimatics and repairs they gave me. From helping me explain estimates to insurance companies and customers, to managing production more efficiently, these are the guys who really shaped me. They were wonderful, and so instrumental to my success.”

Following Sterling, Foster pivoted and co-founded Robaina Consulting, a global consultancy focused on the expansion of companies in the automotive industry.

After working two years at Robaina, Foster landed a job with a large MSO for six years, where she held five different positions, including director of national training and director of operations.

Foster, center, leads her team at Crash Champions with more compassion and empathy since having the stroke.

Everything was progressing as planned, until life threw her a curveball in the form of a stroke.

The stroke landed her in the hospital for five days, after which Foster rehabbed at home for two months.

“I couldn't walk, I couldn’t see out of one eye and I suffered terrible headaches; moreover, cognitively I was a mess," she said. "My life had changed in an instant. I went from being a very active, social boss who was always on the move, to being a 'patient' confined to a bed with once-a-day walks. Finally, one of my doctors agreed to let me go back to work half-time, and eight months later I got the job at Crash Champions.”

It was obviously a frightening experience and a serious life changer, Foster said.

“I must have looked so scary. My left eye didn't open for a while because when I had the stroke, I fell and broke my nose. I couldn't get my vision quite right and I had extreme vertigo for quite a few months.

“My doctor said you will never walk the same, regular tasks will be very difficult and you'll be on disability for the rest of your life," she said. "I just thought, you don't know me. No way. You're not going to tell me how this is going to go. So, I got a piece of paper and I wrote, ‘This will not beat me. I am strong, resilient, brave, and I will be better.' I knew in that moment that all I needed was for someone to tell me the odds are against me. I used her doubt to fuel my recovery. Thanks, doc.

“In time, and through a tremendous amount of rehabilitation, determination and support, I started to feel like myself again," Foster said. "Soon I started driving, walking better and tackling more and more assignments at work. I was back.”

Although she doesn’t have feeling on her left side, Foster is still swinging for the fences, she said.

“As a single mother, I will always be a warrior for my daughter (Taylor, 17)," she said. "She is my everything, and I will never let her see me quit. You just take it one step at a time, day by day, and sometimes even hour by hour. As an athlete, you are used to performing and being the best on the field. In a life-changing event that affects your body, you have to change your mindset and just do what you can in that moment. It’s all mental.

“I've always been a passionate leader,” Foster said. “But since having the stroke, I think I lead with more compassion and empathy now. I take time out to appreciate my team every single week. After all, the most important part of business is taking care of your people, and this includes understanding their individual needs and mindsets.”

Foster is excited to be in an industry seemingly changing overnight, she said.

“It’s all about electric and hybrid cars, keeping up with the ever-changing technology in vehicles, and seeing more and more vehicles that are aluminum now," she said. "It's going to take a certain skill level that can only be attained through the right development and training. We must stay at the forefront of tooling and education, that is the key.

"Our industry’s technician workforce is thinning rapidly, and we have to address that, either through developing technicians organically---i.e., within the shop---or from hiring outside the industry, which requires even more training," she continued. "Our team at Crash recognized this and established a department dedicated to keeping our technicians up to date with the most advanced classes, equipment and tooling.”

Foster loves her role at Crash Champions.

“We are creating an incredible culture here at Crash that is unmatched. I have been doing this for 19 years now, and I still wake up each day looking to challenge myself and change lives," she said. "To this end, I am grateful for the organization that [Crash Champions founder and CEO] Matt Ebert established here. I’m also fortunate to work with one of the most influential people of my life, [Crash Champions COO] Alan Saviano, who has mentored me for the last seven years."

“Heidi’s passion, high energy and work ethic got her noticed as a leader,” Saviano said. “But it’s her relentless work ethic, extreme focus on team building, and an ability to consistently deliver results that sets her apart from the rest.”

Ed Attanasio

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

AkzoNobel Beta web graphic v2 600px

Shop & Product Showcase