Sam Street caught up with Steve Bubulj, CEO AMA Group Panel Division at Gemini Chatswood on Friday 17 July to see how the company has been travelling since the pandemic hit.
It was only the second time Bubulj had come to the Chatswood site lockdown. Like many executives he has been spending hours and hours in Zoom meetings with a headset firmly affixed.
“We just had to adjust on an hourly basis,” he says. “Working consistently at a group level and then also across the panel division. We set up daily exec meetings that would go on for hours. Then you would get to the next day and think ‘there won’t be as much to cover today’ but there was a much as before. High communication levels are paramount as is the safety of our people and our customers.
“Once we got all that set up we could turn our attention to how we manage the inevitable - diminishing volumes which have impacted everyone.
“In saying that, the team pulled together extremely well we’re very proud of how everyone has come together in this time of crisis. There’s certainly been some hard times to deal with but everyone is taking it really positively.
“One of the benefits of being a large organisation is that you have people to lean on. Right at the moment we have a walk for winter challenge going on to encourage people to exercise and eat healthily and look after their mental wellbeing. The steps go towards donations for Beyond Blue - we will probably end up donating $10,000.
"The trick has been managing the human side of this - that’s the primary concern.”
On whether anyone in the group had tested positive Bubulj said; “None, and we have very stringent reporting regimes in place. We issue weekly updates around how to deal with the Covid situation. We have a group safety officer who is doing a sensational job with our HR team offering guidance and advice,” he says.
It’s well known that AMA has a sizeable number of 457 visa workers. How did this impact the company as they workers are not eligible for JobKeeper?
“At a group level we have looked after all our staff and made sure that they are not left out on their own - that includes anyone with a 457 visa. They are part of our business. The people focus has been strong throughout the whole situation, like in the shutdown in New Zealand. We ensured that we kept our people afloat as much as we could. Of course we’ve had to use stand down - that was the right thing to do. That’s the hardest part about this situation, the human cost of it,” Bubulj says.
The AMA Panel Division alone employs around 2500 people.
“In our division we’ve had stand downs. That’s come back a little as we’re returning to normal in most states. Now we have the Victorian situation, business is still OK at the moment but we’ll be watching that situation carefully.
“We don’t expect traffic levels to get back to normal before quarter four of this calendar year and at the moment its certainly trending that way, which is great. It’s really nice to see the sites getting back to more capacity - some are already at full capacity.
“Of course the reality is that the virus is still with us and the sands shift - you have to deal with everything on a day by day, hour by hour basis.
"Even though we are a big company we have been nimble and everyone has reacted so quickly, we couldn’t be prouder.
“There have been some instances where we’ve hibernated sites until volumes returned - it was a very small percentage of shops. We kept as many sites open as possible with a reduced workforce and we’ll continue that approach.
“For any sites that we’ve hibernated our plan is to fire them up again. We used the hibernation as an opportunity to spruce up the sites, work on process flow, catch up on paperwork etc. What we have done is an immense amount of training over the last three months.
"All of the ADAS awareness training across the business has been completed. We’ve also built up our own training around customer service, estimator practices, production manager training. There’s a stack of modules that we’ve built internally and have rolled that out across the business.
"Now that we have a momentum with training we are running with it. It’s hard to find time for training when you are busy, now we’ve got quieter moments we can make it part of everyone’s routine.”
There had been reports that AMA had closed some sites.
“We haven’t shut any sites because of Covid, prior to it hitting we looked at optimising our performance and had to make some tough decisions around a small number of sites. Yes there were some closures after taking rational business decisions around the viability of sites going forward. We’ve optimised the network and we’re very comfortable with where it sits now.”
AMA’s share price dropped to just 15c in March, how did that affect morale? “We can't control the share price with such fluctuations in the market, but we can control our efforts.
"We have a program of work under our business plan which started before Covid and that has continued during it. It focuses on the fundamentals to ensure we have an optimised business, we’re efficient, clearly managing our numbers really tightly and focusing on the things that are within our control."
Looking to the future Bubulj says: “A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes to set ourselves up for the next few years. Everyone is quite buoyed by the future.
"We are in a better condition than we anticipated we’d be at the start of this. We have sustained the business, we haven’t had to raise any additional funds and our cash levels remain strong. We’ve done everything we can to ensure that we kept our supplier payments up to date which has been critical because we need to support our suppliers. That was a principle we set up at the very start. We will keep executing our plans and we know the share price will end up far better than it is today.
"Of course we have to acknowledge that while it’s been an intense quarter this is a marathon - in reality the pandemic could be with us for a long time.”
With Repairhub rapidly expanding and building some huge workshops is there concern that this will impact volumes at AMA?
“IAG is a longstanding partners of ours. It’s a fantastic partner and will continue to be. We’ve got a great relationship with the team at IAG, like we do with all of our customers and partners. They’ve got their plans and we’re working in with that. The work that they will be doing is different to what falls under our normal rapid criteria so there’s going to be work that is not completed by Repairhub which has to be completed by somebody.
Looking to the future
"Large parts of our business plan over the next few years is customer diversification. Ensuring that we are seeking new sources of revenue and business for the future. We announced recently the partnership with SG Fleet, there’s a number of those in the pipeline which are progressing really well and we’re looking forward to making some more exciting announcements.
"You always have to look around at how you are attracting your customers and we’re taking a very broad approach. We’re segmenting it, we understand the geography, we understand the repair-type segments and customer segments that we’re going after and we believe we can add value to our customers and they can add value to us.
"It’s like anything in sales, there’s a lot of effort before you get the results. The effort had certainly been there and the results are starting to come through.
"We’re sticking to our core capability. We’re looking at private repair sales, we already look after the claims process but there are plenty of other opportunities to ensure we can upsell around looking after a car, especially if customers are unaware of issues. We have a program around that at the moment - so it could be wipers, tyres, air conditioning - just making the customer aware of issues and offering to help them resolve them while the car is being repaired.
“We have great confidence that even with a reduced capacity we can ensure the business stays strong and we’ve demonstrated that in the last three months.
“We will be strategically selecting acquisitions as we move forward, when we get back into that spacein the latter part of this year.
Bubulj concluded: “It’s at times like this that relationships are everything. Obviously our insurance partners are a key part of our business and they’ve been doing it tough too.
“I have to say that the frequency of communication, the way that everyone has navigated this - understanding the difficulties involved, it’s been really good.
“With so much conflicting information and everything turned upside down, our insurance partners have been fantastic in working with us - and the broader industry as well.”