Ruth Barnard has racked up an impressive 40 years at Smithfield Collsion Repair Centre in Adelaide and has been instrumental in growing this award-winning, forward-thinking business. Barnard was the last finalist selected for the 2015 Women in Smash repair awards. She started as a receptionist at age 16 and, apart from taking some time off to have her children, has been there as the backbone of this highly successful repair facility.
Her official role is office manager, but like pretty much every woman in this industry this doesn't begin to cover it.
Barnard's duties include overseeing other office staff and maintaining the procedures she and Smithfield owners, the Napoli family, have implemented. Barnard is the money brains too, completing an accounting course to ensure she can keep track of costs and negotiate equipment loans. She's responsible for all accounts payable and reconciling and invoicing all the insurance jobs and payroll. She's also in charge of human resources including occupational health and safety.
Smithfiled is a family business and Barnard's family is also fully integrated. Both her sons have undertaken apprenticeships, one is a panelbeater and one a painter.
Barnard has also be instrumental in involving Smithfield in the community. “As a company we have been involved in many sporting clubs, sponsorships and advertising in the community. I have attended open days and speech nights, presenting trophies at soccer presentations and bowling clubs on behalf of the company. I have been to the special childrens christmas party a number of times as the company's representative.
“I have attended meetings and courses at the MTA numerous times and also visited trade shows to keep up with industry developments. I find that even when on holiday I find myself drawn to visit crash shops to see if there are any new ideas for us to implement,” she said.
Barnard comes from a family of seven sisters so going into a totally male dominated workplace was a change but not a challenge: “The men have always been respectful and good to work with,” she said. “It's always good to have both sexes working in a business. If there's an irate customer for some reason, then it is easier for me to calm the situation. These days employees seem to have more issues and might feel easier talking to a woman about these issues. I often have to be a mother figure to the apprentices who can need a lot of guidance and support.
“A lot of our customers are women of course. Some of them get very emotional and break down in tears when they see their damaged car, particularly older ladies. I think women will often go the extra mile. For instance I've spent time tracking down replacement cars for our older customers that are similar to those that have been written off because they won't feel comfortable driving a different car. This also has a payback when their families come to us.”
When Barnard joined the business everything was hand written and there were just 10 staff . Larry Napoli one of the owners, was just an apprentice there. Now the business, which also has a mechanical workshop and tow trucks, employs 40 staff and is kitted out with state-of-the-art equipment.
“We call her mum,” said Larry Napoli, “Mum's are always the backbone of any household. Ruth puts work first, she is always there putting in 100 percent and even works after hours at home. No matter how busy she is she always accepts new tasks without complaint. You know they say no one is indispensible? That's just not true in her case.”