Leading the WayPosted 12/15/2004
By Alexis Gross
"I started my career off as a cook hoping to become a chef," she said. "Things changed in my early 20s when my father asked me to train to become his shop's painter in South Lake Tahoe. He knew I was a natural artist, so training me to paint rather than do the heavy repairs of welding and frame work was just the right direction."
Since opening her shop, Walker manages day-to-day shop flow, estimating and parts handling, while continuing to help out occasionally in the paint shop. Walker's Auto Body has the unusual distinction of having an all-female paint crew. The shop specializes in transit bus repair along with other fleet vehicles, like service vans, police cars, government, state and county fleets.
"It's been a pleasure to work with my family," Walker said. "When things get tight at the shop, I can count on them to go above and beyond to help, as any family should do."
When Walker started her repair business in 1998, she had great difficulty getting insurance companies to trust her with their business.
"I was young and looked younger. It was a man's world, and they were not going to give me a chance," she said. "I had to go in a different direction, and several people suggested fleets. I found a great need out there."
The collision repair industry has recognized Walker for breaking barriers and for her public service. In 2000, she was one of six women to receive Akzo Nobel's Most Influential Women in the Collision Industry award. She is one of only a few women to be awarded this distinction who is both a technician and a shop owner.
Walker received the award for her role in organizing the East Bay Chapter of the California Auto Body Association's (CABA) yearly Toys for Tots fund-raiser. Local collision shops have about two and a half months to customize and paint big rig scale toys. They then sell them at a November dinner and auction. The press coverage is invaluable for the local collision repair industry.
In addition to industry associations, Walker is active in her local Rotary Club, where she will serve as president in 2005. She is also a driver for Meals on Wheels, a volunteer program that delivers hot meals to home-bound elderly and disabled people.
"I think our industry has been tagged as shysters," she said. "There are constant investigations going on in California, and we're all being lumped into the 'greasy mechanic syndrome.' We're working hard to change our image, and all it takes is one nutcase down the street to screw it all up."
In the future, Walker would like to make her shop a school for large vehicle repair, but is concerned that such a dream may be limited by shifting levels of government support.
"Our government would like to see more private industry pay for schooling," she said. "But when you look at the big picture, it will not work for the automotive repair industry in a specialty market."
Shop StatsName: Walker's Auto Body & Fleet Repair
Location: Concord, Calif.
No. of employees: 6
Square footage: 10,000
On ASA Membership: I think being a part of a large association is a plus for small businesses. It gives us a big voice regarding issues in our industry, and the camaraderie is priceless.
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