Mechanic shifts gears to business owner with dreams of running one of the most successful auto repair shops in the Tri-Cities
Robert Zielinski has been around his dad’s auto repair shop from the time he was a kid. Ever since high school, he has wanted to take over the business and grow it when his dad retires. The first-ever graduate of Douglas College’s Bachelor of Business Administration in Management program with a Trades Management concentration, Robert is on his way to being a confident and business-savvy boss.
How did you get into the auto repair business?
My dad owns Tyner Automotive, so I started at the shop at a young age. When I was about 10 or 11, I remember going there after school and sweeping the floors. Eventually, I did my first oil change on my mom’s car with my dad’s supervision. From that point, I wanted to become a mechanic just like my dad and grow the business to be something bigger and better.
Why did you choose to take BBA in Trades Management at Douglas?
I wanted a credential in a program that would not only be interesting, but useful in my daily work. I found out about it when I was in the General Business Certificate program from one of my professors, Bill Archibald, when it was still just an idea. I told him where I worked and how I was trying to apply what I was learning to my work. He informed me that Douglas was creating a program that would count my apprenticeship towards a degree instead of just a certificate.
What was your experience with the program?
The instructors were very helpful and understanding. I enjoyed the interactive parts of the teaching process. Lectures and taking notes are necessary, but when you can apply what you learn in school to your workplace, it helps you understand the material in a different light.
How did you apply your work experience to your courses?
My work experience earned me nearly a year and a half worth of academic credit I put toward my degree. When I did assignments or tests, I pulled from my experiences on the job and applied them to the material. That helped me understand it more in depth.
How did your coursework help you at work?
The more experience I got from school, the more responsibilities I got at work. I started by mostly working on vehicles and writing quotes. Eventually, I started doing a little bit of everything, from talking to customers, to communicating with company representatives, to coming up with ideas to improve efficiency and productivity.
How has the program helped you reach your goals?
My dream is to run the shop on my own and grow it into one of the most successful independent automotive repair shops in the Tri-Cities. The program has given me the confidence and skills to run the business to its fullest potential, and I believe I can grow it to be even better.
What skills or knowledge do you have now that you didn’t have before?
The most important thing I learned was interpersonal skills. Being more comfortable on the phone and in person with customers has helped me be more confident in my abilities. Not only in sales, but also as a mechanic. I found that the more I talked to customers, the more knowledge I had about vehicles that I didn’t think I had.
What were the most challenging and most fulfilling aspects of your experience?
The most challenging aspect was balancing work, school and life. I was doing part-time studies, one to two classes per semester, and working full time. The most fulfilling part was getting to the end of each course with more knowledge and more skills I could apply to the shop. I wanted to improve the shop as much as possible, and with the knowledge I gained through this program, I have succeeded with most of my ideas.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about doing the BBA in Management, Trades Management Concentration?
Go through the program at your own pace. Taking extra time to finish allows you to gain more knowledge that can be applied to the workplace. It took me over eight years to finish school, but I learned and retained more than some of my friends who rushed through it. The other piece of advice I have is to prioritize your time. Having a healthy balance of school, work, personal life and recreation is important.