An Interview with Peter Fink, Founder and Owner of Certified Transmission
By Joel Hassebrock & Matt Neal, Creighton University MBA students
It is good to find someone in the automotive service industry that looks out for and cares about the customer. After talking to Peter Fink of Certified Transmission, you can tell he is one of those guys and that is the way that he has built his business. In 1979, Fink opened Certified Transmission. Today, Fink owns stores in four states with more than 300 employees.
Where were you raised, and what’s your educational background?
Fink, an Omaha native, was raised Catholic and attended Creighton Preparatory High School. After graduation, Fink attended a trade school in Wichita, Kansas, where he enrolled in an 18-month program.
How did you get to where you are in your career today?
Fink started his career working on transmissions and soon realized he wasn’t receiving competitive pay for his line of work. After asking for a raise and being denied competitive wages, he left the company. Then with $1,000 and an old gas station, he started his own company at the age of 19.
Fink founded his company on several principles that are important to him. They are as follows: Hard work, providing quality service to the customer,always fixing the problem, always communicating everything
Fink feels strongly about taking good care of the customer. He uses the golden rule—treat others how you want to be treated—as a standard for customer service. For instance, Fink said, “Don’t take advantage of the situation.” He believes diagnosing problems correctly is important, because misdiagnosis leads to uncorrected problems that make a customer feel like they have been ripped off. Misdiagnosis is not intentional, but can happen because a vehicle may have more than one problem that, when combined, affect the operation of the transmission. Because the transmission works in conjunction with other vehicle components, often, until other problems are corrected, it is nearly impossible to determine what the real problem is. Fink acknowledges this and implemented a policy in an attempt to ensure that every problem is treated with accuracy. Fink understands the impact of this to his business and believes that these types of everyday experiences with customers are important for anyone starting a business because they leave an impression. When customers have a good or bad experience, it will create word-of-mouth marketing which can greatly help a new company.
What do you like most about your work? Least?
Fink’s job has changed and evolved over the years. He used to work on the transmissions, but he now manages the stores and operations. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that he continues to search for the right person for the right job. This leads to his employees growing and developing through their careers, a part that Fink enjoys.
According to Fink, there are four T’s pertaining to employees; training, tolerance, transfer and terminate. He likes to concentrate on the training part of the four T’s. That way, he can give his employees the right tools to do the job and a chance to advance and develop.
The hardest part, he said, is when an employee isn’t succeeding or developing from the training provided. Another hard part of the business is trying to explain certain events or circumstances to employees or customers who won’t listen or try to understand what happened.
What do ethics mean to you?
Fink says taking care of people and doing the right thing. You have to keep things simple and always take care of and resolve the situation. In the auto industry, it is very important (especially when no one is watching) because the image of the auto industry is already tainted with constant doubts from customers.
What moral values does the Omaha business community have, and can you give an example of why that is?
Fink said he is fortunate that we are in the Midwest because they put people first more often than other areas of the country. Often you hear it referred to as “Midwestern Values.” He understands this term because he has noticed that many businesses in other areas of the country seem to have different ethics.
Over the years, he has seen businesses fail if they don’t fit the Midwestern values. When people care only about the bottom line and profit, they normally fail. Fink strongly believes that your environment has a huge influence on your ethics. Fink gives the example “If you were raised by animals, how would you have table manners?” You are not born with ethics, but it comes from your environment and how you are raised, from your time at school and church and your time with your family. Ethics definitely start with family. Right from wrong starts very early. You can be trained in ethics, but if it grows out of the environment that you grow up in, it seems to be much more powerful.
Describe an ethical situation in business you have faced that was relatively easy to handle.
Every day there are situations where people could take advantage of the customer. The service industry is always faced with opportunities to do this. The average person doesn’t know much about transmissions, which leaves them susceptible to unethical actions, which is why you hear about people getting ripped off.
According to Fink, it is easy to monitor if shops are taking advantage of the customer. It is identified when profits consistently go up by abnormally large margins. Fink doesn’t look the other way. He investigates why the shop was making that much more money. Some owners have motivated techs and sales the wrong way by stressing that profits are the only important thing, but that is not the way Fink runs his business. There is nothing wrong with profit-based compensation, as long as there are checks and balances in place to make sure that the customer is getting sold only what is needed.
Describe an ethical situation in business you have faced that was hard to handle.
Fink doesn’t encounter many difficult situations. He gets the damaged transmissions in the shop and fixes them. If the transmission isn’t damaged, they put it back together and send it back.
For example, a transmission came into the shop, and it looked like it had a problem when placed in drive. The transmission was rebuilt and reinstalled, but the car still had the same problem. It needed something else that was not related to the transmission. This problem was then fixed, the customer did not have to pay for the rebuilt transmission and it was left in the car.
Fink also tells of an employee who was a great sales person, but sometimes pushed to sell things the client clearly didn’t need. He was great for the company’s sales numbers as a whole, but the sales continually grew and, ultimately, hit that point which put up a red flag because they were past what they should be if ethical practices were being followed. There would only be a few explanations for how these numbers could have been reached unless questionable parts and services were being sold to customers. It would be difficult for many business leaders to fire their top sales employee, but Fink knew it was the right decision to let this employee go.
Occasionally, he runs into other ethical issues. For example, drug issues, which are difficult to deal with. He tries to work with the employees. Employees are offered the chance to clean up their act and stay on with the business, but if no progress is made, they are let go.
Fink says that, in the heat of the moment, you can get confused. It helps to think about the situation as if you are on the other side of the issue. How would you want it to be resolved if it was you?
What kind of ethical culture does your organization have? Any programs or codes?
Fink has an open door policy. Anyone can talk to him, but sometimes that can be difficult to do. However, there are other avenues available, like talking to managers in other departments. Managers of various departments have gone through, and are currently going through, the Business Ethics Alliance Toolkit Workshop Series to help them better understand and deal with issues having ethical implications. In addition, Certified Transmission has an HR department to help share the principal values discussed earlier.
Fink believes in training and helping people grow and doing the right thing. It’s in his mission statement and needs to be stressed in this industry. He tells people to not be motivated by money and to walk your talk.
What are the biggest ethical challenges that you think face the younger business professionals today?
Fink believes it is right vs. wrong and legal problems. A lot of people will just be driven by money, and this is a challenge for all people, but especially young people. As young people enter the business world, they think they have multiple chances. Fink believes that many
schools give too many chances. Younger people might not put their best effort forward first, because they think they will have other chances. There is no second chance for a first impression. The biggest challenge is that there are no second chances.
Fink warns that money might be the root of all evil. He also wants us to remember that you can do a lot of good things with money, like training employees and helping the community.