Lost Half Our Business Overnight," Says Speedy Glass Executive
"I've had better
weeks," said Stephen Schober wryly during an exclusive interview
with AGRR magazine/GlassBYTEs
just three days after the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC)
filed suit against Speedy Glass, alleging fraud practices. Schober is
the president and chief operating officer of Autostock International,
which is owned by TCG International (TCGI) of British Columbia. Autostock
is a division of TCGI emcompassing all of TCGI's glass businesses, including
Speedy. It is estimated that Speedy did more than $22 million worth of
business with ICBC during the last two years. Excerpts from the March
8 interview with AGRR publisher Debra Levy follow:
you explain what ICBC is?
A-ICBC is a provincial insurance company. It is owned by the [Canadian]
Province of British Columbia (BC). It is an insurance company owned and
managed by the government. If you live in BC, you must have basic insurance
through ICBC but you can choose your comprehensive through other carriers.
Ninety-five percent of all auto glass business that is insurance work
in BC is done through ICBC.
the first time that Speedy has been sanctioned by ICBC is it?
A-That would be true. We have had small isolated cases before and we have
been able to deal with them on a shop-by-shop basis. We have had shops
sanctioned, but in each case we've understood it to be because of a renegade
manager or a unique problem.
Q-So are these
current allegations true?
A-Right now, I don't know what's true and what's not true. It's actually
a complicated question. It involves contracts and civil laws. The main
allegation, from what I understand, centers around the payment of finder's
fees, rebates, etc. to the trade. We all know these types of payments
are common in the auto glass industry and 95 percent of the auto glass
industry would say 'what's wrong with that?' but I now understand that
our contracts with ICBC say 'don't do it.' Their rules say 'Don't do it.'
I don't know yet if we did or we didn't. I do know that the Skidmore's
[the Skidmore family owns TCGI] are honest people and have always wanted
their businesses run ethically and honestly, so these allegations are
a great disappointment to everyone.
Q-So how is
Allan [Skidmore] holding up?
A-Oh, he's okay [laughs], me, I'm not so sure.
Q-I know this
has been an extremely difficult time for you. It must be very hard on
A-Operationally, it's been incredibly difficult. We lost about half of
our business overnight. We are having to compete now, overnight, on whole
different level in a whole different way. We have to change our pricing
Q-What are you
doing to help rectify the situation?
A-A number of things. We have started a full internal review. We are also
using an outside auditing company, Ernst and Young, to review all our
policies and procedures. We have placed the two employees named in the
lawsuit on paid leave until we can get to facts. We are also setting up
an "Ethics Position" in the company--a person who will have
a clear avenue for review and oversight
. we do have a strict employee
code conduct policy and we have reviewed it again with all our employees.
We have also brought our general manager from Ontario over to BC to run
this area for awhile.
Q-Let me ask
you this then: how would you respond to people who say that in order for
something of this magnitude to happen either upper management needed to
be involved or turn or blind-eye to it, or at very least have a corporate
culture that encouraged it?
A- [long pause] Well, until two weeks ago, I would have agreed with the
statement myself--much more than I do today. It's easy to say 'we should
have had this, we should have done that.' But it's really hard, especially
with the margins in the auto glass industry today, to monitor everything
and there's a limit to how much you can audit.
Anyone who runs more than 2 or 3 retail shops in any business knows that
there are many opportunities for funny business to happen and that you
can't catch them all, even when you are trying.
Q-So any company
is only as good as its weakest manager?
A-If you have 2-3 branches you can know all the employees. Beyond 4-5
branches, you could have problems. Oh, you can get people to read policies,
but you need to get them to believe them. The reality is that the Skidmore's
are honest people. They don't ask people to do things that are wrong.
The company has been built on three watchwords-'Quality, Service, Integrity'
so these allegations are especially distressing.
Q-Is there anything
else you'd like our readers to know?
A-That we are committed to ascertaining the facts. That's our first goal,
we want the facts. Once we know the facts, we will go from there. We have
been pleased, however, that lots and lots of customers have let us know
of their support.
for your time.