Those who know Jonathan Brown best have a hard time finding enough words to describe how he’s affected their careers.
Robert Weissberg, who runs a Midas-SpeeDee Oil Change and Auto Service shop in Watsonville, Calif., has known Brown for almost 15 years. For all of the descriptions that Weissberg could give—teacher, mentor, leader—there’s only one he says that really does Brown’s impact justice.
“He’s Papa Bear. He leads us, guides us, teaches us,” Weissberg says. “It’s never about judgment. He doesn’t come in and try to say he knows everything. He tries to teach you. That’s his biggest attribute. He’s relentless in trying to educate you while he’s helping you.”
In the industry since 1994, Brown has spent the entirety of his nearly 30-year career with SpeeDee in California. Starting out as a state smog inspector, Brown quickly earned the trust of the operator who employed him and became a “roving manager” for three locations.
For 12 years, Brown became the go-to resource for those shops. Already a great tech, Brown says he quickly learned skills under a hood would only get him so far.
“I've learned to be all over the place and to be very detail-orientated,” Brown says. “Whether that is helping a franchisee with their financials, training guys on different systems or working on a car with them. At the end of the day, it's about developing that relationship with a franchisee and letting them know that I'm here no matter what.”
Weissberg says that eagerness to help and breadth of knowledge Brown is able to provide quickly earns the respect, trust and admiration of everyone he has a direct interaction with.
“He's like an encyclopedia. We are so lucky to have a resource like that,” Weissberg says. “I don't think that a lot of these franchisees quite understand that. They think it's just a normal part of his job. They just think, ‘Oh, I'll call Jon. He'll come down and fix the car for me because I can't do it.’”
Brown says having a knowledge of so many different systems and being a resource for his franchisees have grown out of the experience and work he’s done with each of his stores.
So when SpeeDee Worldwide had a franchise support director position in California open about 15 years ago, they naturally saw Brown as a perfect fit to take on a more corporate role and help even more franchisees.
“I think it was just the maturity as a manager I developed,” Brown says of what he thinks his higher-ups saw in him when hiring him for the role, “and the passion to see our franchisees succeed.”
With the amount of shops that Brown oversees increasing to more than 30 SpeeDee franchisees in California with the promotion, Weissberg says many in his shoes would have easily slipped into more of a desk jockey role, doing the bare minimum to get by.
Not Brown, though.
“He is so above and beyond just a normal district manager or a person that's just supposed to come in, take notes, look over your store and make sure you're running your franchise the way that it's been set up in your agreement,” Weissberg says. “It's a lot more than that.”
On any given day, Brown is running to several different shops across California, dealing with a particularly difficult repair, sorting out disagreements or misunderstandings with vendors, or otherwise bailing out a shop in trouble.
Though Weissberg and others see it as Brown going out of his way to be available and helpful to those who report to him, Brown sees it as just a natural part of what his job entails.
“If my guys are passionate, I want to continue to feed that passion with the automotive industry under the technological boom that it's under,” Brown says. “If we don't stay up to date, you're going to be quickly left behind.”
Manager, Mentor, Teacher
By the middle 2010s, Brown had carved out an irreplaceable role for himself within SpeeDee.
So naturally, he added more to his plate.
In 2017, he purchased TecHelp, an online training platform that certifies techs in California in the state’s smog program. Every other year, Brown and the rest of the TecHelp staff develop training material to help keep techs throughout the state up-to-date. Through the program, Brown has also written three books on recertification and the smog program that are used statewide.
“It's a fun business to be in, but at the same time there's a lot of respect that has to come with it,” Brown says. “You're working on a customer's second-largest investment in their lives. And so it's important that you, the individual, understand that responsibility and do everything that you can do to be prepared to do that oil change correctly, operate your business correctly and have the right equipment to diagnose.”
Weissberg says that though Brown’s reach has grown exponentially with TecHelp, he’s still as passionate and engaged as he’s always been. And his advice and expertise have never been more appreciated.
“It's unheard of, how many technicians in our industry he has helped,” Weissberg says. “I'm talking about every franchisee that has a SpeeDee affiliation, teaching students he has his TecHelp school. You can name a dealership and he's probably had a hand in teaching their technicians about different diagnostic procedures and repairing cars.”
Pedal to the Metal
Entering his 28th year in the industry, Brown has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
“I owe a lot of where I'm at and what I've achieved to everybody around me,” Brown says, “from my former employers to my wife. It's all just been such a lovely ride.”
Weissberg says he and everyone else who gets to work with Brown will continue to benefit from that.
“He’s always nonjudgmental. No matter what level of experience you have, he’s always respectful and is just trying to teach you how to become a better technician.” Weissberg says. “He's a big guy, he's got a loud voice and his presence is always known when he's teaching you. But it's never about his superiority over us by being such a smart guy. He's just a truly great guy, a great technician, a great mentor, and we're lucky to have him.”
After 15 years of knowing him, Weissberg says he’s still amazed at how unselfish Brown is with his time and his willingness to help every single one of his franchisees.
For Brown, it’s second-nature at this point.
“Like I said, it's just a passion,” he says. “I guess that's the easiest way to explain it."