Lucille Treganowan has hard-earned advice for women in the automotive service business: First, prove your mettle as a capable service person. Then, and only then, will colleagues and customers respect you as a female service person.
Second, enjoy your work and learn all you can about it, or both colleagues and customers will sense your discontent and ignorance the way sharks sense blood.
Simply put, Ms. Treganowan is a role model for all female service personnel. Long before this stifling era of political correctness and its whining wannabes, this gutsy lady had earned respect and recognition the hard way: by setting an example.
With more than 30 years' experience in the auto repair industry-23 of them as a shop owner-
Ms. Treganowan qualifies, in this writer's opinion, as the ``First Lady'' of auto repair. Her ``Transmissions By Lucille'' shop, which has two locations in the Pittsburgh area, employs 26 people.
Prior to starting her own business in 1973, Ms. Treganowan was a bookkeeper in a new-car agency and in another transmission shop, where she worked her way up to being a service writer, service manager and eventually a partner.
Active in several trade associations, she has garnered more awards and written recognition than we have room to print here.
But many people inside and outside the industry know her best as the hostess of the Scripps-Howard television cable program, ``Lucille's Car Care Clinic.'' Meanwhile, her book of common-sense car care tips is due out this spring.
As a former technician who struggled with automatic transmission diagnosis, I respect people who can troubleshoot these hydraulic marvels quickly and accurately. When I met Ms. Tregano-wan in 1977, I was impressed with her business savvy and leadership skills, but her technical knowledge simply floored me.
A situation in the early 1960s exemplifies how she earned her stripes one at a time.
Ms. Treganowan worked for and later became partners with the late Tony Scuro, a Pittsburgh businessman. ``Tony was a very liberated man at that time, and I was an eager student of the business,'' she explained. So although she began as a bookkeeper and clerk, she soon became as involved in other aspects of the business as she wanted to be.
Mr. Scuro's techs had removed and reinstalled a freshly overhauled Cadillac transmission several times trying to figure out a problem. ``I always liked cars, and the complexities of automatic transmissions just fascinated me,'' Ms. Treganowan said. ``Whenever I had a free moment at Tony's place, I found myself studying manuals to find out what made things tick.''
The problem at hand aggravated workers so much that Ms. Treganowan couldn't help but concentrate her reading on Cadillac trans theory and diagnosis.
``I would try to give the guys in the shop suggestions, but they'd say, `What do you know? Go back in the office!' '' she recalled.
Determined to make a point, Ms. Treganowan took the service manual home. ``I remember my kids playing in this park while I sat at a picnic table, sketching my own diagnostic `logic' chart for that Eldorado transmission.
``I knew there was a reason things failed, and power flow theory would tell me where the problem was,'' she said.
The next morning, Ms. Treganowan was vindicated when she convinced Mr. Scuro to re-examine the area of the transmission where theory indicated the problem should be. When the mechanics disassembled the trans again, they discovered they'd installed a defective new part exactly where Ms. Treganowan concluded the problem had to be.
Her diligence also led to a parts/labor credit from the vendor who supplied the defective part!
``The mechanic responsible for that Eldorado transmission didn't speak to me for weeks,'' she said, ``because the other guys needled him so badly about a woman solving the problem for him.''
She believes women make better service people because they're naturally more detail-oriented and better communicators than men are. So not only do they gather more information from customers than men do, they garner vital details that contribute to quicker, more accurate diagnoses.
For example, women seem to obtain better descriptions of how symptoms sound and behave-not to mention when the symptoms occur, she said.
Hearing a costly repair job quote is a traumatic experience for cash-strapped consumers. Ms. Treganowan said that because women sound more caring and soothing than men do, it's less
traumatic getting the bad news from a woman.
One of her customers happens to be a psychiatrist, so Ms. Treganowan has had professional input on the male-vs.-female debate.
``He's convinced that deep down inside, most people have warm feelings for a woman who soothed them at a traumatic time in their lives,'' she explained. ``Maybe it was just wiping away tears or treating a skinned knee.''
Furthermore, Ms. Treganowan said a woman at a service counter doesn't surprise younger consumers because they've grown accustomed to dealing with women in all kinds of jobs. Typically, the only resistance they do encounter comes from stubborn old men. She instructs female service writers to accommodate men who are adamant about talking to a male service writer or technician.
``Learn everything you can to become as qualified as you can be for your work,'' Ms. Treganowan urged aspiring female service people. ``It certainly helps to like cars, because this isn't a job like any other. Otherwise, your lack of knowledge and dislike for your work shows through.''
Finally, Ms. Treganowan cautioned future service personnel to get as much formal technical and business training as possible.
The frantic pace in a modern shop-coupled with the complexities of modern vehicles-make it impossible to learn everything on the job, she said.
``When I started in the trade, learning on the job was much easier because the pace was so much slower then,'' she commented.
Meanwhile, the First Lady of auto repair continues doing ordinary things in extraordinary ways. Just check out her business. The unique planters out front are gutted transmission cases, brightly painted and filled with flowers!