Reflecting on his career in bettering businesses

Story by MAX REID

As he closes the book on a long career working at the highest levels of our industry, devoting himself to the development of brand strategies that would prove foundational to the modern collision repair process, Bob Leibel has earned his time in the spotlight.

Having worked as the director of sales and operations at Sherwin Williams Canada for the past 21 years, Bob has been with this industry at its peaks, and in its valleys. He has witnessed first-hand the rapid consolidation of the collision repair space to network models, as well as the implementation of VOC regulations for automotive paint back in 2008—obviously, a significant milestone in the operational life of a paint company. But the auto world hasn’t always been the one Bob lives in. In fact, some of his core skills are rooted in a certain company with a famous red font.

“I have 25 years in the auto industry, but prior to that I spent 11 years with the Coca- Cola company and managed the business in western Canada,” Bob said, over the phone with Collision Repair. “I was the general manager for the province of Saskatchewan and Alberta.”

Whether with Coca-Cola or during a fouryear stint with another notable auto paint player, Bob proved he was capable of leading large operational territories while continuing to hone his own understanding of the different industries and how they function.

“With Coca-Cola, our whole business was about channel strategy. In my role with another paint distributor, it was very similar, but that was strictly a distribution business. For me, I was fully engulfed in a distribution business there. At Sherwin Williams the fresh, new element was that we owned our own stores,” said Bob.

“We owned our own stores and sold to a few hundred distributors. We sold to competing stores, but still managed to operate our own stores through branding.”

Bob used his keen business knowledge to formulate a plan for navigating the multifaceted business platform he was now tasked with running.

“We created a brand structure for our corporate stores and our distribution business—that is how we managed to coexist and grow both segments of the business,” said Bob.

“In that case, what I brought to the table was the ability to create an environment where we could compete with the distribution side of the business, supply both sides of the business and not have it interfere with anybody’s growth. That was a result of my past experience with all of these different companies.”

When unforeseen obstacles are thrown in the direction of your company, there are few people who warrant more trust than Bob to find a clear path through the wreckage, as he proved over the past two years in his contribution to Sherwin’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An innovator and chronic critical thinker, when Bob saw much of his competition heading down a stream that felt more destructive than constructive; he elected to swim upriver.

“Companies of our size were thinking, ‘Well, we’ve got to trim some folks and cut some costs’ because business was not great at that time. In Canada, we chose not to do that; we chose to keep everybody. We didn’t let anybody go, we didn’t furlough anybody,” Bob said, with an audible sense of pride in his voice.

“We took the time to build training programs online for our own people and put them on a curriculum. We trained them on the things we never had time to train them on. When the time came to hit the pavement, they hit the pavement running.”

Bob credits much of the progress he made during the pandemic to support from Sherwin’s head office, who he said were not only a big help for getting training programs online, but for getting it done in what he considers record time.

Bob and Sherwin Williams colleagues Angela Baillie and Serge le Blanc.
Bob and his wife Deanne.

“2020 was the most successful year of my entire career at Sherwin Williams—in the middle of the pandemic,” Bob admitted; finding it to also be a good opportunity to close out his career on a high by announcing his retirement in February 2022. “The pandemic made me decide that maybe it was time to go. I turned 60 and said ‘I’m going to retire and my wife Deanne and I are going to travel.’”

After a career of untangling the complex threads of a modern retail and distribution corporation, Bob says he is excited to have exactly three things on his mind for the time being—his two new grandsons and his lake house.

“We have couple brand new grandsons and a place in the mountains on a lake, so we’ll be spending a lot of time out there,” said Bob. When asked if he had any parting words for the industry he dedicated so much of himself to, Bob recalled a sense of solidarity he once held with the industry at-large and the desire for that solidarity to continue to prevail in times of strife.

“I look back to all of the rules and regulations we had to go through when VOC regulations came into play in Canada—that was a challenge. We all had inventory that we had to work through; we all had challenges in moving into a whole different product line with a whole different structure. The industry, as a group, worked together to make that happen. That’s just one example, but there are many other examples of that going on.” To those he spent his days with, Bob said “I would like to thank all of my colleagues from the industry for their well wishes and support; mostly the Sherwin Williams family. I will truly miss them.”


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2 Responses

  1. Hello Bob. I enjoyed reading this article and agree with all the comments and achievements during your highly successful career. I enjoyed our working relationship with our shops Dartmouth and Halifax. I hope that you and Your family have many many years of retirement. If you ever travel to Nova Scotia make sure you looks up Cheers!!!!

  2. I did not know Bob really well but I did meet him when he was with another paint company and he was very much a standup guy. I’m sorry to see Bob leave the industry but I certainly understand he’s thinking as I stepped back from the industry when I turn 60 as well. Good for you Bob all the best in the future!

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