By Sam Houpt
A teenage Cory Nero was asked to participate in a classroom ‘investment game,’ in which students pick from a selected list of real-world companies and corporations. He saw the Boyd Group among the stock options, noticed that they had ties to the automotive repair industry, and decided to invest. Despite the high rate of return Cory gained from his imaginary Boyd investments, his diversified portfolio snatched ultimate victory from the then-16-year-old. He placed second–something he viewed as a loss. But Cory has always been one to learn from losses.
From that point onward, Cory would keep an eye on the stock, watching as it rose up and up over the course of the next decade.
Cory’s interest in the business side of auto repair might have come from his school investment project, but his love of fixing vehicles was far older. Shortly before his birth, his parents, Antonio and Gianna, had opened a collision repair facility known as ‘Regent Autobody’ in Sudbury, Ontario which would come to be an anchor, and soon, workplace for him over the coming years. At Regent, Cory was constantly exposed to cars–their sales, their construction and repair.
By the time he was in junior high school, he started to work at the shop cleaning the cars. The shop was a growing force, eventually expanding to four locations, three in Sudbury and one in Chelmsford. On the sidelines, Cory continued watching Boyd Group as they expanded as well.
Cory Nero remained working at Regent Autobody with his family at the same time he enrolled at Laurentian University, not more than 15 minutes down the road from the shop, where he earned honours bachelor in commerce. Though his degree would help in his leadership role to come, Cory does not fully attribute the success he has found to his schooling.
“Although I’m an advocate for school and education–and the whole university experience–I learned more working at Regent than anywhere else,” says Cory. “Coming to work gave me the opportunity to learn so much because it also allowed me to lose. It’s easier to say ‘win or lose’ than it is to say ‘win or learn’–I learned this phrase/ motto from my father.”
Antonio Nero, Cory’s father, raised him with a different mindset than his father before him. Before immigrating to Canada at age 15 and opening Regent Autobody a decade later, Antonio lived and worked in Italy, his father barring him from schooling once in Canada. When it came time to guide his own children, he was the one who encouraged Cory to work at Regent in conjunction with his studies at Laurentian.
After graduating, Cory began by taking the reins of the original Regent street location, crediting the transition to a leadership role to his time spent at the shop rather than his education.
The staff–many of whom had watched Cory since childhood–were used to seeing him around the shop at this point, and that he would have struggled otherwise if he did not have such a strong connection with the senior staff of the original crew. According to Cory, the legacy group of Regent was comprised of a growing team that behaved like a family due to the shared pain of expanding from one to four locations. By the time Regent was done its term under the ownership of Antonio and Gianna Nero, they had a total of 74 staff members, including cousins, an uncle and more of Cory Nero’s immediate family.
The staff carry the same familial sentiment: Rita Gattoni, known under the nickname ‘Mom’, is the current store manager at the Armstrong location and has described watching Cory grow into his role.
“There’s a big difference between an 18-year-old man and a 30-year-old man,” she says. “We have such a close relationship with Cory because we’ve seen him through that time. There’s a lot in this industry that can be shared between younger and older generations.”
Cory Nero’s experience was anything but slowing down. February last year, Boyd Group, no longer a budding company among a list of possible investees in a high school stock game, bought all four Regent Auto Body locations from the Nero group, rebranding them under Assured Automotive. An acquisition can be abrasive, usually with clashing ideas of leadership and resistance to change, but Cory Nero says he kept an open mind. He describes the process as a positive learning curve, like he was “going back to school.”
Cory recalls, “If I had too much pride and I thought I knew it all I probably wouldn’t have been able to participate in the transition–the business is an art and science in itself, let alone tackling that beast under a changing management environment.”
Instead of demanding conformity, Boyd Group shared the best practices with the four collision repair facilities and brought along changes at a manageable pace. Not only did the operations team provide mentorship and knowledge of the industry to Cory, they paired him up with two Assured team members from the Ottawa market, who were not only close in age but also underwent a similar transition. This gave Cory someone to relate to and gradually made him realize Boyd’s weekly and monthly expectations. It was then that Cory Nero had what he needed to begin learning how to go from making an impact in just one store to making an impact to all four stores as a market manager.
Cory says it appealed to him when he noticed that Assured/Boyd cared about preserving the family-owned feeling of the shop. Gattoni concurred when she explained that Boyd retaining Cory also heavily contributes to that feeling, saying his presence “takes us back to that time when it was family-run.”
On the topic of family, Cory is happy to report that his mother, father and uncle whom are now retired from the automotive business are currently focusing on the most important things in life which is health and family while enjoying the things they are passionate about.
Though both parents believe in doing something every day and never stopping, Cory says he feels that this mindset has not aged well and that the shops required a different work ethic.
”Back in the day in a growing business with immigrant parents in survival mode, there’s no such thing as ‘work/life balance,’” he says. “The people I work for today emphasize balance, tempo and pace. The things I knew prior to the acquisition worked well for expanding to four stores, but it probably wouldn’t have been scalable beyond that.”
Cory predicts the partnership with Boyd will continue to prosper. He states he wants to see current junior employees earn management positions, while still keeping the ‘family-owned’ atmosphere of past years, and says he sees the scope of the stores expanding as they continue to encourage a strong team of talented team members.
Cory says he strongly believes more and more people will not only realize the value of getting into the collision repair industry from a business/admin perspective but also see the collision trade become an attractive place from a well-paid trade perspective. He reiterates that the technicians and admin that are of the right mindset of embracing ‘winning and learning’ as a team are enjoying the fruits of their achievements. He says he feels the trade has become a craft of constant learning as technology evolves and for most people it is going to become a space that fosters excitement.
”Growing into the company for me means that our stores are executing on delivering vehicle repair services in the most effective, efficient, safe and responsible manner on their own. By doing this through attrition successfully will mean I can participate in more growing challenges surrounding the northern Ontario market and perhaps other new markets of interest.”
Today, Cory Nero works as a market manager for all four Assured shops in Northern Ontario. Through a dedication to learning with Boyd Group as well as his enduring open-mind, Cory has adapted and continued to apply his father’s mantra to his work.
“When you are as passionate about cars and making sure the people, both clients and staff are looked after, that’s when the winning and losing becomes winning and learning.”