Jeff Silver’s I-CAR Family Fondly Remembers Him
12/02/2022 by Val D'Anna
Jeff Silver made a half-century’s worth of contributions to our industry during his 80 years. Rather than recap the highlights of his extraordinary career, which are well documented on the internet, we reserved this space for stories about Mr. Silver from a few representatives of his I-CAR family. Despite his wide name recognition in the collision repair industry, Mr. Silver was a private person. We hope this personal tribute to our friend will deepen appreciation of this remarkable man.
An Uncanny Ability that Held I-CAR Together
It’s impossible for Jeff Peevy, vice president, technical products, programs and services, to imagine I-CAR without the benefit of Jeff Silver’s leadership. “I-CAR would likely not have survived without Jeff Silver.”
Leading I-CAR in its early days, as the different industry segments were figuring out how to align with one another, Jeff Silver was able to moderate the temperature in meetings that at times got heated and guide different points of view towards consensus. He embodied I-CAR’s core value of collaboration, says Peevy.
“Jeff was a great listener and collaborator. When there were disagreements, he was outstanding at finding a place where everyone could live.”
Although he witnessed the former I-CAR leader’s calming influence many times and from up close, Peevy finds it difficult to explain how Mr. Silver pulled it off. It was partly his steady and calm nature, partly his ‘we’re not leaving the room until our business gets done’ determination, Peevy says. “He had an uncanny ability to convince people and many times because he would address issues honestly, sincerely, and head on.”
Mr. Silver’s power of persuasion was rooted in his likeability. “He ran I-CAR as a human organization to help humans. I’ve never heard a single, bad word spoken about him,” Peevy says. “He was so sincere about wanting to make a difference in our industry, and he believed I-CAR was a vehicle for that to happen. Even towards the end, in failing health, he was still participating and contributing.”
Peevy says he is honored to have worked with Mr. Silver and to be included in the inner circle of this very private man. His favorite memory? It didn’t happen at an industry event or in the I-CAR board room but rather at casual outdoor meetings. “Jeff and I both had boats on the Chain of Lakes (in Illinois). Jeff and his wife Jeanne would pull up to our pier, honk the horn and tie up. We would sit out by the water and visit for hours. I cherish those times greatly.”
An Offer Too Good to Refuse
"Jeff, you made us love you, and we are all the better because of it,” says another key figure in I-CAR’s history, Chuck Sulkala.
Yet, Sulkala recalls his first meeting with Jeff Silver did not go well. In fact, it ended with Sulkala resigning as an I-CAR state committee vice chair over a policy change that cut funds for administrative support. The change, which the “new guy” Jeff Silver had come out to explain, “just about blew up our whole plan for success,” says Sulkala. “We had been doing things pretty well….and in order to keep our classes full, we hired someone to make reminder calls which really helped our attendance.” Rejecting Mr. Silver’s idea to use volunteers to make calls, Sulkala made a glib offer as he walked off in disgust: "But if I can ever help you in any way, let me know."
The story doesn’t end there because Mr. Silver recognized a true passion for the industry when he saw it. He won Sulkala back with an offer too good to refuse – an invitation to join I-CAR’s Board of Directors. “That was the real beginning of my very long journey with Jeff Silver and I-CAR,” Sulkala says
“Jeff was driven to make things better, and he did,” Sulkala says. “His legacy is a strong and vibrant I-CAR.” He cites Mr. Silver’s contributions to I-CAR’s Gold Class® program and the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), two initiatives Sulkala helped advance as I-CAR’s Board chairman.
“He was truly one of a kind. I-CAR is so very lucky to have had him when they did, and I am so honored that he cared enough about me to be my friend. The industry has truly lost a treasure.”
TGIF and for Bosses Like Mr. Silver
Shirley Pincus feels qualified to credit Mr. Silver as “really the guy who got collision industry training off the ground.” She was a firsthand witness, signing on as Mr. Silver’s assistant in 1986 to become I-CAR’s seventh employee.
“Jeff was passionate about developing I-CAR,” she says. “He worked tirelessly with industry professionals who shared his viewpoint on the need to develop and deliver collision repair training within the automotive collision industry.”
Pincus says that Silver was always strategizing, and he incorporated input from his staff into action plans. She recalls a favorite memory from those early days. “On Fridays, he’d bring in a 12-pack of beer. At about 4:00ish, he’d gather all six of us in the conference room, and over beer, we’d talk about some of the successes and challenges we had faced that week. He warmly accepted our input and ideas.”
“He was the best boss ever,” Pincus says. She recalls the time she was hospitalized with Salmonella. With such a small staff, Pincus worried about her work not getting done; but Mr. Silver was only concerned about her comfort. “He was very gracious about my absence,” she says, “so much so that he asked his parents to bring me home cooked food because he knew how bad hospital food is.” Unfortunately, Pincus was too sick to eat it. “That’s just one example of kindness he showed the staff,” she says.
Creating Opportunities for I-CAR Employees
Employees felt valued and enjoyed a high quality of work life under Mr. Silver’s leadership, recalls Alice Mikkelsen, I-CAR’s lead associate, events management. Heading up an education organization, he was very mindful of giving I-CAR employees training opportunities. He also was outwardly supportive of women and counted on his wife Jeanne’s support throughout his career. After 11 years at I-CAR, he and his wife operated a Gold Class® shop for 25 years.
In the late 1980s, there were few prominent women in collision repair to act as mentors, Mikkelsen says, “but Jeff unknowingly was that for me, providing valuable business and political insights as well as encouragement.” Since Mr. Silver’s service, I-CAR leadership has continued to provide development opportunities for female employees, Mikkelsen observes.
Never a micro-manager, Mr. Silver empowered his staff with the trust he placed in them. “At times it was scary, but I appreciated the freedom he allowed me to contribute to I-CAR and the industry,” says Mikkelsen. “Jeff was easy to work for because he made his expectations clear, and he had your back. He also believed in investing training dollars in his staff. I still use Dale Carnegie principles learned from the training he set up in-house.”
Mikkelsen is grateful for the opportunity to develop a shop recognition program (today known as I-CAR Gold Class) that would go on to win a national marketing award. “Jeff gave me and others a chance to flourish that was rare for women at the time.”
A favorite anecdote Mikkelsen has about Mr. Silver is connected to her Gold Class work. Three decades after developing this recognition program, she attended an I-CAR conference where Mr. Silver was being touted as the father of the Gold Class program. Mr. Silver also was in attendance and sought Alice out. “He told me, ‘I don’t know why they call me the father when I only gave you the assignment.’ Ever so humble, that was Jeff.”