Last year, the military service of an applicant caught the attention of George’s CARSTAR in Chicago. And now, after nearly 18 months of his successful employment, the shop has shown up on the radar of a national program that applauds businesses that employ veterans.
As part of its “Hire Our Heroes” initiative, 3M selected the business at 4723 W. Grand Ave. as one of 25 nationwide to receive the distinction. The program honors businesses that give military veterans an opportunity in the workplace.
From Nov. 2-4, George’s CARSTAR co-owner Brian Benakos and Chad Smolios, a six-year Marine Corps veteran, will be traveling to Fort Worth, Texas and participating in 3M’s Hire Our Heroes event.
The weekend includes a welcome reception, followed by a NASCAR event at the Texas Motor Speedway. They will watch the race from the 3M suite, have a guided pit and garage tour and meet professional driver Greg Biffle and automotive designer Chip Foose, who are sponsored by 3M.
“It’s very nice and I appreciate it, but it’s by no means expected,” Smolios said. “I don’t take anything for granted. I don’t think anybody owes me anything.”
Benakos and his wife, Jun, reside in Park Ridge. In May 2012, they hired Smolios shortly after seeing his application.
“The first thing I’m thinking is, ‘Here’s a person who has some discipline and here’s a person who has been willing to lay down his life for me,’” said Brian Benakos. “That means a lot to us here.”
After coming in for an interview, Smolios received the job offer less than 24 hours later.
Since then, he has become an integral part of the business as an estimator whose responsibilities have extended to a variety of duties. When the Benakoses are out of town, Smolios has stepped up to run the entire office.
“Chad is very intelligent and I have been really impressed by his willingness to learn,” Jun Benakos said. “He’s quick to learn, he’s competitive and he’s willing to get dirty to get the job done.”
That work ethic, she said, is in contrast to the entitled attitude that is often attributed to the emerging generation of younger workers. “Chad has given me a new, much more optimistic outlook on that generation,” said Jun Benakos.
Located on Chicago’s West Side, in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood, George’s CARSTAR has roots that date back to 1944, making it an unquestioned industry veteran. Founded by Brian Benakos’ father, George, the shop became a franchisee of CARSTAR, the largest group of branded collision repair centers in North America, in 2007.
So it’s only fitting that the business, launched at the height of World War II, is gaining recognition for its employment of a military veteran.
A native of Valparaiso, Ind., Smolios enlisted in the Marine Corps during his senior year of high school and left for boot camp about four months after his 2004 graduation.
During his service, Smolios had three tours of duty overseas totaling 27 months, twice in the Middle East and once in Afghanistan. In that span, he gained promotion from private to sergeant, eventually supervising 50 other Marines who, like him, were helicopter mechanics.
As a helicopter aerial gunner, he was on the frontlines of numerous combat missions. Along the way, he developed a tight bond with his fellow service officers and focused on doing his best from day to day.
“It was definitely life-changing. It requires you to grow up faster than most people,” Smolios recalled. “Anybody in the situation I was in would do the same. It just comes down to looking out for one another.”
That principle of having each other’s back extends to American businesses that take steps to extend employment opportunities to those, like Smolios, who have been in the military, said Ryan Dougherty, a sales representative in 3M’s Automotive Aftermarket Division.
“We know that veterans have a higher unemployment rate and 3M’s Hire Our Heroes campaign is geared toward addressing that,” said Dougherty. “Our specific industry is an aging one and we see a perfect marriage with the current influx of young, dedicated, hard working, qualified veterans that are returning to the work force every day. This campaign is geared to impact the lives of veterans and their families as well as the collision repair industry as a whole.”
“3M is donating to a greater good,” Dougherty added.
“It’s awesome to give Chad and other veterans some encouragement,” said Jun Benakos. “It’s really great that 3M is doing this.”
After leaving the Marine Corps in June 2010, Smolios enrolled at Purdue University. In 2011, he transferred to DePaul University, where he is pursuing an accounting degree with an anticipated graduation date of May 2014. Thereafter, he plans to enroll in flight school as he sets his sights on becoming a commercial pilot.
The Benakoses are very supportive of Smolios’ efforts, adjusting his 35-hour workweek to accommodate his academic schedule and encouraging his career pursuits.
“Chad has always been upfront about his long-range plans and we count ourselves fortunate to have him on our staff for as long as he is able to be with us,” said Brian Benakos. “And whenever he moves on, you can count on us looking to see if another military veteran may be a fit to come onboard.”
CARSTAR is online at www.carstar.com. To contact Georges CARSTAR, call 773-486-2131 or visit http://www.carstar.com/georges/. For more information and videos about 3M’s Hire Our Heroes campaign, visit http://3mcollision.com/hire-our-heroes or www.3mcollision.com.