Nana Sarkisian: A Drive to Succeed
By James Florence, Diamond Certified Resource Reporter
COLMA – If you were talking to Cal Auto Body owner Nana Sarkisian, you might be surprised to learn there was a point in her adult life when she wasn’t even legally able to drive a car. Recently married and a new mother, Nana’s first few years living in the United States after leaving her home country of Armenia were, as she describes, a trying time. “For a while I felt like I was going one step forward and two steps backward in my life. As a stay-at-home mom who didn’t speak much English or even have a driver’s license, I felt fairly isolated.” This situation was especially challenging for someone as independent as Nana, who by age 21 had earned her master’s degree in industrial engineering, a field in which she worked for four years prior to coming to America. Fortunately, her circumstances gradually improved. “Eventually, my mom came over to help with things, which gave me a little more freedom to get myself educated in English, get a driver’s license and basically feel human again.”
Nana’s then-husband had spent several years working in the auto repair industry in various capacities until they both decided it was time to shift things into high gear. “In 2001, we bought an existing auto shop and changed the name to Cal Auto Body,” she remembers. Eager to jump back into the work world, Nana took an active role in running the shop. “I was in charge of the customer service, administration and accounting, while my husband handled the estimating and parts ordering.” However, as time went by, Nana became increasingly immersed in the more hands-on aspects of the shop’s business. “I ended up doing a lot more on the repair side, writing estimates and that sort of thing.”
In fact, Nana’s work at Cal Auto Body wasn’t her first exposure to the world of auto repair. “When I was a young girl, my dad used to spend all day in the garage and wouldn’t come out from underneath his car,” she remembers. “I would bring him lunch and he’d hand me a part to clean or have me help him with something. I’d start asking him questions about what he was doing, until he eventually got tired of all the questioning and kicked me out!”
In 2008, Nana took the helm as sole owner and operator of Cal Auto Body. Since that time, she has employed her accumulated experience and professional acumen to improve the business, taking advantage of promotional outlets like social media and consumer-friendly organizations. “Over the last five years, not only have we been able to increase our business, we’ve been able to maintain an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau,” she says. The shop’s Diamond Certified status further indicates its dedication to customer satisfaction.
Outside of work, Nana engages in a variety of hobbies and pastimes. “I do a lot of oil painting,” she says. “I’m always amazed at the things that come out of my head when I’m painting—very abstract stuff.” Nana also says that whenever it’s sunny, she’s likely to be at the beach. “I think in my previous life I was a fish,” she laughs. “The sand, the water, the shells, the smell of the seaweed—I love anything that’s connected to the sea. Even food…seafood is my favorite!” In addition, Nana likes to keep up with her daughter, Maria, a chemistry student at Skyline College in San Bruno. “She’s eventually hoping to transfer to UC Berkeley or UC Davis and study molecular toxicology. She’s a real smart cookie and I’m very proud of her.”
Looking back, Nana says the expression “givers gain” has proven to be true throughout her life and career. “You give, you receive; you don’t give, you don’t receive. It’s actually very interesting how this happens in auto body work. We always take care of customers and try to give them more than they expect. In return, they give us compliments and refer their friends to us. So, I think this philosophy of giving has really been a big part of our success.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What was your first car?
A: A ’94 Lincoln Continental. My family expected me to crash whatever car I had, so they gave me one that nobody cared about!
Q: If you could drive any car, what would it be?
A: A 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: Barracuda Sushi in San Francisco.
Q: Are you a dog or cat person?
A: I’m totally a dog person, but guess what? We have a cat!
Q: Do you have any nicknames?
A: Nana is my nickname. My real name is Gayané. Everybody calls me Nana because it’s just easier to pronounce.
Q: If you were doing karaoke, what song would you sing?
A: I’d sing two songs, both by The Beatles: “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” and “Yesterday.”
Q: If someone was making a movie about your life, which actress would you choose to play you?
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A: Sandra Bullock.