Tom Tillett: Enginuity
By James Florence, Diamond Certified Program Reporter
SANTA ROSA — When Tom Tillett got a job working as a gas station attendant in high school, he didn’t think it would amount to anything other than a steady paycheck. However, when an opportunity arose to demonstrate his technical ingenuity, it served as the initial step toward a lifelong career in auto repair. “The gas station I worked at also had a mechanical shop, and one day the owner pulled me in to lend a hand,” he recounts. “The mechanic was really surprised at my ability and asked me how I knew what to do. I shrugged and replied, ‘It’s just common sense,’ which was how it seemed to me anyway. From then on, the station owner had me working full-time in the shop.”
Today, Tom has established himself as Sonoma County’s resident Subaru specialist, but he previously specialized in a different vehicle make. “I was a Volvo technician for 26 years,” he says. “After Volvo was bought out by Ford, the quality started going downhill and, as a result, so did my interest in working on them. As it happened, I had a friend who worked on Subarus out of his garage, and when he decided to close up shop and move away, he asked if I was interested in taking over his business. Pretty soon, I switched to working on Subarus.”
As owner of TL Tillett’s Automotive, Tom says he takes pride in his shop’s reputation for exceptional service. “We’re here to do honest work and take care of our customers, which means we never sell anything that isn’t needed. I think the fact that so much of our business comes from referrals really speaks to the high level of workmanship and service we provide.”
Outside of work, Tom engages in a variety of recreational activities. “My two main hobbies are playing golf and competing at car shows with my ’37 Ford Coupe hot rod,” he says. “My wife, Joanne, and I also like to travel—we love Hawaii, as well as going on cruises to Alaska and the Caribbean.” Tom says he also enjoys spending time with family, including his grown daughters, Andrea (who is general manager at the shop) and Janelle.
When asked what his future retirement might look like, Tom says he’ll probably be doing more of the activities he currently enjoys. “Golf and vacation basically—maybe a combination of the two,” he laughs. “Of course, I also want to spend more time with my grandkids. Our first was born this year, and our other daughter is expecting, so we’re looking forward to this next phase of our lives.”
Ask Me Anything!
Q: What was your first car?
A: A ’62 Ford pickup.
Q: Are you a dog person or a cat person?
A: A cat person.
Q: What’s your favorite season?
A: Summer, because I love the heat.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: Rutherford Grill in Yountville.
Q: What’s your favorite snack?
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A: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.