Frank Bertolli, came to America with his parents from Italy in 1955 when he was 15 years old. After learning auto repairs at a trade school he worked at a series of auto dealerships until 1971. At the age of 31 with a wife and three kids and one on the way, Frank quit his secure job to open his own business – Bertolli’s Auto and Truck Repair.
By the time Laura entered high school the shop was doing very well, and her father was investing the profits in new business ventures. In 1977 he decided to open a body shop. Frank built the building where the body shop is still located, and bankrolled the business, taking on a partner named James Newman, who ran the business until he retired in 1988.
Laura had begun to spend time in her father’s Irwin street shop while she was still in high school, doing filing and then keeping the books. From high school she went to UC Berkeley where she studied accounting, with intentions of becoming a CPA, and after college she went to work for an accounting firm in Novato. But her father was having problems with his bookkeeper, so in 1985 she went to work for the family firm, taking over the bookkeeping and accounting.
Over the next couple of years she assumed more and more of the management responsibilities, and in 1988 when Newman retired, she became General Manager of the Auto Body Shop. At that point, she admits, she still didn’t know much about auto body repairs. A foreman actually ran the body shop. But shop foremen come and go, and Laura didn’t want to be just a figurehead. She enrolled in a series of courses on auto body repair and set out to learn the nuts and bolts of the business. After a series of shop managers came and went, she decided in 1993 that she was ready to run the shop herself. Laura still attends training sessions every year from I-CAR or ASE and goes to industry seminars and trade shows to stay on top of the latest technology and techniques. By 1995 Laura had earned a 20% share in the business through bonuses, but she was still essentially an employee. Like her father before her she wanted to own her own business, and talked her father into selling it to her. The sign on the building still reads “Bertolli’s,” but now that means Laura.