Over the years, I’ve met thousands of shop owners, but I’ve never met one that started as a street musician. Jason Scott, the owner of Guardian Transmissions in Marietta, Georgia is such an individual. At the age of 17, Jason headed to Nashville to pursue his dream of becoming a country-western singer and songwriter.Jason gradually progressed from the street corner to landing some gigs in Nashville clubs. In the 80s, Jason was a member of a regionally popular group, “Deep South” – not to be confused with the British group of the same name. However, after several years of modest success, the band broke up, and Jason headed back home to Georgia.
Jason got his start in transmissions the same way many others have. Here’s how Jason tells it. “The C-4 transmission in my Ford went out. At that time, I didn’t even know it was a C-4, but I knew it needed to get fixed on a low budget. A friend of mine told me about a guy who does transmissions on the side. So, I pulled my own transmission out, old school, on my back. He rebuilt it, and I reinstalled it. He saw that I had done it fast and did a good job on my own transmission. Next thing you know, he got me a job where he was a builder, and 36 years later, here we are.”
In a sense, Guardian Transmissions is an encore to Jason’s 36-plus year transmission career. In fact, the shop opened less than two years ago, on June 5th, 2019. However, the business almost didn’t open. One month before the scheduled opening, Jason was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As Jason recalled, “It was tough enough facing the demands of starting and operating my own business at my age but adding the uncertainty of cancer made it the most challenging decision of my life. My wife, Cynthia encouraged me to go ahead and open the shop. She made a great point that helped me see that I still have cancer with or without the shop, and I still have to live my life. So, we opened.”
The In-Between Years
Now, let’s look at what happened between the beginning and the encore. How did Jason go From Street Musician to Transmission Magician?
Jason credits Steve Runion for helping him with his early career. He says, “Steve’s the guy that built that first C-4 for me. He got me into this field and pushed me to become a student of the business. Steve was my first mentor.”
Clearly, Jason had the two most important character traits for a transmission apprentice – good attitude and aptitude. But he knew he needed to learn all he could about transmissions and develop the technical skills necessary to be the best he could be. He became a sponge, soaking up all he could learn from Steve and his fellow workers, and by attending every seminar he could.
Jason takes great pride in his profession, and like Steve, he’s helped many other techs with their careers. He’s become a technical resource for many other shops and technicians. For several years, Jason ran ETE, a technical support hotline, and taught tech seminars in the Atlanta area while holding down a full-time rebuilder position.
A familiar name to many technicians, but Jason has also earned respect and accolades from industry experts and trainers like elite SONNAX Task Force and Mike Souza. You’ll recall Mike from his years with ATRA and his articles in GEARS. Now retired, Mike is still a highly regarded, internationally known tech trainer. Jason mentioned that he and Mike have enjoyed a long friendship. They often speak on the phone or exchange emails ever since Mike’s retirement.
I decided to interview Mike to learn more about Jason. It would be an understatement if I said that Mike was over-the-top excited to tell me about Jason. Mike said, “In my career of over 38 years, I’d rank Jason as one of the top 5 builders worldwide. He is a transmission magician.” He added, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.”
Mike went on to praise Jason for many things. The common thread was that Jason demonstrates his willingness to go the extra mile in every aspect of his career: attending training, doing research, taking on any challenge that has forward and reverse, and making personal sacrifices to become a better tech – all the while helping others progress. In the December 2012 issue of GEARS, Mike wrote an article titled Tools of the Trade. Here’s an excerpt from that article.
… I hardly ever get a tech call from Jason. When I do, I know it’s going to be one of those calls about something that neither of us has run into before. I usually learn something new from each of these calls.
Jason is a rebuilding machine; he does more work than two less experienced rebuilders, and he does it well. He does his job with the ease and finesse of an old school mechanic. Jason is the kind of rebuilder that can’t sleep at night knowing something isn’t working right and not knowing yet how to fix it.
Not only does Jason attend every seminar in the Atlanta area, he also presents his own seminars locally. If you call his cell phone and he doesn’t answer, his message says, “… if you have a technical question, leave your name and number and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
In that same article, Souza praised another tech that happened to work at the same shop. That tech’s name was Angel Reyna. Mike described Angel as “… a great asset whose job consists of everything from installing, rebuilding, or diagnosing anything that comes into the shop.” What Mike didn’t say was that Angel was Jason’s protégée.
A Life-Changing Friendship
Jason first met Angel in 2001. Jason had just started working at a shop where Angel was working as an R&R trainee. Unfortunately, Jason quickly discovered that the shop was dishonest, and that’s something Jason simply does not tolerate. Jason says, “That’s the only job I’ve ever left without any notice. The minute I discovered what they were doing, I wheeled my toolbox out the door.However, in the few days I was there, I noticed Angel’s aptitude, honesty, and great attitude. I told Angel to stay there, and I’d come and get him to join me at the shop where I was going to go to work. I promised to mentor him if he really wanted to learn the trade. One month later, Angel joined me at my new employer’s shop. We’ve been together for nearly 20 years. He’s now one of the best transmission guys I know. Ironically, Guardian Transmissions is in the same building where we first met – 2150 Post Oak Tritt Road in Marietta, Georgia.”
Jason and Angel aren’t just coworkers, they’re best friends, and Jason treats Angel like a son. When Jason and Cynthia got married two years ago, Angel was a co-best man along with Jason’s son, Joshua. The duo is so in sync that they can practically complete each other’s sentences. Work flows almost seamlessly between them as they anticipate what needs to be done next.
Jason commented, “Angel has developed into a premier transmission tech, diagnostician, and rebuilder. Like me, Angel attends all training possible, including the ATRA VTS courses. Today, we learn from one another. I’m no longer Angel’s mentor; we teach each other.”
The two friends currently operate Guardian as a two-man show. However, they’re searching for one or two protégées – young aspiring technicians who want a career. They want to mentor their replacements, and they’d rather start with a clean slate than hiring techs that might have acquired bad habits. Job requirements – honesty, the right attitude, and aptitude. Jason says, “We’ll send them to the best tech seminars and personally teach them the skills they need to become first-class transmission techs and excellent rebuilders.”
Here’s how Angel introduced himself. Notice what comes first. “Hello, my name is Angel Reyna. My wife Daisy and I have two boys – Isaiah and Oliver. We’ve lived in Cherokee County, Georgia for 25 years. We love doing things together as a family. After graduating from high school in 2001, I worked with my brothers doing carpentry. One day a customer that owned an auto shop offered me a job. That’s where I met Jason Scott. He saw something in me that could make me a good automotive technician. With his mentoring and continuing education, I’ve been able to advance in my career and continually strive to be the best transmission professional possible.”
Jason and Cynthia’s marriage created a blended family of five children – Cynthia’s two daughters; Haley and Kati, along with Jason’s two daughters and one son; Jesse, Adrian, and Joshua. Between them, they also have 16 grandchildren.
Cynthia helps in the shop as much as her busy career schedule allows. She said, “I’ve helped with the décor, giving it a woman’s touch. I also like to help nurture our relationships with about 25 automotive shops that refer their customers to us for transmission work. I regularly take them cookies and donuts as a thank you.”
Cynthia has enjoyed a successful 38-year career in finance and investments. She’s currently the Divisional Director of a large bank’s investment arm, managing 93 investment advisors. Her financial background helped in setting up the business end of Guardian Transmissions.Jason bragged on Cynthia, “She did our risk-reward analysis before we opened and created our financial operating plan as well as our exit plan. The business has been financially self-sustaining since the day we opened. Even through the toughest months of the COVID-19 crisis, we didn’t have to inject any additional money.”
By the way, the exit plan illustrates just how strong the bond is between Jason and Angel. When Jason retires, he’s leaving the shop to Angel.
When the Going Gets Tough
Life challenges come in all shapes and sizes. In Jason’s case, it was a prostate cancer diagnosis just as he was opening his business. I asked Jason if he had any words of advice for anyone facing a major life challenge. He thoughtfully responded, “I can’t speak for anyone else, but in my case, it was one foot in front of the other and one transmission at a time together with the devoted support of Angel. He had my back the whole time, making an otherwise impossible situation possible. It might sound too simple, but isn’t that what life is all about – a career you love, a loving family, and friends you can count on in the clutch?”