SEBASTOPOL – Mike Ludeman didn’t always know he would end up in the auto body industry, but his interest in the subject has been with him his whole life. “I’ve always been fascinated by cars,” he says. “My dad was in the auto parts business, and in high school my older brother and I spent a lot of time working on vehicles.” However, it wasn’t until his late teenage years that Mike realized he could turn his passion for cars into an actual career.
“Graduation was coming up and I knew I wasn’t going to college, so I thought, ‘What am I going to do with myself?’” he remembers. “I had some family issues at the time, and it was either go in the right direction or stray off in the wrong direction, so I took it upon myself to come up with some kind of career. There was an auto body program at my high school that I dabbled in, and after I graduated, I went to vocational college in Wyoming to learn the trade. Around 1984, I jumped right into the industry.”
After working his way through the ranks as a car washer, detailer and prep person at several companies, Mike found himself at Western Auto Body in 1991 as head painter—a job he performed for eight years until the shop came up for sale. “The previous owner tried to sell it several times and wasn’t able to get a buyer, and I thought, ‘I don’t want to paint cars forever. What’s the natural progression of all this?’ The next step was to purchase the business. That was in 1999, and we’re still going strong more than a decade later.”
Mike’s responsibilities as the owner of a successful auto body shop keep him fairly busy, but he always prioritizes spending time with his two young sons. “Right now, I’m heavily into baseball season with coaching Little League,” he says. “I coach on my 9-year-old’s team and I help out on my 6-year-old’s team. My sons and I also do a lot of summer activities like RVing and boating, and I’m a member of a 4-wheel drive off-road club and a dirt bike club.”
As the son of an auto worker himself, Mike says he’d love to eventually teach his boys the intricacies of the trade, but for now, he’s content to keep them involved with more age-appropriate activities. “My kids are definitely interested in cars and like watching what I do, but I haven’t exposed them to it too much because they’re so young. I’m not keeping them sheltered from it, but there’s plenty of time for that.”
Mike’s approach to auto body work mirrors his overall approach to life: be honest in everything you do. “A man doesn’t have too many things besides his word,” he says. “That’s really important—if you’re honest and stick to those guidelines, the results might not be immediate, but you’ll eventually see the benefits of living your life that way. It translates nicely into having a business and dealing with people. I like to build relationships with my customers instead of going the quick route and trying to be transactional, and the only way to do that is through honesty and backing up my word.”