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What started as a friendship between a European business consultant and a Billings businessman has developed into an international partnership with a common vision – developing people and providing quality service. MasterLube has purchased a minor equity position in Oil Partner, a Slovakian company with two quick lube centers in Bratislava and one in Nitra.

The relationship between MasterLube and Oil Partner has only recently become an official business affiliation, but the connection between the two companies has been developing over the last 20 years. It began in the early 90’s when Bill Baker, MasterLube and Oil Partner partnershipa business teacher then working in Slovakia, was looking for a company in the U.S. that would be interested in providing internships to some of his students. Baker connected with Milan Cicel, a Slovakian business consultant who was forming a group focused primarily on providing training for entrepreneurs while the Slovakian economy was transitioning from communism. Through Baker’s friendship with a MasterLube employee, the two met Bill Simmons, owner of MasterLube, and began to develop internship opportunities at the Billings quick lube business. Cicel’s group, Integra, soon expanded into supporting and establishing small and medium businesses in Central Europe that have a social impact on their community and later became an essential element in developing what would become Oil Partner.

In 1995, a young Slovak man named Daniel Laco was interning with MasterLube and liked what he saw. Not only did he like the idea of servicing a vehicle in under ten minutes, but also the concept of a company being socially responsible to its employees and working to develop their employees personally and professionally. Laco took these ideas back to Slovakia, where he began working towards building a quick lube center there that instilled a vision of employee development among its staff. Simmons and his wife Marilyn had developed a friendship with Laco and in 1997 visited Bratislava to help their friend with various logistics and business planning for the new business. “We just helped talk him through things like finding a location and developing processes,” says Simmons.

Oil Partner opened its doors in 2000 to a culture largely unaware of the notion of quick lube service. “The idea of this type of service was and still is quite new to them,” says Craig Godfrey, president of MasterLube. “People are still used to dropping off their car and coming back an hour or so later to pick it up.” Godfrey goes on to point out that even 30 years ago, Billings’ residents weren’t used to a 10 minute oil change. “When we first opened MasterLube, not many people were used to the idea either,” he says. He’s certain that once more people learn about the service, it will become as commonplace as it now is here.

In its 10 year existence, Oil Partner has become quite successful. Simmons speculates that some of the success can be attributed to the fact that the country has only been an independent state since 1993. Slovakian businesses like Oil Partner have the benefit of developing their business in present day; to “start from scratch” without old habits and old policies to deal with. “They’re very well educated, well trained and forward thinking people,” he says.

The key concept surrounding the business partnership is staff development. Since Oil Partner’s beginnings, employees have visited Billings to train and grow alongside the employees of MasterLube. And that sort of training will continue and expand in the future. Through all of 2011, MasterLube plans to have either members of its team visiting Slovakia or some of Oil Partner employees visiting MasterLube during every month of the year. Four MasterLube staff members have visited Slovakia to date. “We want to build a world-class organization,” says Godfrey, who visited Slovakia for the first time in 2008. “We want to experience other cultures, exchange information about process and procedures and learn from each other.” MasterLube’s leadership is excited to have the opportunity to provide its staff with international training. “MasterLube will be better because of this,” says Simmons. Russ Cherry, MasterLube’s Director of Training & Development, continued to explain, “This kind of arrangement empowers and elevates our staff. Our staff members get to be international trainers! That’s an incredible opportunity for anyone.”

MasterLube has high expectations and goals for its new relationship with Oil Partner. “We get to exchange revolutionary concepts. We have great things and great ideas,” says Cherry. “And great ideas change the world!”

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