Home Features Profile: From Kragen clerk to business owner, Cuesta instructor

Profile: From Kragen clerk to business owner, Cuesta instructor


Amborn and his students inspect the underhood of a Cuesta College vehicle.
Photo by Hank Ogle / Cuestonian

By Joe Kaiser
Special Contributor
Journalism 204

On a January day of Ryan Amborn’s sophomore year at San Luis Obispo High school, he was sitting in a 1978 extended cab Ford F150 with a 390 cubic inch big block V8.

Being the 16 year-old-boy he was, he floored the gas pedal and began to smoke the tires. Not just a little bit, but a lot. This continued along the entirety of the back lot, creating quite the smokeshow. However, his fun didn’t go unpunished.

Amborn was given an after-class detention to clean the auto shop, where he hung out with the shop kids, and discovered his passion for cars.

Following this, he got a job at the San Luis Obispo Kragen Auto parts, where he met Gil Luera. Fast forward to present time, Ryan Amborn drives a 2014 diesel F250. Luera is the manager of West Coast Auto and Towing,

Amborn’s business of ten and a half years.

Amborn is teaching his first semester at Cuesta College, he is so new to Cuesta that the name of long time automotive teacher Gary Villa, who preceded Amborn, is still on his office door.

Actually, Amborn isn’t new to Cuesta at all.

“The fact that I went here is really cool, so I definitely have a love for Cuesta, because I got to take classes in the same classroom that I’m actually getting to teach in now,” he said.

In the short time he’s been teaching here, he already appears in a familiar environment in the classroom.

“It’s been awesome…the students are amazing, the faculty has been very helpful with getting me prepared and feeling at home,” Amborn said.

Amborn’s time teaching has been well received among his students.

“I think it’s great,” Tyler O’Keef, a second year engineering major said. “He’s honestly nailing the job.”

O’Keef appreciates “the fact [Amborn] doesn’t look at us like just another student.”

Some may wonder why a successful businessman — named Atascadero’s Businessman of the Year in 2015 — would want to teach at a community college.

Gil Luera, who met Amborn at his Kragen’s job in 1997 while he was in high school, provided some answers.
“[Ryan teaching at Cuesta] doesn’t surprise me, his dad was an educator, his mother was a counselor at Cuesta,” Luera said. “Ryan always has big ideas, big thoughts, he’s not a one-dimensional type of person.”

Amborn chose to teach because he had prior experience with automobiles.

“I was really into automobiles [during school] and thought it would be fun to work with students to further their knowledge and get their excitement going,” Amborn said.

Colleagues say he knows more than he lets on.

“…If you talked to him, you would never realize he is a certified Master Technician,” Luera said. I don’t think he ever talks about that… I think his automotive knowledge is second to none, he’s evolved with the animal, certainly very knowledgeable.”

That kind of knowledge doesn’t come without experience.

In high school, Amborn won the “difficult and prestigious” AAA troubleshooting competitions, claiming a state championship.

He worked his way up the ranks at Kragen’s in high school, then got a towing job.

After graduating high school he went to work for AAA.

When the Cuesta Grade was being redone, “they staged tow trucks on each side of the grade so when vehicles got stranded they were quick to respond and get them off the grade.”

“He sat in those tow trucks for hours, upon hours, upon hours as an entry-level tow-truck operator,” Luera said.

Amborn went on to run Auto Guardian, the biggest towing company in the country owned by AAA.

He later bought an automotive shop and rebranded it to West Coast Auto and Towing.

From an inexperienced high school student, to an accomplished business owner, to a college professor at the same time, Amborn has worked his way from the very bottom all the way up the ladder of success to where he is now.

“When he asks someone to do something, it’s because he understands what it takes to get it done,” said Luera, acknowledging his boss’s wisdom. If you were to spend a minute in Amborn’s classroom, you would already begin to notice his good character.

The SLO Tribune has noticed as well, naming him one of San Luis Obispo County’s “Top 20 under 40” , which were said to be “innovative, dedicated, persevering and deeply involved in their community.”

Amborn attributes his success to “being so involved with community events and helping any projects or helping with the schools, things like that.”

Luera noted that Amborn “is an individual who likes to do good …he wants to share his wealth — be it monetary, emotional, or knowledge.”

Amborn has a message to students who may be uncertain direction.

“I would encourage them all to take an automotive class even if they aren’t sure if they like it,” Amborn said.

“Everybody should take a variety of classes because you might find something you didn’t know you enjoyed — and all the sudden your whole career goes that direction, like it did for me,” Amborn said.