career

Building business success from scratch

What is the key to your business success?

You cannot have loyal customers unless you have loyal employees and you treat them right. We have 500 people working for us and we're always looking for ways to build loyalty. We have a lot of long-term employees and we have what we call a Rolex Crown Club. If you've served 25 years, you get a Rolex watch and we make a big ceremony out of it. In 2013, we awarded four Rolexes to outstanding associates.

In any company, about half your employees are fully engaged; another 30 percent are somewhat engaged and 20 percent not engaged at all. If you can move from 50 percent fully engaged to 80 percent fully engaged, think what that does for your company's performance and their attitudes and earnings.

Also, successful people build successful people. If you bring in a person and we're successful, that person will work harder and want to be part of a winning team.

What is the key to your personal success?

Throughout my career I was always very goal-oriented. I set a plan and I follow it every day. When I joined Colonial (Chevrolet) my first goal was to go from sales into management. I was always setting another goal; I think that came from my mentor in the life insurance business, Jack McHugh. We never left the office without a plan. It was a constant goal-setting process and feeling of achievement.

I also think you have to have a mentor. I had one in the life insurance business and Josh was my mentor in the car business. He lent me some money to become a partner and I borrowed as much as I could from the bank. Once (the banks) saw that I was successful, they believed in me and I could borrow more as we grew larger.

What makes an entrepreneur?

You can have all the degrees in the world, but a strong, positive attitude is the most important thing. It gives you purpose. Of course, you have to have skills and talent, but positive attitude is your engine; without it you can't run the race.

To step out of your comfort zone is a risk if you're working for a company that offers education, advancement opportunities and other forms of security. I think people look for security too often. I say take risk, and try challenging things and you'll improve your position in life.

Talk about some of the challenges you've had to overcome.

You're always in competition with everyone else, so you have to try to stay ahead of them and work harder. The challenges we faced back then are pretty much the same as they are today: You sell cars one at a time.

I've been through General Motors' strikes, recessions, oil embargoes; it takes leadership from me and my team to get through tough times. During the latest recession, we cut expenses by $2.5 million. We looked at the budget and did it in just a few hours. You have to do what you have to do. Making tough decisions improves success.

You have to make tough decisions, but don't make the mistake of not explaining them to employees. In the last recession, we had an all-company meeting. We had decided we didn't want to lay off a single employee. In the meeting, we told employees they will keep their jobs, but we have to cut expenses, including a 5 percent cut in pay. I asked if they would rather lose 5 percent of their pay or see a fellow employee lose his job. They all took the pay cut with a great attitude. We've since added the 5 percent back.

How do you give back?

One of our business goals is good corporate citizenship. This is where my satisfaction comes from today. Our foundation, Champions for Kids, is 19 years old and we've raised more than $3 million. We've given it all back to youth-focused needs and we give it all locally. Almost 100 percent goes back to the charities we support.

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