Teaching the auto retail titans

As many of today"s auto-retail titans mentor the next generation of leaders, they recall the guidance they once received from likely — and not-so-likely — sources.

Penske Automotive Group Inc. Chairman Roger Pen- ske had his father, Jay, as a mentor and benefactor. Jay Penske lent his life savings to his son so Roger could buy his first dealership.

Dealers Don Flow and Rick Ford list former AutoNation Inc. COO Mike Maroone as one of their key teachers. And dealer and former White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty has three big-name mentors. Perhaps surprisingly, his friend and onetime boss, former President Bill Clinton, is not among them.

Talk to these well-known dealers, and a common theme emerges: Their mentors, as well as those who most influenced them even if not in a formal mentor relationship, challenged them to embrace leadership as a privilege.

Just ask Flow. His early mentor, former furniture company executive Max De Pree, once asked a young Flow if he had "the courage to be a leader." Admittedly naive at the time, Flow replied, "Max, what does that mean?"

"He said, "Leadership is the serious meddling in the life of another person because you"re in the business of forming another person," " said Flow, CEO of Flow Automotive Cos. in Winston-Salem, N.C. " "The quality of your leadership will be measured in the improvement in the people around you — not just in the results, but in the people." "

De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller Inc., died in August at age 92.

McLarty’s two other famous mentors are Sam Walton, left, and Lee Iacocca.

Lessons learned

Most retail titans have a long list of mentors. Most include the traditional advisers: parents, teachers and former bosses.

But others are unexpected. McLarty is chairman of McLarty Cos., a fourth-generation family-owned dealership business in Little Rock, Ark. He was Clinton"s first White House chief of staff and an adviser to Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.

Despite a lifelong friendship with Clinton, McLarty"s mentor sat across the aisle.

"It was George H.W. Bush," McLarty told Automotive News. "Obviously, I supported Gov. Bill Clinton when he ran against President Bush, but I had the privilege of working with President Bush through presidential commissions he"d appointed me to."

Bush taught McLarty the power of building relationships to achieve goals. McLarty said Bush was "masterful" at establishing trust to form "one-on-one relationships."

McLarty"s two other famous mentors are former Chrysler boss Lee Iacocca, whom McLarty met at age 25, and Walmart founder Sam Walton, whom McLarty met early in his auto retail career. Iacocca taught McLarty how to market a vision. Walton taught him the power of deference.

Walton "had remarkable insight into his employees, whom he called his associates," McLarty said. "Other retailers laughed at that, but it was a sign of respect. He had ordinary people doing extraordinary things."

That also dovetails with McLarty"s view that, while auto retailing is a "tough business," he needs to hark back to what his parents taught him: Don"t lose your humanity being competitive.

Perhaps surprisingly, Lithia Motors Inc. CEO Bryan DeBoer does not consider his legendary father, Sid DeBoer, founder of the Medford, Ore., dealership group, as his mentor. "Sid and Dick Heimann, who was Sid"s operational partner, were bosses, not so much mentors," DeBoer told Automotive News.

When it comes to his mentors, DeBoer said, "I think about a gentleman named Jerry Taylor, who was one of our board members. I think about [board member] Maryann Keller, who was wonderful and still today, we talk often."

Taylor held a variety of executive roles at Applied Materials Inc., a manufacturer of semiconductor equipment, from 1984 to 2000. He was a director at Lithia in 2000-07. Keller was a Wall Street analyst focused on the auto industry for 28 years and has been on many companies" boards.

DeBoer also said the late Oregon businessman Sam Davis taught him to always ponder, "What are you trying to accomplish in life and what are you trying to leave this world with?"

Rick Ford says his mentors taught him about the car business "at a deeper level."

For example, Buz Post, a former dealer in Texas, taught Ford how to "create loyalty" in employees. Post paid modest salaries, but had dedicated employee allegiance, said Ford, CEO of RFJ Auto Partners Inc. in Plano, Texas. Ford said Post earned that employee devotion through his ability to inspire and his interest in helping people grow in their careers.

Another was Maroone. He coached Ford on organization and time management when Ford worked for AutoNation.

"Even today, whenever I have big, difficult decisions I"m wrestling with, I"ll call Mike to get his input," said Ford. "He has no interest in our company, but he"s willing to give me the time and that feedback because he"s always there to help."

Dealer Don Flow, left, with one of his mentors, Mike Maroone.

Pay it forward

Maroone, along with other big-name dealers John Bergstrom, Carl Sewell and Joe Serra, are among Flow"s mentors.

"From each, I"ve learned something different," said Flow. "They"ve challenged me, cared about me and believed in me."

As a result, Flow mentors others inside and outside his company. He regularly holds breakfast meetings with young people. Also, Flow developed a leadership acronym, SERVE, which stands for show respect, earn trust, reach for perfection, value input and energize others.

"I"m a person who exercises faith, lives love and brings hope," said Flow. "I don"t want to be a person who brings despair. I want to say, "What can we do?" And when I"m with you, I don"t want you to feel like I"m beating you up over anything. The world"s tough enough as it is for most of us."

Sonic Automotive Inc."s Jeff Dyke agrees. He credits his mother for encouraging him to be authentic and take chances. He got the gumption for risk-taking from one of his mentors: Sonic"s founder, O. Bruton Smith.

"He has the best courage of anybody I"ve ever met," said Dyke, Sonic"s executive vice president of operations. "He says, "Go do your best and some things are going to work out great for you. Some things aren"t, but keep trying." At 91 years old, he has that mentality."

Dyke has lunch once a month with Smith. In between, Dyke mentors others, including Sonic"s Divisional Vice President Karen McKemie, who was honored in 2015 as one of Automotive News" 100 Leading Women in the North American Automotive Industry.

When asked in 2015, "Who has had the biggest influence on your career?" McKemie said, "Jeff Dyke. He never focused on the things I didn"t know; he always focused on the energy, enthusiasm and hard work I was willing to put in."

Dyke said he told McKemie early in her career, "You"re in a male world in the auto industry," but he encouraged her to keep learning and grow, believing in mentoring others.

"It"s incumbent on leaders to find out from their team what their dreams are, not what your dreams are. "Tell me what you want to do in your life and then let me help you, with my experience, achieve your dream," " said Dyke.

It paid off, Dyke said. "I couldn"t have a better compliment than to have someone call my name out as a part of their mentorship."

Nguồn: www.autonews.com