Channel | Industry

Who’s Who 2017

AE checked in with some of the industry’s leading executives, forward thinkers and newcomers already making their mark. Get an in-depth look at their views of today’s automotive market.
By: Kate Spatafora

Who’s Who 2017

When the team here at AE sat down to begin planning this issue, the hardest task was deciding how we could possibly narrow down the participants to fit in one issue. There are currently so many individuals in this industry making strides and moving us forward on a daily basis. It was no easy task, but I am so pleased to share the “2017 Who’s Who” honorees with you! We picked their brains on topics ranging from greatest mentors, their early days in the field, the future of the automotive industry and how they would help newcomers to this career path. Not surprisingly, in reading their responses, there was one theme that carried through all submissions. It had nothing to do with new regulations, or the technological advances that seem to be thrown at us on a daily basis, or even the current issues the industry is facing. Almost every honoree in the coming pages made mention of how crucial and valuable relationships are to this business. It’s the people, you as readers, these honorees and all the clients and customers that keep us doing what we do. So, before I give it all away … please enjoy the thoughts and advice of the “2017 Who’s Who” honorees.

John Braganini

Principal
Great Lakes Companies

What drew you to the automotive industry? Unlimited income and growth opportunity in the most lucrative industry in the country. In 1986, there was very little downside risk in starting an agency and there was a shortage of agents and providers. Auto dealers are risk takers and entrepreneurs, a personality type I identify with. In addition, the opportunity to learn a wide variety of sales and operational processes kept the industry and career opportunity fresh.

What has been your top professional achievement? Completing my MBA in 2013. I always felt that not having any formal business education had held me back, and I was right. The skills that I was able to acquire in the program at Northwood’s Devos Graduate School have paid huge dividends in a short period of time. It was a night program that required 12 to 15 hours of independent study and I graduated with top honors. I worked very hard for that distinction and it remains at the top of my list.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Before the millennium decade, an agent simply needed a sound product strategy, consistent product support and service, and product training to succeed. Today, the internet and the proliferation of competitors have created an oversupply of product solutions. Anyone entering the industry today needs to have a value proposition that lives independent of the product. The overwhelming option is development services whereby the agent has a self-contained, turnkey solution to increasing PRU in a store.  If you can’t create an immediate impact in a dealership, you will likely fail at getting off the ground. You also need to be well-capitalized and be able to go at least a year without getting paid.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? Nearly every retail industry has either consolidated or is in the process of doing so.  Retail auto, F&I providers and the agent network are beginning to. The oversupply of providers, agents, F&I trainers and the internet are all driving down commissions and facilitating a path for dealers to acquire products and services more efficiently and oftentimes direct. Dealer groups are learning how to set up their own agencies and buy their products directly from providers who don’t embrace the agency system.  In addition, providers are acquiring agencies in an effort to gain control of their distribution.

Patrick Brown

President and CEO
IAS

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? My grandfather and mother have been two of the greatest mentors in my life – each in different ways, but they both help institute core values of integrity, self-discipline, unselfishness, hard work, and spirituality. I am forever grateful to them!

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Because the industry is changing so quickly on several fronts, being new to the industry can actually be an advantage. We are seeing rapid changes with electric/hybrid vehicles, online sales, online financing, autonomous vehicles and more. This rapidly changing environment requires us to think differently and challenge the traditional orthodoxies or sacred cows that exist in the industry. It’s imperative to learn and absorb as much as you can from longtime industry mentors, while also challenging the norm.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? I was fortunate enough to have been born in the United States, but we lived all over the world when I was growing up. Having lived abroad until coming back to the States for college is one of the most interesting experiences in my life. It has given me a unique perspective on life and business.

Where do you see the industry  going five years from now? Is there anything  in
particular you hope will  change?
Because of access to incredible amounts of information on the internet, consumers are the most informed they’ve ever been. Consumers can research everything about a car before walking into the dealership as well as while they are in the dealership. This has given them tremendous leverage because they know the make, model, color, options and price range of the car they want. As more information becomes available, it will continue to change how consumers buy vehicles in the next five to 10 years.

Brian Crisorio

Vice President 
United Development Systems, Inc.

What drew you to the automotive industry? Family. I grew up witnessing firsthand what a great career opportunity the automotive industry could provide as well as the life it could provide me and my family. My father, Randy Crisorio, had built UDS into a real contender on every level in the F&I performance arena, and I believed that my second-generation perspective could help propel it into something even more special.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? My father has also been my greatest mentor in business and beyond. His 40-plus years of experience and knowledge as a leader have taught me countless lessons that will assist me throughout my career. This business is based so much on relationships built on integrity, trust and commitment; without those traits derived from him, I would not be where I am today.

What do you enjoy most about this business? The complexity. The F&I space is so critical to overall dealership performance and with so many variables adding up to a successful department, it creates a nice barrier between real development companies and the imitators. There is very real satisfaction in taking an active role in advancing the career of an individual business manager, just as there is satisfaction in creating the right recipe for success that pays big rewards for the dealer. Not everybody is set up to do that, but we at UDS enjoy facing those challenges and seeing the rewards for our clients.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? The industry is changing, there is no doubt about it. Technology has become the standard and is constantly evolving at a rapid pace. The automotive retail customer is changing as younger generations make up a larger percentage of customers. Compliance and oversight are here to stay. Five years from now, I envision an even more streamlined process utilizing more technology that promotes a consumer-friendly, interactive, and process-driven experience. There is nothing specific that I hope will change. We are operating in an industry guided by many forces; we at UDS will continue to adapt and keep sights on staying relevant and valuable to our dealer partners.

Matt Croak

President 
Wise F&I 

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I have had a number of great people in my life that I could call a mentor.  But, if I have to focus on one person, it would be my grandfather, R.D. Croak. R.D. was president of American Bankers in Florida when I was born. He moved back to St. Louis shortly after and started a small business that acted as a reinsurance intermediary, and also worked in the credit insurance space. R.D. grew up in the slums of St. Louis, overcame adversity, and played on the 1946 Cotton Bowl team for Mizzou. (Go Tigers!) He became very successful through hard work, diligence, knowledge and the ability to form long-standing relationships with business partners by being someone they could always count on.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Always do the right thing, even if it is not popular or contains bad news. Your reputation is everything, especially in this industry. Over the long haul, people need to know that you are trustworthy, competent, and diligent. This industry is large, but small at the same time. I know that is an odd thing to say, but what I mean is that word travels quickly in this business, and what you do (or don’t do) will always come back to help or hurt you.

What do you enjoy most about this business? Relationships. The relationships that I have been able to foster with our business partners are beyond measure. Our business is one where we have to depend on others and they have to depend on us. I like the team feeling that exists in our business and truly enjoy the people that we work with. Also, the current landscape of the industry is changing, and I love the drive that we are all making to develop better processes using new technology. I feel like the automotive industry has been behind the curve to some degree when it comes to technological change, but we are making huge strides as an industry and company – and it is fun to be a part of the growth.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? I started volunteering for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and had the honor of taking Make-A-Wish kids on high-speed boat rides. Every ride resulted in smiles all around, and I have fostered relationships with some of the people that I was fortunate enough to meet. I have been involved in a number of charitable events in the past and I love all of them, but this gave me an opportunity to bring joy to kids with a life-threatening medical condition by sharing my passion for boating. Their stories can be sad, of course, but more importantly, they can be inspiring and motivating and can give a person a little bit more faith in the human spirit.

Dylan Doran

President
Western Fidelity Insured Services

What drew you to the automotive industry? The people drew me to this business. The industry is filled with large personalities, ex-athletes, and people that wake up each day and put it all on the line. The energy in the automotive business is like no other industry that I have found. I started full-time in the retail side in 1994 and, through the last 23 years, I’ve been blessed to work closely with some of the largest personalities and highest energy, charisma and big-thinking attitudes. The thought of working in a corner office just never appealed to me.

What advice would you give to someone new to the industry? Think BIG and don’t stop. Push yourself hard and work. I can’t think of any industry where a high school dropout has the same opportunity as an Ivy League MBA to build a career replete of so many rewards as our industry. There is no ceiling for someone willing to make the commitment to be great.

What has been your top professional achievement? For me, it was leaving a senior-executive level position in a Fortune 100 company to start my business. Life was very good while I held a vice president position with Protective Life, and making the decision to go from that to scrubbing the toilets and my office on Sundays was uncomfortable and nerve-racking. With blurry vision and uneasy nerves I started Western Fidelity Insured Services in March of 2104, and as the decision became final, my focus became laser sharp and the universe kinda just started to get out of my way.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Continued consolidation is a foregone conclusion – not just with the public retailers, but with several segments across our industry. In the last three years, we have watched several major acquisitions, including insurance providers acquiring administrators, administration companies acquiring agencies, and agencies acquiring other agencies. Margin pressure is here to stay. Retailers have always faced challenges as our economy ebbs and flows, but the race to the bottom has never been this swift. Pressure from manufacturers to build elaborate facilities, with lofty sales objectives tied to advertising allowance and allocation – combined with shrinking margins – has created a climate that affects their relationships with vendors and suppliers. Our industry would benefit from manufacturers creating products that the public gets excited about without having to create sales incentives to move product, bringing back the model of selling value in our brands and our products. This could foster an environment where we could attract more young professionals to this incredible business and we could get back to selling cars as they should be sold.

Doug Frey

EVP of New Agency Relationships and Acquisitions
EasyCare

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? My diverse experience has been a catalyst to my team’s successes.  These diverse roles have helped me anticipate changes in the industry.  I see more consolidation across the entire industry.  Big players will buy successful smaller companies and agencies as car sales decline.  As profits get squeezed, companies will look for acquisitions to grow.  In five years, the slowdown will force companies to retrench and some companies will exit the business.

What has been your top professional achievement? Thirty years into my F&I career with about 15 years to go, there are many achievements remaining. Past achievements have been the results of great teams. The most notable, the acquisition of Universal Warranty (UWC) in 2000. Ironically, at GMAC Insurance (GMACI), my first acquisition target was EasyCare. When the acquisition stalled, Larry Dorfman sold EasyCare to Ford, and GMACI acquired UWC. We grew UWC to seven times the size in nine years. I like making entities better and stronger from acquisitions.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? John Boris and Jeff Moon were great mentors at GMACI and UWC.  John from the way we combined the two businesses using the GMACI strength and maintaining the UWC entrepreneurial spirit. Jeff Moon eliminated the “factory is always right” culture and changed it to “agents are your customers.” We earned the agent’s business every day. These qualities exist in Larry Dorfman and he will continue to be a mentor.  Larry and I look for growth opportunities via acquisition. Larry provides agents tools way beyond great products, so they become integral to their dealers.  That is why EasyCare rarely loses a dealer. Because of these mentors, I cannot wait to create the next success!

Jason Garner

Senior Vice President of Sales and Business Development
AUL Corp.

What drew you to the automotive industry? It was by accident really. I graduated as a finance major and was looking to join a corporation in finance, climb the corporate ladder, etc. My friend was working at AUL and set up an interview for me. It was the amount of money and opportunity in the car business that drew me to it. Being involved in what was at the time, a developing market (specializing in used-car VSC), was particularly interesting to me.

What has been your top professional achievement? I was the 23rd employee of AUL.  Since the beginning, I’ve been part of and have driven creative VSC solutions for our agent and dealer clients. Being in and around the center of an organization going from a small start-up to a leader in the industry would be my top professional achievement.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? Luis Nieves.  He had the courage to bring to market a new program in a time when the industry certainly wasn’t looking for or even ready for a high-mileage used-car VSC. He had the vision and the courage to persevere and create not only an industry leader, but an unbelievable culture within AUL.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? I’ve worn every hat in sales in AUL during my years. It’s a great industry with many opportunities. There is always a current of change that is inspiring and allows you to think creatively.  Focus on finding roles where you can learn, and make sure if you are not working for yourself, you are working for someone you admire.

What do you enjoy most about this business? First and foremost, the people in the business, I’ve built many great friendships through the years.  Developing the next generation of leadership at AUL is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.  On a daily basis though, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see something I’ve not seen before or learned something I didn’t know; it’s never boring and always challenging.

Jason Gillette

Vice President of Sales & Marketing
StoneEagle

What drew you to the automotive industry? I joined StoneEagle 15 years ago to deliver technology solutions to this rapidly changing industry. It’s been remarkable to experience the evolution of the automotive industry firsthand and very gratifying to provide dealers, general agents, F&I product administrators and OEMs with innovative solutions that help them thrive as this industry continues to advance.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? My father, Jay Gillette, is my greatest mentor. He has 38 years of experience in the automotive industry, a stronger work ethic than any person I know and a network of personal and professional relationships built upon his unwavering commitment to integrity, loyalty and honesty. I am grateful to work with him today and truly appreciate his continued advice and guidance.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? There is no substitute for hard work and persistence. Join a company with a clear strategy, focused on delivering exceptional customer service. Stay true to your core values, listen and always be willing to learn. Put in the hours and don’t expect immediate success.

What do you enjoy most about this business? I truly enjoy cultivating long-term relationships with dealers, general agents, F&I product administrators, and OEMs. It is phenomenal to see our solutions utilized by these organizations to streamline their operations and increase profitability. I am proud to work with a tremendous team that is dedicated to developing innovative solutions and delivering exceptional service to our business partners across this rapidly changing industry.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? My grandfather was a B-17 bomber captain and squadron commander during World War II. In 2005, he was invited to attend a ceremony in Ségrie-Fontaine, Normandy, France, where his B-17 crashed after it was shot down. My father and I attended the ceremony with him and the entire town was there to honor him and the crew members for their service. The mayor unveiled a monument dedicated to the crew members and my grandfather gave a wonderful speech. It was a true honor to attend this event with my grandfather before he passed away in 2007.

Laura Hetland

Senior Vice President
American Financial & Automotive Services, Inc.

What drew you to the automotive industry? I grew up in the automotive industry and was provided the opportunity to start working with the American Financial companies during graduate school. It’s been a great place to spend my career.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? My father has been my greatest mentor. He sets a tremendous example of how to live selflessly and help others succeed. His leadership, both personally and professionally, have had a large impact on my life.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? The automotive industry provides a great opportunity for one to build his or her career.  Learn as much as you can from every person you encounter.  If you uphold your values and work hard, you will succeed.

What do you enjoy most about this business? I love this business because I learn something new everyday. It’s ever-changing and allows one to continually grow. Working with and mentoring new associates into our business is most enjoyable for me.  It’s exciting to see the professionalism and talent of the up-and-coming generation that will lead our industry.

Greg Hoffman

President and CEO
Resources Management Group

What drew you to the automotive industry? While in college, I was introduced to the owner of a large group of dealerships and was offered an internship. I spent my college years, including summers, learning every aspect of dealership operations and thrived on the competitiveness and dynamics of the industry.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I have had the good fortune of working with so many great car dealers and leaders in the industry. All have had a significant impact on me. Three who stand out are Bob Crabtree, Fred Hertrich and Judd Hurd, whom I met early in my career. Each dealer had strong organizations built around talented and committed people, with a strong focus on process and accountability, and most importantly, they always recognized everyone’s contributions. I can’t think of any better guiding principles.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? This is a great industry and a vital part of dealerships’ success. If you approach every day with enthusiasm, commitment and integrity to do what’s best at all times for your dealer clients, the rest will take care of itself.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? Continued consolidation of dealers, administrators and agencies will accelerate. The winners will be the ones with the best process, adaptability, client experience and ability to distinguish themselves among their peers. Technology will continue to weigh heavily on every aspect of agency duties and processes, but with a premium placed on highly talented F&I professionals.

Jennifer Holcomb

Vice President of Operations
Norman & Company, Inc. / Classic

What drew you to the automotive industry? I started working for my dad and Norman & Company in the basement of our house in Ohio when I was 12 years old, as I wanted to earn more money than just my allowance. I did mailers and marketing work for him for years. After college and working in both the copier and computer industries, I came in to help Norm and Jerry with some growing pains they were contending with and never left. I went out in the field for years and then came into the office and really enjoyed learning everything about how the aftermarket industry works from both sides. I love numbers and math, so it’s useful in analyzing claims and risk and everything in-between.  I enjoy our employees and am always interested in finding better ways to help them streamline their jobs and foster a more creative and enjoyable time for them at the office. I enjoy all the relationships we have built with our partners, agents and dealers as so many of them are long-term and I feel like we really know them, besides just their product needs.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? Besides my children, I would say that it was when I was in my early 20s and I was lucky enough to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris for five days and travel back and forth on the Concorde.  To be so young and able to travel through Paris and meet so many people was phenomenal. The Concorde was beyond a luxurious experience that I remember in detail to this day, and the people I talked to on the flight both ways were unique and inspiring. There was a software executive whom the stewards allowed to bring his dog with him in-flight because he took the trip monthly. He was kind enough to give us francs as we didn’t have time to exchange money at the airport. I also remember a gentleman who owned the European equi-valent of Best Buy who was traveling to New York with his grandson to see American culture.

Mackie Hughes

Division President
Simoniz Specialty Markets

What drew you to the automotive industry? While working in the clothing industry, one of my best customers was a car dealer. He always dressed well and continued to ask me to come to work for him. I finally relented, and the rest, as they say, is history!

What has been your top professional achievement? Besides being named division president at Simoniz two and a half years ago, I would say being named as the top service contract seller for Mazda Credit back when I worked in the F&I department as a producer as well as top F&I producer early in my career at Paul Miller Ford Mazda.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I can’t say that I have had one great mentor; over the years, I have had many! I have always tried to have a circle of influence representing a lot of different backgrounds to use as sounding boards. Each of these influencers have varied backgrounds and bring completely different perspectives to my questions or concerns.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Go to work for a company that respects and nurtures their employees. Find a path that fits your personality, whether it’s in service, car sales, F&I and/or management and stay put. Immerse yourself in the industry and stay current by reading the industry magazines. Continue to educate yourself and build your résumé for the next big opportunity and then, of course, outperform the other guy. The car industry can provide a lucrative and stable workflow if you stay the course.

What do you enjoy most about this business? The people I work with and meet. Every day I find the auto industry to be one of the most diverse group of individuals all striving for the same common goal: a sale!

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? Outside of the industry, I would say that raising three kids – two through college and one playing college soccer and finishing her degree.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? The industry continues to work on its image by making things more transparent as well as compliant. Consumers want quick turnaround and ease of mind.

Joel Kansanback – President
Bill Kelly – Partner

Automotive Development Group

What has been your top professional achievement? It is hard to say what our top achievement has been over the past 13 years since our partnership, but if we had to say one thing I think it would be the fantastic ADG team that we have assembled to support and grow our dealer partners.

What advice would you give to someone new to the industry? When we started in this venture together, we basically had three products to offer dealers: service contracts, GAP and credit insurance.  We found out you have to be flexible and follow what the industry wants and needs to be successful, and we now have over 40 different product programs to complement our customized training. We have been successful by always reinvesting a portion of our revenue to innovation and finding ways to better our client relationships by offering them more.

What do you enjoy most about the business? The fast-paced nature of the automotive industry is very addictive. You cannot just sit back or you will watch the rest of the market fly by you.  We love being the guys that are setting standards, innovating processes and building strong foundations. This industry will reward you for doing business the right way and that keeps us driving to continue helping our dealers achieve operational excellence.

Where do we see the industry going in five years? If only we had a crystal ball … From self-driving vehicles to a major increase in 100% electric vehicles to who knows what.   The industry is evolving and you have to be ready for a new adventure. We will still have dealerships selling cars and trucks like we always have, but we will be doing it a little differently by being proactive in our approach to what the customer wants and needs to make the whole experience of owning or sharing a vehicle a positive one.  Finally, training and reinsurance will become more important to dealers as ways to gain a competitive advantage and increase their profits.

Kumar Kathinokkula

Chief Operating Officer
F&I Administration Solutions

What drew you to the automotive industry? I have always been deeply interested in cars and motorcycles. In my working life, the complexity and breadth of the auto industry fascinated me. When the opportunity presented itself, I found F&I to be a natural progression from my years of insurance experience at Deloitte & CGI.

What has been your top professional achievement? My top achievement has been growing F&I Admin over the last nine years. In that time, we have gone from seven customers connected to one menu partner to 63 customers connected to 80-plus menu and other partners. We have evolved from six-month releases to monthly releases to keep up with the pace of change in the industry. We now have enough critical mass to deliver two great solutions, and a third is coming in six months. In the next two years, you will see innovations at an unprecedented speed, and I can’t wait to get these out to our customers.

What do you enjoy most about this business? The breadth, depth, complexity and pace of change keep increasing every day and that keeps things very interesting. As well, I like bringing together the myriad partners that have to collaborate in order to deliver value to the F&I customer.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? Coming to America. It was a transformative experience for an impressionable 22- year-old.  It is hard to describe what that is like, to cross continents to make a home elsewhere. I had to become a radically different person to survive here and I enjoyed all the nights and days of extreme hard work that it took for me to do so.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? The present is ripe for disruption. In the future, technology and data will play a central role in providing the right product to the right consumer at the right time with the right experience. And F&I Admin will be in the middle of it. Stay tuned.

Rick Kurtz

Senior Vice President of Distribution 
Protective Asset Protection

What drew you to the automotive industry? I was in the midst of a post-college job search when an opportunity in Chicago arose. The woman I was dating at the time lived in Chicago so I immediately accepted the offer. The woman is Yvette, my wife of 28 years, and this is my 28th year with Protective – two of the best decisions of my life.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from many talented leaders in our industry, but my father’s influence shaped my ethos. He reinforced the value of work ethic, a commitment to lifelong education and placing the needs of customers and co-workers first.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Focus on improving your customers’ experiences before attempting to better your own position. Be aware of the past, but look to the future. Things in our business change rapidly. Lastly, don’t run from your mistakes – learn from them.

What do you enjoy most about this business? The pace of the industry is exciting, the pressure is exhilarating, the competition is humbling and the lifelong friendships are priceless.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? First, consolidation. While the number of rooftops has remained steady, signs point to more consolidation as vehicle purchase prices decrease with flattening sales. This will also create opportunities for F&I providers that are positioned to make acquisitions. Second, consumer expectations and demands are changing with technology. The vast majority of vehicle research now takes place online and consumers expect product information to be available there as well. With today’s connected car, the ownership experience now has a digital component making vehicle maintenance and repairs more transparent. We are also keeping an eye on market disruptions like car sharing, shared mobility platforms and autonomous vehicles. Third, new distribution models continue to challenge existing models.  Consumers are eager to have the option to purchase their vehicle online. The used-car industry is seeing multiple companies offering this option. Additionally, you have companies like Tesla challenging the dealer model. Finally, regulatory and compliance demands will continue to evolve in the F&I industry. It is critical for F&I providers to be well-informed.

John Luckett

Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing
Resource Agent Group/First Extended 

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? Over my 33 years of working in the automotive industry, two of my most influential mentors were Austin Luckett (my father) and Charlie Robinson (president of Resource Automotive). Working for these leaders profoundly influenced my career, because I not only got the chance to be involved in growing a business, I also got to observe tried-and-true executives and not only learned about what it takes to be successful in business, but also what it means to be a good son, father, husband and friend. These men taught me that leadership means tackling the big issues, but never losing sight of the little things that really make a difference. Good management means finding solutions, regardless of the size of the problem. Budgets and projects are extremely important, but most people care just as much about the ease of doing business. I have carried these beliefs with me throughout my career.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? Successfully summiting Mount Rainier in 2013. That experience challenged me physically and mentally. During the climb at an elevation of around 12,000 feet, we crossed a 20-foot wide crevasse with 200-foot drops on either side wearing crampons and crossing it by stepping on the rungs of an aluminum ladder that was held together with climbing ropes.  We had the privilege of doing it twice – on the way up and the way down.  Both times tested every nerve in my body.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? I read an investor’s strategy article the other day that best describes the retail automotive industry: “The dealer business tends to be cyclical, since its fortunes are tied to the auto industry production levels, gasoline prices, the financial health of the consumer, and the state of the domestic economy. Indeed, dealership groups, even the better managed ones with lean cost structures and extensive ancillary product lines, tend to struggle in tough economic times.” Same-store sales are currently on a slight decline while some regional pockets whose economies are primarily driven by the energy industry are seeing even greater declines.  Our country is currently so politically polarized with no sense of compromise coming from either side it is hard to get a sense of the consumer confidence that will help drive the economy. Additionally, in June 2017, U.S. consumer debt rose 3.9% to $3.856 trillion.  I think we are in for a stagnant to declining cycle creating stress for dealers who are not well-positioned to operate in leaner times.  Staying true to the basics and partnering with the right providers will help dealers navigate through the next five years. I hope our country can heal and start listening to each other’s point of view and then find common ground on what is good for our country, even if that means compromising.

Rick McCormick

National Account Development Manager
Reahard & Associates, Inc.

What drew you to the automotive business? I got into this business by accident and never intended to stay long. Now, almost two decades later, I can’t imagine any other business I would want to serve in. I discovered early that this business is not about selling but all about building relationships and helping people. The two things that excite me every day is what relationship will I start or strengthen today and whom will I be able to help? This business is fun!

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? My dad was an incredible mentor! He taught me the three most important traits of a successful person were to show up every day, show up early and outwork everyone else. He personally modeled that work ethic trumps everything. Also, Ron Reahard gave me an opportunity to enter the training side of this business. He challenges me to stretch my talents every day and has taught me more than I could ever repay. He has thrust me to the forefront of the F&I discussion and has cheered me on every step of the way.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Commit to the process of personal development and continuous improvement and never think you have arrived! To create a better future, you must become a better you. Seek out those that have been successful and learn from them. Read, read and then read some more.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change?  The only thing we can know for sure is that each year the adaptation of technology into our process will become more in-depth and at a more rapid pace. Real-time data will provide more efficient processes that customers appreciate. However, I do hope the expectation of technology to be a “fixer” will become more focused on its true role of being a facilitator.

Rick Meinke

National Sales Manager
ECP Incorporated

What drew you to the automotive industry? Mainly my father in-law. He told me how good the money was and he thought that I would do well. It did take him a few years to convert me, but eventually, I made the change and excelled at it.

What has been your top professional achievement? I would say that when I have a salesperson with little to no experience, I get the pleasure to work with them and watch him or her become successful. That is what it’s all about for me. I love to be involved in people’s development. I get such a thrill when the success starts to happen.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I wouldn’t say there has been one particular person who has taken on that role. I challenge myself to learn and grow from everyone I meet. For the most part, I have four influences that have made an impact in my life. To start, my uncle, who taught me a lot about myself and helped me to become more self-confident. Then there was my drill sargent in the Army who taught me about self-discipline and responsibility. My younger brother, who I always looked up to for his strong desire and drive to want to be a winner and always do what it takes. Finally, my wife, who has always been companionate, supportive and understanding.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry?  I would tell them to work hard, but work smart. Meaning to set goals and have a good plan to reach them. Continuously look for opportunities, they are always fleeting so be prepared to take advantage of them. And my favorite piece of advice would be to understand what your comfort zones are and keep trying to reach out of them in everything you do, in your personal and professional paths as you will not see growth staying inside the lines.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? Watching the growth of my children from the day they were born to seeing them now getting married and having children of their own has been my greatest experience.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? I have seen, as many of us have, the disappearance of single-point dealerships or independent agencies. I think that this will continue over the next five years.

Mike Melby

Vice President of Strategy and Business Development
GWC Warranty

What drew you to the automotive industry? Throughout my career, I’ve known nothing but the auto industry. For over 30 years, I’ve worked in sales, credit operations, F&I product development and numerous other areas of the car business. Working for some of the industry’s biggest players like GMAC and AutoNation was the perfect way for me to blend my passion for business with what is now a deeply rooted connection to the auto industry.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? Working for Rob Glander, GWC Warranty’s president and CEO, has been a highlight of my career. We’ve known each other for almost 25 years and have worked together on three other occasions prior to teaming up again at GWC. Rob is the most intelligent leader I’ve ever encountered, and has always maintained a steadfast focus on culture and values. At GWC, we live our values each day – fair, friendly, focused, engaged and accountable – so we can provide a best-in-class experience for agents, dealers and end customers. It’s Rob’s commitment to strong values that made it an easy decision to move my family from the sunny shores of South Florida to the Endless Mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. It was a leap of faith to make the move north eight years ago, but it was one made easy because of the opportunity to join Rob in building the truly special culture that defines GWC today.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? To put it simply, I would advise newcomers to the industry to do things the right way. At times, in this industry we see companies and individuals looking to get rich overnight. But if you do things the right way and catch on with a company with strong leadership and strong values, you can be part of something special.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? As reputation becomes more important than ever for dealers, I can see a shift toward dealers and agents focusing on value first and foremost when selecting partner providers. At GWC, we have 20-plus years of underwriting experience to help agents avoid the risk that exists with some other service contract providers. We’re confident that maintaining focus on being a best-in-class provider will help us attract like-minded agents whose dealers have a close eye on their reputations and understand the impact a quality VSC provider can have on that aspect of their businesses.

Alan Miller

Senior Vice President of Sales
CNA National

What drew you to the automotive industry? I have always loved cars and grew up in a part of the country where many of my friends and their families worked in auto-related businesses. Wholesalers, franchise and independent dealers, vehicle reconditioning shops, body shops and auto repair shops were a large part of our local economy. Because of that exposure, I decided to try my hand at car sales. Once in the business, I knew that I had found the right opportunity for me. That was in 1979, and since then I have worked either for dealers or in F&I.  The automotive industry is a vital part of the American economy and within it I have found some of the smartest and most capable business professionals. Managing change and the constant challenge of providing value to clients continues to motivate me to learn every day.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? I have always and continue to advise newcomers to our industry to listen more and talk less. Network, always keep your word and spend as much time as you can with experienced, successful people. Also, remember that knowing, understanding and, most importantly, believing in your company and products is critical for success. Focus on value first, price second. Attend industry functions and read everything related to our industry.

What do you enjoy most about this business? This is the easy question. It’s the people! I really enjoy the relationships I have built over the years and the good friends with whom I continue to spend time. I also enjoy the challenge of managing through the changes in our industry and the constant push for new ideas, products, services, etc. This need for continuous improvement has enabled me to work with some amazingly talented individuals who have been a wonderful source of knowledge and inspiration, which has helped me become a better leader and team member.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? The most interesting experience in my life (with the exception of the births of my two beautiful daughters) was spending time in China. Visiting Tiananmen Square, the Great Hall of the People, and the Forbidden City, and walking on the Great Wall were just a few of the fascinating aspects of my visit. I also really enjoyed the people that I met, especially when they shared what they know (or, more accurately, have been taught by their government) about Americans. It made me realize how fortunate we are to live in a free, open country.

David Neuenschwander

President and Partner
National Automotive Experts / NWAN

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? Personally, or professionally, my grandfather has served as my “go-to” for most of my life.  He has taught me many, many valuable lessons along the way.  Probably the most impactful lesson learned is that only you are responsible for your success and failure.  Take a long and hard look in the reality mirror every day and hold yourself accountable.  Where there is accountability, there will be results.  I continue to rely on him for thoughts and input – but that lesson stands out.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? I would tell anyone new that there is not a better industry to be walking into.  For sustained success, make sure to focus on the customer.  If the customer is taken care of, everything else will fall into place.  There are many layers of customers that we serve, but in the end, the product-buying consumer is the most important.  They need what we have and they spend their hard-earned money on our products and services.  If you take care of the customer, the customer will take care of you.

What do you enjoy most about this business? I enjoy the variety of people that I am able to interact with on a regular basis.  There are so many levels of interaction, which ensures that every day is new and different.  Communication and interaction with end consumers, dealership associates, other venders or suppliers, manufactures and my own internal associates makes for lively and entertaining work days!

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? If only I had a crystal ball…  If I am being very honest, I have no idea what the industry will look like in five years.  I do believe the way the industry conducts business will be dramatically different.  The products and processes of yesterday and today will not survive for another five years.  Customers demand a better product and process.  Technology reliance and dependence is forcing dramatic changes in the sale and distribution of products.  Technology advancements will not slow down and our industry must reinvent itself to keep up.

Adam Pope

President
Warranty Solutions

What drew you to the automotive industry? I started my career as a meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force and when I decided to leave the military I was in the St. Louis area and landed a job at Maritz Performance Improvement Company. It was here that I got my first taste of the automotive industry working on dealer and customer cash incentive programs. Maritz pioneered dealer and customer incentive programs back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and working on the development of those programs got me hooked on the automotive industry.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? Richard Recchia, a former Chrysler senior executive and founding president of Mitsubishi Motors North America was my greatest mentor. After leaving Maritz I went to work for Mitsubishi Motors in Cypress, Calif. and Richard took me under his wing and provided great advice and guidance that continues to help me in my career today. Whenever I would feel down or frustrated Richard always reminded me that cream always rises to the top.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? The automotive industry is very much a relationship business and is very small. My advice to someone new to the industry is not to burn any bridges with any of your colleagues. You will wind up working with them again at some point in the future, and relationships are critical to your success in this business.

What do you enjoy most about this business? What I enjoy most about this business is that cars and trucks are fun. When you boil it down, a car is just an appliance that gets you from Point A to Point B, but in reality it is so much more. There is a strong emotional connection with customers and their vehicles. In the dealership, it becomes an emotional transaction, and the vehicle is a status symbol that makes a statement about the customer. It really is a fun and exciting business.

Brian Reed

President and CEO
F&I Express

What has been your top professional achievement? In 2010, F&I Express hosted an eContracting Summit at NADA. Very few F&I providers knew who we were and we were not sure if anyone would show up. We were pleased that when the Summit kicked off we had a room full of about 70 people.  The companies in attendance that day are now customers of F&I Express. As much as we are a technology company, our product is really the service that we provide to F&I providers, agents and dealers. To be the person that started the company (basically in my house) to a company that has won numerous awards and does business with more than 130 F&I providers, more than 150 agencies and almost 2,000 dealers tells me that, as a company, we delivered on our promise of service, and we are proud of the service we provide.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Learn the industry, meet the people and provide a product or service that solves the problem for your customers. If you don’t learn the business and meet the people, you will never understand the problems of your customers that you are trying to solve.

What do you enjoy most about this business? The automotive industry is big, the F&I Product industry is much smaller. The business and personal friendships that I have gained with the agent community really started at the very first Agent Summit that I attended.  At the first Agent Summit, I knew a handful of people but the attendance was rather low. At the most recent Agent Summit, I was able to look out at the attendees and safely say that we do business with many of them and many of the agents were people that I can honestly say are my friends.  The agents don’t care if you are a big or small company; they care about how you are as a technology partner and how well you will take care of their dealer customers.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? I see the F&I office converting to a purely electronic process. In the future, this will be a normal part of a customer’s shopping experience. They will not only be shopping for cars,  they will also be educated on protection products online.

Randy Ross

President of Sales
RoadVantage

What drew you to the automotive industry? Interestingly enough I was not drawn into the industry or even thought about it beforehand. I was 18 years old and about to graduate from high school with intent to attend college in Texas when I met a girl whose father was a used-car dealer but was previously the Used-Car Manager at a local Ford dealership in Dallas, where I grew up. After spending some time with him, he told me all about the auto business and how fun it can be. He bought and sold cars to local franchise dealers so I traveled around with him some and really enjoyed it. He said to me, “Why don’t you try selling cars? There is good money in it and I can get you a job at one of the dealerships I do business with.” So that’s what I did. I sold Fords and made more money the first month than my father did as an architect. After that, I never looked back, been in the auto and now F&I provider business 40 years now.

What has been your top professional achievement? In 1997, I was fortunate enough to have been the recipient of the Time magazine Quality Dealer Award as well as the Texas Auto Dealers Association award. The Time award I am especially proud of since it recognizes only 63 dealers annually out of some 20,000 dealers across the nation – not only for outstanding sales and service performance but, maybe more important,  for the contributions to the local community. Certainly both of these awards I am very proud of as it demonstrated the commitment to providing our employees with not only a great place to work, but also a place that encouraged them with the personal rewards in community volunteering.

What do you enjoy most about this business? I enjoy everything about it, but the items that stand out would be the satisfaction I would get watching people develop into great car people. Whether it be a salesperson who eventually becomes a general manager or dealer or being instrumental in growing a young company like RoadVantage six years ago, going from eight employees to almost 60 today. These are the things that keep a smile on my face and what motivates me every day to do what I love.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? I have had several interesting experiences, from being partner in the initial development of Group 1 Automotive to managing four franchises with over 250 employees. But I would have to say that joining Garret Lacour as a partner and steering the sales channel have been most interesting and perhaps rewarding. Garret and I have been friends for over 30 years and I was a dealer client of his for most of those years. Garret and our team today have grown RoadVantage into what is certain to become a leader in the F&I products arena. I would have to say we are perhaps the Apple Computer Company of the ancillary world. We are always seeking better ways to do things.

Bruce Stricklin

Vice President of Operations and IT
GSFSGroup

What drew you to the automotive industry? There is no business more exciting than the automotive industry. The automobile is such a complex product, requiring a complex infrastructure to distribute and support, continually evolving, and sold by larger-than-life, very smart, entrepreneurial dealers. Mathematically, that’s a formula that results in an unmatched, exciting industry to participate in and be an integral part. Today, everything is changing, and who can’t appreciate the current dynamics and turbulence? “Appreciate” doesn’t mean “easy”; in fact, it can be really hard, in a good way. But, that’s what makes getting up every morning so meaningful, with a fresh daily outlook and knowing that using yesterday’s perspective to make decisions will not result in success in the ever-changing auto industry of tomorrow.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? I would tell someone new to the industry to enjoy the ride of the most dynamic industry in the world and to buckle their seatbelt because the industry they work in today will not resemble what they will be working in 10 and 20 years from now. With the advances in batteries and electric cars, autonomous vehicles, online buying and millennial’s views on car ownership, if you don’t like change, find another industry. To be successful in the auto industry, you will need to be a curious, critical thinker unafraid of constantly shifting trends. To profit from and enjoy this opportunity, focus on anticipating the changes and work to fill the new needs as the business changes.

What has been the most interesting experience in your life? What I have found to be the most interesting is the changing of F&I products over the years and the increase in reinsurance and participation by the dealer. Over the years, the offering of credit insurance to retail customers has been deemphasized and replaced by the elevation of GAP and ancillary products. Today, the customer has an effective benefit in GAP and has a greater number of risks covered by ancillary products. This evolution has benefited the customer. Additionally, back-end participation opportunities for the dealer have increased significantly over the years and more reinsurance and participation options are available and are tailored to the dealer’s needs.

Glen Tuscan

President and CEO
Dealer Commitment Services

What has been your top professional achievement? Without question, my greatest professional achievement and contribution to the industry has been the successful fulfillment of a vision to develop and implement an A-to-Z sales and F&I process (now called A2Z Sync). It’s meaningful to me because five years ago I was entrusted with a challenge by a large dealer organization to transform their processes and culture while not sacrificing profitability. They also wanted to boost brand equity and increase employee retention. It was a tall task. Today, the solution is pushing 30,000 transactions, profitability has never been stronger and it’s an absolutely wonderful atmosphere for clients and employees alike. To top it off, the dealer client was awarded a new Mercedes-Benz dealership because of the transformation and they are now receiving national attention from other large dealer groups and automotive media outlets as a model of innovation and a dealership of the future.

What do you enjoy most about this business? It’s been said there are only two things in life that matter: relationships and … I can’t remember the other one! Hands down, what I enjoy most about this business is the relationships I’ve established over time with my dealers and all of their staff. I have personal relationships with their families. It goes well beyond a business relationship when you strive to live by the principles of human connection. What starts out as helping someone solve a business problem, quickly turns into genuine care and eventually trust. Those kinds of relationships take time to develop, but the long-term friendship and connection is well worth the effort.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? The future of retail is going to be all about ease of use. And not only throughout the sales and payment process, but after. You can either build your business by turning one-time customers into lifelong clients or buy your business through acquisitions and expensive advertising budgets. After the sale, a customer becomes a client when they have ease of use to stay connected to your dealership’s mobile app where they can receive service reminders, special offers and quick access to F&I products for claims by the touch of a button. In five years, as more dealer principals embrace innovative ways to transform the customer experience and focus on the power of human connection, I think the brick-and-mortar model will not only continue but will thrive. If we put the best solutions in place, younger generations will be attracted to the industry. Most online auto retailers are lead providers and an all-online transaction is both inefficient and detrimental to F&I. F&I products, because they’re intangible, require human connection.

Gil Van Over

Founder and President
gvo3 & Associates

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? One of my managers while I was with Ford Credit. I was ready to leave the company because of some of the kinks I had to deal with at a few dealerships. He shared this thought with me, and it remains true a quarter of a century later. “Most dealers and F&I managers are honorable people. Spend your time with them because the kinks will soon be gone anyway.”

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Have fun and make money – the compliant way!

What do you enjoy most about this business? The different approaches dealerships employ to reach the same goals and the general willingness within the industry to do things the right way.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? I expect the dealership of the future moving from analog processes to digital processes. Building a compliant eDealership will involve a continual evolution and will likely settle on a hybrid approach, with varying levels of analog and digital processes. Digitizing many of the processes improves efficiencies and also helps owners and partners to uncover unscrupulous sales people and managers.

Casey Van Schoyck

Chief Compliance Officer
Portfolio

What drew you to the automotive industry? I was drawn to the entrepreneurial spirit the industry offers. It’s filled with creativity, opportunity and constant change which keeps every day interesting and exciting.

What advice would you give someone new to the industry? Work hard, embrace change and take in as many experiences as you can from all aspects of the business. The industry is complex and continues to advance, so it takes time for someone new to really fit all the pieces together. Build relationships based on integrity and learn everything you can from others. Lastly, never quit learning and challenging yourself even after the newness wears off.

What do you enjoy most about this business? I really enjoy the fast-paced evolving environment we’re in. Each day brings something new to conquer which continues to provide meaningful challenges and learning opportunities. I also really enjoy the people. You get to know everyone well in this business and while sometimes the name badges may change, the faces remain the same.

Where do you see the industry going five years from now? Is there anything in particular you hope will change? As technology continues to advance, the industry will continue to embrace even more technological features on vehicles. I believe we’ll see more technology companies joining the industry and partnering with suppliers to meet demand. I see the industry moving toward electric cars along with continuous advancement of autonomous vehicles. There will be more and more sales generated via web channels due to customer demand for a more convenient sales process. From a regulatory perspective, I envision greater federal oversight and enforcement of our products and services, and I hope this enforcement is well-researched so it’s conducive to a thriving business environment.

Tony Wanderon

President and CEO
National Auto Care

What drew you to the automotive industry? I would say that the car business runs in the family. My grandmother was a Chevrolet dealer in the ‘70s and my father worked in jobs that ranged from service to general manager. As for me, I started working at 12 years old on the used-car lot at Don Allen Chevrolet. I guess the rest is history and I cannot say I would ever look back and wish for something different. I love the car business and the great people I have met along the way.

What has been your top professional achievement? Being one of the first to develop GAP and seeing the positive impact that the product has had on consumers, lenders and dealers. This includes helping with the regulatory acceptance of the product for over 20 years. Additionally, designing and developing the model being used today as it relates to dealers becoming their own property and casualty agents.   

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? I would not be where I am today if not for Rick McMahon and the opportunities and guidance he provided. It was not always easy to listen to his assessment of me, but he was always right on point. He taught me how to be a leader, how to manage my money, and how to say no to things that seem too good to be true. Most importantly, he taught me to respect the trust our clients put in us and to work hard every day to be better. Great man, and very much missed.

 What do you enjoy most about this business? The people I get to work with every day. After over 30 years, I have built some great relationships and friendships and I would not trade those for anything. In addition, at National Auto Care, I have been able to build a great team that just keeps getting better and better and makes me very proud. It’s also not often someone can say they are able to work with their family every day, and working with my sister, Courtney, my son, Spencer, and my wife, Christine, has been extra special.

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- has written 396 posts on Agent Entrepreneur.

Kate Spatafora is the Associate Publisher for MG Business Media.

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