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Building Leaders: Who’s Ready for Leadership

“I look at their current job and their current results to gauge their abilities and their outlook. If they don’t have above-average results in their current job, we aren’t interested in putting them in charge of a team.” – Chris Saraceno

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One of the most important duties a leader has is to prepare the next generation of leaders. In the automotive sales setting, dealers and GMs have the duty to select, train and develop departmental leaders, and the health of the dealership’s future depends on getting this right. Over the next three editions of our Dealer Panel, we’ll learn how our panel selects and trains tomorrow’s leaders, while preparing themselves for future challenges.

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AutoSuccess: How do you decide who is ready for the next level of responsibility?


Andrew DiFeo, GM of Hyundai of St. Augustine: Part of finding new leaders is having regular conversations with your employees, both when you hire them and then on an ongoing basis, to get a feel for their career goals and objectives. You want to learn where they see themselves in a year, three years and five years out. That gives you an idea of who’s looking for more responsibility and is prepared to take on a leadership role. Then, a lot of the selection process comes from observing their activities, their results, their behaviors and how they work with others.


Chris Saraceno, VP and Partner of Kelly Automotive Group: I look at their current job and their current results to gauge their abilities and their outlook. If they don’t have above-average results in their current job, we aren’t interested in putting them in charge of a team. After looking at their results, we examine their daily activities, their daily behaviors and their cooperation and communication with the rest of the team. We also observe their ability to partner with other people and with customers. It’s a pretty simple process, but it’s critical.


Mike Good, GM of Street Toyota: Since the GM or owner sets the tone and culture of the store, it’s vital that individuals ready for the next level of responsibility mirror your commitment to those foundational principles. Additionally, I’m looking for someone with maturity, morals, ethics and sound judgement. They must demonstrate unquestionable “mental ownership” while validating the presence of a servant’s heart. Finally, I want to see enthusiasm and excitement for the opportunity to grow and meet new challenge head on. Personal growth increases every associate’s individual and corporate value.


Kimberly Cardinal Piscatelli, Vice President and Partner of Cardinal Honda: Any number of candidates can jump to the front of the ranks and lead the march, but who will earn the trust necessary for the troops to continue following, even in times of frustration, uncertainty or, worse yet, our slow season? The emerging leaders in our organization are generally easy to spot. We prefer leaders over bosses and coaches over cheerleaders. We prefer candidates who bring solutions to light; not problems. We see promotion opportunities for those who are embracing the culture of our business while driving for record results. If you have a competitive nature and can be described as a sore loser we won’t hold that against you; we like winners. Our next great leaders are already mentoring their fellow associates, taking initiative and displaying a sense of ownership. By empowering associates at all levels, you will allow team members within the ranks to rise to a position of leadership and authority before you have even considered rewarding them with a title, a raise or more responsibility.


AS: What kind of training do new leaders at your dealership undergo?

AD: We try to use outside conferences and training as much as possible. We are not experts in leadership development or training, but there’s a lot of good resources out there. We take full advantage of using external trainers and events as much as possible. 

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CS: It depends on if they were a leader who grew from within the company or someone we brought in. If they were promoted from within, we work with many training companies. We have our own internal training we put them through. We’ve also worked with Joe Verde, and with David Lewis, who has a local training center 45 minutes away from us. With our leaders in upper management, we have a program called Performance Asset Review, or PAR. Every month they sit with myself, Greg Kelly and Tim Kelly, and we walk through the overall performance of the store. We look at financial statements and expenses, evaluate every sales consultant and what they sold, what the CSI is and how we stand as compared to market share. It’s a three- to four-hour meeting every month where we review every aspect of our business. People who have moved on from our company have called me back to say, “It’s amazing how much I know in comparison to all the other people here because of those monthly meetings.”

MG: Training and personnel development is a clear sign of an investment culture. We are co-investors in every associate. We enroll leadership candidates in Dale Carnegie, a city leadership program and other content-rich programs as they become available. We have used leadership book studies during the past 14 years, requiring managers to develop facilitation and presentation skills. Also, one of the greatest ways to demonstrate caring for associates is to endow their professional evolution. To accomplish that, a mentor must foster personal interest in all aspects of the mentee’s life, extending their awareness to personal endeavors, family and short- and long-term goals. This frames the personal and professional development of every worthy associate. Ultimately, it defines today’s culture while creating a strong succession plan.

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KCP: New leaders at our dealership are most often promoted from within. The most important training provided is best described as daily collaborative mentoring. We provide outlined expectations and ongoing feedback, both positive and corrective. The training occurs in real-time. We often remind each other of our motto: “Every day be better, while focusing on a culture of making things happen instead of letting things happen.” The truth is, in the automobile business, new managers are most often thrown into their challenge. They’re given their objectives and expectations and a window of time to make things happen before they start to feel like it might be easier to find a job while they still have a job. Collaborative mentoring develops our leaders within the guidelines of our unique and desired culture. Our training methods are old fashioned and without short cuts. The results? The turnover rate among our leaders is virtually non-existent and we are considered a preferred employer in our region.

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