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Do You Have Breakthrough in Your DNA?

Once leaders achieve their goals, what drives them and inspires them to keep their troops engaged? They don’t follow traditional formulas for success — they redefine them.


David Spisak is CEO of ReverseRisk

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I’ve been in the car business since 1981 and during that time have held almost every position on both the dealership and vendor side — from 20 years in a private cap company to president of the Northwest region for AutoNation, and finally to my current role as the president of ReverseRisk. No matter what position I’ve held, I’ve always been driven to discover what makes certain dealerships, associates and salespeople separate and rise above the pack.

In the last 11 years I’ve sifted through data from thousands of dealerships in order to find the crucial element that makes these top performers leaders, regardless of circumstance. Often these stores and associates aren’t working with the best tech, latest software or fastest network — and yet, they outperform everyone else in the United States.


So what is it that drives them?

A single-minded focus to be nothing less than great.

They have all achieved breakthroughs that defy logic, and often, have done so with the headwinds against them. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about these top performers:

They redefine what breakthrough means. Most of the time when thinking about a breakthrough, people look to technology. They will bring on a solution and fully expect the technology itself to provide the breakthrough. Nothing can be further than the truth. Technology does not itself create the breakthrough. With leaders, being great is a part of their culture, it’s uniform across their organization, and it’s woven into their DNA.


They evolve. Often stores will have a great year and then fall flat or even backward the following year. The reality is that which made the team great last year may not work this year. Our landscape is constantly changing. Headwinds like higher interest rates on floor plans, compressed new car margins and people holding onto cars longer put stress on profitability.

Often this means the dealership begins selling the inventory on hand for less money. As a result, you see many walking away from the very value propositions that made them great. Manufacturer programs and incentives are chased at the expense of the very processes and disciplines that allowed them to outperform. Breakthrough leaders guide and drive their teams to evolve and perform better and better each year in spite of the headwinds against them.


And finally, they do away with conventional thinking. Once these leaders achieve their goals, what drives them and inspires them to keep their troops engaged? They don’t follow traditional formulas for success — they redefine them.

They understand that being number one in new or used car volume is not the ultimate goal because that results in a singular success — not greatness. They know that traditional metrics are essentially a bell curve and reaching number one in volume doesn’t necessarily mean you’re even doing the extraordinary. It may just mean that you’re simply demolishing the average. True breakthroughs deliver dramatically greater and sustainable net profit. Profit should be your ultimate bell curve.


I’d like to end with a quick story about a Mercedes store I managed back in the ’90s. My first year there, the store was doing well. We were making about $1.3 million a year — certainly not the top in the nation, or even the region. But I knew with absolute conviction that if I gave my leaders a transformative way to manage, along with critical business insights to allow them to make better decisions, we could improve our results. It would allow us to achieve a true breakthrough. I also knew if we simply conformed to standards and the usual metrics that wasn’t possible.


The very next year we hit $3.1 million. I asked my management team if we were done. The answer was no. We can do more. We hit $5.6 million the following year, $8.1 million the next, $12.8 million the next year and before we knew it, within five years, our store was within the top five stores for profitability. We didn’t stop there. We hit $16.7 million the next year, making us the number one net profit store in the history of the car business.

But that wasn’t enough. I challenged my team to crack the elusive $20 million mark. No one had ever hit it before. They delivered yet another true breakthrough that year with $23.7 million. Just to put it in perspective, we averaged $2 million a month, which is twice as much as 85 percent of dealers in the country did in the entire year.


There was nothing conventional about our approach as it may surprise you to know that we did it with less than 3 percent employee turnover storewide and without spending a single dollar on traditional advertising.

How did we really do it? We redefined what breakthrough meant, we wove it into our DNA, and we pursued it aggressively, regardless of the headwinds against us.

What will your breakthrough be this year?

David Spisak is CEO of ReverseRisk and will be a featured speaker at the Automotive Leadership Roundtable, held March 11-13 in Miami, Florida. For more information, please visit

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