Steve Ladrido

Age: 29
Sales manager
Duval Mazda
Jacksonville, Fla.

Steve Ladrido was washing cars at a Florida Kia dealership as a college summer job when a sales manager took notice of his drive and invited him to try selling. But he would have to do it on the night shift; they needed him to continue washing cars by day.

"I sold a car on my first day, and then five more on my first weekend," says Ladrido, now sales manager at Duval Mazda at the Avenues in Jacksonville. "I was hooked."

His career has been a whirlwind since then. He next went to a nearby Nissan store and took over a sluggish Internet sales department that was averaging only five sales a month. Under Ladrido, within six months those sales rose to 50 a month.

He hired a team of three who transitioned the department into a business-development center that eventually accounted for 65 percent of the dealership's sales.

His team talked local employers into allowing the dealership to pitch employees on vehicle sales, setting up displays in company cafeterias and handing out free Chick-fil-A lunches to interested customers.

The Kia store recruited him back as new-car sales manager, and then as its 25-year-old general sales manager. During the recession in 2009, Ladrido increased sales to 90 new vehicles a month, up from 40 a month a year earlier.

Jacksonville's Scott-McRae Automotive Group has now recruited him for a bigger task at its local Duval Mazda store. Ladrido is in charge of retraining the staff and converting the store to one-price selling, a pilot program for which Scott-McRae has big plans. The changeover launched last November. Since then, the store's customer satisfaction score has risen 4.7 points and vehicle grosses are up 5 percent, Ladrido reports. The company is encouraged by the early results, he says.

"We're building a business plan for the future," Ladrido says of the mission. He's also building a career plan for the future: "I want to be a general manager between age 30 and 35," he says, "and a partner or owner in a store by 45."

-- Lindsay Chappell

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