Raymond Herrera jumped into the car business straight out of high school, selling Toyotas for Joe MacPherson in Tustin, Calif. But as salesmen do, Herrera quickly jumped for a better opportunity, at the Saturn store in nearby San Juan Capistrano.
Six years later, in 2003, having moved up the ladder to general sales manager, he jumped to the same job at a Saturn store in Riverside owned by Hendrick Automotive Group. As Saturn was winding down in early 2010, Herrera was promoted to general manager.
Despite losing the brand, the timing was fortuitous. Hendrick had just acquired the local Acura business from the bankrupt former owners and moved Acura into the former Saturn store, putting Herrera in charge.
"We had a lot of overhead from buying Saturn at the height of the market. We took over an Acura point where there were few units in operation and they did not penetrate the market. They didn't take care of their clients," said Herrera, a New Jersey native who has lived in California since he was 6.
Herrera kept Saturn's consultative sales process in place, with swift results. Acura of Riverside jumped from last place of 56 dealerships in the brand's Western zone to No. 1 in sales in just 18 months. New-car sales under the old owners were 157 units in 2009. In 2011, under Herrera's leadership, the store sold 801 new Acuras, despite inventory shortages.
"Acura was really a good fit with the Saturn way of doing business," Herrera said. "We take care of our Acura clients the same way we took care of our Saturn clients."
The rapid growth is not enough for Herrera, who wants to take Acura of Riverside to No. 1 in the nation by 2014. Part of the success, he said, is from the store's high ratio of female sales staff members, hired from nonautomotive companies such as Nordstrom and United Airlines.
"Women put more of our clients at ease," he said. "They really do a great job of listening to the client and building rapport."
While Herrera feels honored to be named to this list, he modestly added: "You're only as good as the people you surround yourself with. It's all about the team."
-- Mark Rechtin