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Jason Hachmeister

Age: 39
Sterling Chevrolet
Sterling, Ill.

Jason Hachmeister's automotive career was born on the golf course. But he wasn't teeing it up: The one-time caddy was shouldering the bag of car dealer Ed Bozarth.

In the months following that round in 1995, Bozarth, who owns five Chevrolet stores in Colorado, Las Vegas and Kansas, became a mentor to the University of Colorado student. Hachmeister washed cars and worked in the parts departments at Bozarth's Denver-area stores. While earning his law degree, Hachmeister moved up to selling cars and working in the finance department.

Bozarth made Hachmeister a partner in 2000 and sent him to work as the general manager of his Topeka, Kan., store, where he was the second-youngest of 125 employees.

But Hachmeister wanted to buy his own store. He teamed with Rick Steenbock, Bozarth's longtime service-and-parts expert. In 2007, the pair bought a Chevy store in Sterling, Ill., about 100 miles west of Chicago.

"We made the brilliant decision to buy at the start of the recession," Hachmeister says.

The two arrived at a store with lousy profitability, sales penetration and customer-service ratings -- and 35 employees who were worried bout the intentions of the new management and rumors of franchise-termination letters from General Motors.

The new owners quickly concluded that the store had a talented staff with little training or structure. Procedures for answering service calls and setting appointments were haphazard. There was no set process for service write-ups, which resulted in missed revenue opportunities. Some used cars sat on the lot for as long as a year.

Hachmeister says he implemented many of the techniques he had learned a few years earlier at the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy. "It was a matter of bringing in what we had been taught on how to be successful," he says.

The new owners emphasized low-pressure walk-arounds for service writers, which boosted service revenue and satisfaction scores. The store's customer-satisfaction index, as measured by GM, rose to 95 percent for both service and sales, from 52 percent for service and 58 percent for sales when the owners took over the store.

The dealership's revenues rose to $22 million last year, from $16 million in 2008.

His employees aren't scared anymore. The store has had "almost zero turnover," Hachmeister says.

He and Steenbock paid off their investment within three years, he says. They're looking to buy another GM store.

-- Mike Colias

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