When Matt Browning told his dad he wanted to get into the automobile business, Kent Browning replied, "Great, why don't you go get yourself a job?"
So Matt Browning spent a year working in a variety of positions for Toyota of Sunnyvale, Calif., before joining his father's Browning Automotive Group of Cerritos, Calif., in 2006.
"I got paid to go to school," Browning said of his time in Sunnyvale. "I don't feel it would have been the best thing for me to go and sell cars at the store I run now. With my name on the building, I just didn't feel like that was going to be as productive as it could be going somewhere else."
During and immediately after college, Browning wasn't sure he wanted to work in the family business at all. After spending his teenage years stocking parts and selling cars at the southern California group, he knew he needed to do something different. Browning's gig at the Toyota store came after college and four years working for Bank of America.
It was the best move he could have made, Browning said. In tech-savvy Sunnyvale, home of Yahoo and numerous other technology companies, Browning amassed a wealth of knowledge about Internet retailing. He came back to the family business and put that education to use.
Browning restructured the dealership group's Web sites and digital marketing. He started pay-for-click advertising in 2007 when it was still relatively new. By mid-2008, the portion of the group's sales generated online had jumped to 40 percent from 20 percent previously.
By 2009, Browning took over management of the family's Acura store and helped pull it through the recession, which cut the group's new-car sales by half. Customer satisfaction is up, in part because Browning has empowered employees to do things like give rides beyond the dealership's standard shuttle radius or get food for a customer stuck waiting at the store.
While he doesn't have ownership in the Acura store, Browning, an avid cyclist who rides at least 100 miles a week, has become an equity partner in recently purchased Kia and Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram dealerships. Those acquisitions brought the group to eight stores total.
And Browning's not done learning. A major focus now is improving the Acura store's "not-great" record on sales employee turnover. Said Browning: "I really want to keep people here. I really want to build the team that's going to help us if we acquire more stores."
-- Amy Wilson and Jamie LaReau