Once hired, many never leave Jaguar store

Darren Henry Jaguar shop foreman Mike Berger: "We basically all grew up together."

Darren Henry Jaguar in Miami has been Mike Berger's sole employer for his entire adult life.

Berger's father worked at the dealership, and helped his high school son land a part-time job cleaning the shop. After the son graduated, he began working full-time at the dealership.

Today, nearly 25 years since he first took a job at Warren Henry Jaguar, Berger still works at the dealership alongside his dad, who has been with the Warren Henry group for more than 30 years.

"It's pretty much been my only job," says Berger, now the dealership's shop foreman. "I've done every job imaginable, from car washer to mechanic to porter to cashier to a paperwork handler. Anything in the service department, I've done and mastered over the years."

Though the dealership shares some staff with Warren Henry's Land Rover dealership, there are about 25 employees who work solely for the Jaguar dealership, which sold or leased 191 vehicles last year. Many of those staff members have been with the dealership for decades, creating a familylike atmosphere.

"We basically all grew up together," Berger says.

Warren Henry Jaguar ranks No. 1 among small dealerships, defined as those with fewer than 49 employees, in this year's Automotive News ranking of the 100 Best Dealerships To Work For.

Promoting from within

The company encourages employees to stay with the dealership, and rewards employees by promoting primarily from within, says General Manager Larry Zinn, son of dealer principal Warren Zinn.

"Most of the people in the company have worked their way up from another position, and I think that sends a very positive message that with the right work and dedication there's always opportunity to grow with us," says Zinn.

For example, Service Manager Nestor Alvarez began working for Warren Henry Automotive Group when he was fresh out of college 33 years ago.

As Alvarez has risen to various positions throughout the eight-dealership group, Warren Zinn has allowed him and other staffers to become partners in some of Zinn's other businesses, such as a parts franchise he bought from Mighty Auto Parts.

"He gave five of us the opportunity to go into business with him, to be part owners of the franchise," Alvarez says.

Though Warren has passed much of the responsibility for running the dealership to his son Larry -- Larry "actually wasn't even born when I came to work" for Zinn, notes Alvarez -- he still maintains a presence at the dealership.

"They're always there, Larry more so now that Warren is letting him take the reins a little bit, but he works more than anyone else at the company," says Danny Palenzuela, the sales manager. "He's there six days a week. He's there almost open to close."

Warren Henry Jaguar service manager Nestor Alvarez: "We live in Miami, so the cruise ships leave on Friday and come back on Monday. We try to make it interesting."

Trust

The Zinns trust their employees to make decisions, says Palenzuela, who has been with the company since he graduated from college in 2004. He notes that there's very little bureaucracy at the dealership.

"They had confidence in me to do the job and allowed me to grow within the company," says Palenzuela, whose father also worked for Warren Henry for more than 30 years.

"They trusted me as a 23- or 24-year-old out of school. They put a lot of faith in me and put a lot in my hands. I was able to be rewarded and be successful with the company," Palenzuela says.

Both Warren and Larry Zinn have maintained an open-door policy. Larry says the policy is a key tenet of his management style as they try to keep a low-pressure environment.

'Pass that along'

"I believe that gets passed onto the customer," Zinn says. "The same way we're able to treat our people, they pass that along. And not just constantly being under the gun and under tons of pressure, or having to worry and fear all the time -- that only helps us."

To help maintain that low-pressure environment, employees are offered a wide array of perks, from tickets to Miami Dolphins games to quarterly dinners for the whole staff at nice restaurants if certain goals are met.

The dealership will also hold events for customers, such as test-drives or parties at a local country club, that employees are also invited to, Larry Zinn says. The dealership has given away iPads and even cruises.

Says Alvarez: "We live in Miami, so the cruise ships leave on Friday and come back on Monday. We try to make it interesting."

Zinn says his father believed in treating people properly and recognized that his employees have lives, and sometimes crises, outside of work. That attitude has remained one of Warren Henry's central precepts through the years, he says.

"Things do happen," Zinn says. "People will need time off. They occasionally will need help with other matters in their personal life."

You can reach Joseph Lichterman at jlichterman@crain.com

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