Off to school for grade-A workers

Rodger Olson: "Retail has been something of a dirty word. We're trying to change that." Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

NEW ORLEANS -- One of the biggest challenges facing Victory Automotive Group is the same one facing all auto dealers: attracting and retaining quality employees.

So the dealership group decided to go to school … literally. For Victory, that meant moving its headquarters in 2010 from Morristown, Tenn., to Canton, Mich., to be close to the University of Michigan, a fertile source of ideas and potential recruits, said Victory COO Rodger Olson in a speech Friday to the J.D. Power International Automotive Roundtable here.

"We're launching a retail sales program" at the university, said Olson, who is now a guest lecturer at the University of Michigan's Stephen M. Ross School of Business. "Retail has been something of a dirty word. We're trying to change that."

Wherever possible, Victory hires students to do basic jobs in its 24 stores, hoping to pique their interest.

"They're phenomenal. They do anything. We pay them $10 an hour and they work as hard as anybody in that store," he said.

Olson said he never misses an opportunity to try to change students' minds on the attractiveness of working in the industry.

"Their jaws drop" sometimes when they realize what a good career path auto retailing can be, he said. The students are a rich source of ideas on areas crucial to the business, including how to run social media programs.

Dealerships need to be proactive in recruiting and keeping employees because there are so many competing career choices, he said.

One survey showed that "77 percent of people working today are either actively looking for a new job or open to a new job." If dealerships aren't proactive, they'll lose people, he said.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at