Auto Internet pioneer John Holt retiring from ADP to climb other mountains

Holt: “I will miss the front-row seat on the Internet and the auto industry, but you're only on the planet once."

John Holt, an Internet pioneer in auto retailing, is retiring from ADP Dealer Services to climb mountains with his daughters.

His last day with the company he founded, Cobalt Group, now a unit of ADP Dealer Services, is Sept. 30.

Holt, 57, said he is leaving while he is in good health and able to pursue a number of passions outside the industry.

Specifically, he intends to mountain-climb with his daughters (he has three), spend more time with his “long-sacrificing” wife, Susan, serve on some nonprofit boards and continue to row competitively near his Seattle home.

“I will miss the front-row seat on the Internet and the auto industry, but you're only on the planet once and there are lots of things to do,” Holt said.

“Susan and I want our three girls to believe they can do anything. The world needs more strong, capable female leaders.”

Scott Mathews

Holt will be succeeded by Scott Mathews, who has been with the company for 12 years. Holt’s official title is senior vice president of ADP Dealer Services’ Digital Marketing Group.

In an interview Wednesday, Holt said the time was right as ADP Dealer Services prepares to spin off from payroll and human-resources giant Automatic Data Processing Inc. That is expected in the fourth quarter.

Holt said if he had stayed at ADP Dealer Services, he would have felt it necessary to make another three-year commitment to see through the transition to an independent, public company.

Holt started Cobalt in 1995. He said he spent many years promoting the message to dealers and automakers that it was better to embrace the power of the Internet to market themselves rather than to resist or ignore it.

Cobalt was bought by ADP Dealer Services in 2010 for $400 million and became the main digital marketing arm of the dealer management software giant.

Holt said dealers started embracing digital marketing during the 2008-09 recession when marketing dollars got tight and digital spend was an alternative to more costly TV and radio advertising.

He said the growth of digital marketing by dealers shows that the message has been retained even as vehicle sales have increased.

Recently released data from the National Automobile Dealers Association show that dealers increased their Internet marketing spend to 33 percent of their total marketing budgets in 2013 vs. 26.5 percent in 2012.

You can reach David Barkholz at -- Follow David on Twitter: @barkholzatan

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