Dealership group's chaplain connects with employees
Car dealers have tried it all -- from restaurants to swanky concierge service -- but few have a full-time chaplain.
For 71/2 years, the 527 employees of Hoehn Motors in Carlsbad, Calif., have used the services of Chaplain Roy Inzunza.
The corporate chaplain service is part of the spiritual and wellness benefits for employees of the 12-franchise dealership group. Inzunza visits each store, goes to hospitals and even presides over weddings.
On the physical side, workers at Hoehn (HOH'-en) get free yoga and Pilates classes and can join a bicycle-riding group during lunch breaks. Top managers have access to a personal trainer who develops individualized exercise and diet programs.
The mind and body programs are the brainchild of one of the group's owners, Bill Hoehn, said his son, Ted Hoehn, executive manager.
"It is hard for an owner to get in touch with everyone," Ted Hoehn said. "The corporate chaplain -- that is his job and his desire, and he is really good at connecting with people and listening.
"He is a lubricant through the company."
Inzunza described the philosophy he shares with group executives: "We want to see employees flourish personally and professionally. ... If they flourish on a personal level, chances are their anxiety levels will be low, and if they are flourishing at work, there won't be so much stress and anxiety when they are going home."
The group has dealerships that sell Mercedes-Benz, Infiniti, Audi, Porsche, Honda, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Jaguar, Land Rover, Acura and Sprinter vehicles, all in Carlsbad.
Last year, Hoehn Motors sold 5,509 new and 2,917 used vehicles, up from 5,145 new and 2,580 used a year earlier. The group is on track to set a record in 2014, Ted Hoehn said.
The family business is run by brothers Bill and Bob Hoehn. It was founded by Theodore Hoehn -- Ted's great-grandfather -- with Hoehn Chevrolet. Oldsmobile, Honda and Mercedes-Benz dealerships were added in Carlsbad in 1975 by Theodore Jr.
Inzunza said the idea of having a corporate chaplain started over lunch with Bill after a mutual friend introduced them.
Although he works full-time for Hoehn Motors, Inzunza is a contractor. "We set that up to protect me and [I] carry my own liability insurance."
That serves as a buffer, which is essential because his work involves a lot of confidentiality, he said.
Inzunza, 36, said he has a business information technology background but "a heart for ministry."
"I am there to provide a service of care and support."
The counseling is nondenominational. Inzunza said he is recognized as a minister by a local church, is finishing a master's degree in theology and will be seeking ordination, most likely as an evangelical Protestant priest.
Every day, he walks around a few stores. "I greet people, see how they are doing, and how life and work is going. Small conversations lead into big life conversations."
He has counseled employees about their marriages and relationships and through crisis, stress, anger and illness. "I do hospital visits if someone is sick or going in for surgery or there has been an accident. I am usually being called to visit the family."
Inzunza said he performs about three or four weddings at the stores each year.
Does talking help? Inzunza recalls how one employee was experiencing anxiety and stress because of problems with a personal relationship. The employee was agitated and irritable at work, so much that it was affecting his productivity. "We walked, and he said, 'It felt like a big burden fell off me. I am more clearheaded.'"
Meli Barrett, a clerk in the administrative office, said she was the first to be married by Inzunza in 2007.
"I know people go to him," Barrett said. "I have seen him outside of work, and it definitely helps having someone to listen who is an unbiased party to offer advice and to be there for support."
Inzunza said: "My purpose isn't to convert and proselytize -- that is not my role. My role is to be someone who journeys with others and is there for support as they are making meaning of their own personal story."
He figures: "I know a tidbit about each employee."
Hoehn Motors employees also give back to the community.
For the past three years, the company has partnered with Amor Ministries, a nonprofit set up by the Solana Beach Presbyterian Church to build homes in Mexico. A group of employees go with Inzunza to Rosarito, Mexico, over Memorial Day weekend.
This year, the dealership spent about $10,000 on materials used by 25 employees who helped put up a shell of a house with windows and a roof for an impoverished family, Inzunza said. To cut costs, the group slept in tents.
"Some said, 'I felt more alive than I ever had,'" he said.
The dealership group also has partnered with the Laurel Elementary School in Oceanside, Calif.
"It is one of the toughest barrios, and there are a lot of gangs and prostitution and drugs," Inzunza said.
In late August before the start of school, up to 25 employees will help teachers get their classrooms ready for students for the fourth consecutive year. They'll assist in creating small botanical gardens with native plants, till small vegetable gardens and beautify the school.
Help for the school continues throughout the year with supplies, gift cards and even a Thanksgiving program to provide 100 families with turkey dinners.
"We tell our employees we cannot fix all the problems," Inzunza said. "We are a ray of hope."
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