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Auto retailing thrives on new. New vehicles. New marketing methods and advertising campaigns. And new blood. Meet the men and women who make up the fourth annual Automotive News listing of 40 Under 40 Retail: 40 up-and-comers who already are making their mark in dealerships. These individuals are applying the lessons of the past with the techniques of today to carry vehicle retailing into the future. And they're delivering astounding results.

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Michael Abbondanza

POSITION:Owner/general manager, Newton Nissan of Gallatin (Tenn.)

Michael Abbondanza's theory about running a successful car dealership goes like this: Make employees feel good about where they work. Reward them well. Make their goals clear, and don't micromanage. And their job satisfaction will lift the performance of the dealership.

It is an approach that's working for him at his Newton Nissan of Gallatin, just north of Nashville. He and partner Bill Newton of Atlanta acquired the Tennessee store in June 2009 when it was selling fewer than 40 new and used vehicles a month. Today, it is selling 240 a month.

In December 2013, Abbondanza and Newton -- who is otherwise retired after owning dealerships in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina -- acquired a second store, Newton Nissan South in Shelbyville, Tenn. Abbondanza helps oversee that one as well, which has turned around from a volume of 70 vehicles a month to about 130.

"You motivate people by giving them a good place to work, and they love it, which makes things happen," says Abbondanza.

"Success comes from getting people to do their best. There's no need to beat your chest and talk about how great you are. You have to have compassion for others. Your compassion for employees brings their compassion for the business."

His standard routine in Gallatin includes treating the entire 85-person staff to dinner at Maggiano's Little Italy or another restaurant, random cash bonuses for employees who do something positive, company bowling nights, trampoline-jumping at Jump Sky High and other outings. Abbondanza planned to host 300 people -- staffers and their families -- for a Nashville Sounds baseball game in June. He has vowed to the staff that the store never will be open on Sundays.

Not bad for a guy who never intended to be in the car business.

After growing up outside Ann Arbor, Mich., Abbondanza went to Northwood University, a college that has turned out auto industry leaders and retailers for years. But he went there to study marketing and management specifically to become a restaurant owner.

"I took a summer job selling cars in Atlanta, and it changed my mind," he explains. "My parents were shocked after spending so much money on my education. So I made them a promise. I told them, 'I know what you're thinking about being a car salesman. And I promise you, I'm not going to be that guy. I want to change the reputation of the business.'"

He says motivated employees are what make a company succeed.

"Be fair to people," he says of his approach. "Be kind, be consistent and be transparent in your expectations. Once people know what your expectations are, they meet them."



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