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Michael Kabcenell

POSITION:Director of strategic initiatives and business development, Penske Automotive Group, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
ACHIEVEMENT: Helped restructure how Penske sells finance and insurance products, resulting in gains in F&I gross profits

Michael Kabcenell is a self-described car nut.

"I owned every Matchbox car between 1987 and 1995," he said.

Born in suburban Detroit and raised in Florida, Kabcenell said he always wanted to work in the auto industry. In 2006, as a freshman at the University of Michigan, Kabcenell brazenly cold called Penske Automotive Group Inc. in suburban Detroit.

"I asked if they had any programs or job opportunities," he said. "They said, "No, but what do you want to do?'"

Kabcenell was interested in legal issues at the time and offered to do odd jobs in Penske's legal division. The auto retailer ended up hiring Kabcenell each summer for three years to work in different parts of the business, including at its Toyota of Bedford store about 20 miles southeast of Cleveland.

"I really loved it," Kabcenell said. "I didn't know anything about dealership operations. I liked the activity: people moving and music playing."

When Kabcenell graduated in May 2009 with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, Penske hired him full time. He started as a service adviser in Audi Tysons Corner in Virginia and attended Penske's dealership academy.

He returned to the University of Michigan in 2012 to earn an MBA while still working part-time at Penske doing an "F&I deep-dive analysis." He calls that project his big break. It led to fundamental changes in how Penske sells finance and insurance products, resulting in profit gains.

Penske's average F&I gross profit per vehicle was about $900 in 2012. In 2016's first quarter, it was $1,127, up from $1,095 a year earlier.

Kabcenell's study led Penske to trim its F&I product offerings. By focusing more on fewer products tailored for specific markets, the company increased total sales. Penske also hired five regional F&I directors to help lead more structured and consistent training of dealerships' F&I managers.

Most recently, Kabcenell has helped Penske launch its online shopping product: Preferred Purchase. Kabcenell racked up frequent flier miles as he traveled the U.S. training all of Penske's dealerships in the online sales tool.

"I'm now a Diamond member on Delta," he said, laughing. Then, he added, "Everything I do is meant to push the organization forward so the opportunity is tremendous. My job is still project-based so I'm always doing something new. It never gets boring."

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