H. Wayne Huizenga and Steve Berrard, who rocked the retail automotive world with a blitzkrieglike roll-up of auto dealerships into a $15 billion company, will step down from management of AutoNation Inc.
The co-CEOs will step down when the company finds an outside automotive professional who can impress Wall Street, the company said.
AutoNation's stock has traded around $17 a share, far below the 12-month high of $27 and its price of $42.75 in January 1997 when its binge of dealership acquisitions began.
While sharing the title of co-CEO, Huizenga has left day-to-day management to Berrard, company spokesman Oscar Suris said.
Asked whether Berrard was pushed out by the board, Suris responded: 'This was a mutually agreed-upon decision.'
Berrard and Huizenga announced on Wednesday, June 30, that Berrard would leave as co-CEO to become more involved with his private investment firm, New River Capital Partners.
Huizenga will remain chairman of the board and Berrard will continue as a director.
The emphasis will be to replace Berrard with an established automotive executive who can impress Wall Street.
'Having accomplished what I set out to do at AutoNation, I am ready to take on new opportunities and to do what I enjoy most - building companies from the ground up,' Berrard said in a prepared statement.
Though AutoNation's announcement implied the resignation was planned and that Berrard's mission had been simply to help launch the company, the move surprised the industry, including its own employees.
'Steve did something stupendous: He took nothing and made a huge company,' said Sheldon Sandler, founder of Bel Air Partners of Princeton, N.J., an investment firm that serves car dealerships and has worked with AutoNation.
Berrard, 44, has worked with Huizenga for 19 years. Berrard was president of Huizenga Holdings and, as president and CEO of Blockbuster Entertainment Group, he helped Huizenga build the Blockbuster Video store chain from 19 video stores to 4,000 stores worldwide.
Huizenga and Berrard dealers via a conference call that the company needs an automotive pro to impress Wall Street because potential investors told the company they would like to see more automotive experience at the top.
AutoNation's stock closed at $16.69 a share last week.