Mike Jackson, a former new-car dealer and former president of Mercedes-Benz USA Inc., joined AutoNation, the nation's largest dealership group, as CEO in October. In December, he announced the closing of the company's 23 used-vehicle superstores.
In 10 years, Jackson steered Mercedes-Benz from deep trouble to the best-selling luxury brand in the United States last year. He took the helm of AutoNation because it was time 'to roll the dice again.'
On Jan. 28, Jackson talked with Staff Reporter Arlena Sawyers and other Automotive News staff members about the challenges of recharting AutoNation's course. Edited excerpts follow.
What are the barriers to success at AutoNation?
One was the megastores, which was a very sensitive issue in that it was a founding element for the company. The AutoNation mega-stores were a marketing success. They were customer friendly and could sell a lot of product, but economically they were not viable.
We made the tough decision to exit used-car megastores.
Did you have any resistance from the founders?
When Wayne (Huizenga) and I talked about my joining the company, he and Steve (Berrard) were co-CEOs. He told me that they were leaving as CEOs and that he was looking for a new CEO to run the company. Wayne was not looking to run a large automobile enterprise at this stage of his life. Naturally, a decision of that magnitude of the megastores is a litmus test. There was a lot of equity both financially and politically. Yes, it was an appropriately lengthy conversation, but at the end, Wayne said, 'Mike, it's your responsibility.'
In the interview process I told Wayne that I had serious concerns about the megastore concept. That was on the table upfront. As far as closing them as a solution, that was not discussed.
Did Berrard go along with it? He was a vocal proponent for that entire concept. Are you getting along with the board?
When I arrived, I not only stepped in as CEO but I also took Steve's board seat. Steve left the board back in October.
Were there other challenges?
(Another) issue was a cultural issue. I would call it the visions of grandeur syndrome. The big idea would also make us the winner at the end of the day. If one big idea wasn't working, create another big idea.
The strength of the company was not necessarily execution.
Strategically, I'm as good a golfer as Tiger Woods, but I can't execute. So what the hell difference does it make?