Joseph Nicolai began laying the foundation for a well-built employee hiring and retention program more than 40 years ago.
In 1961, Nicolai, president of JN Automotive Group of Honolulu, developed a company-funded pension and profit-sharing program for his full-time employees. He wanted the program to offer each loyal staff member the opportunity to retire from the business a wealthy person.
"This is what I am most proud of," said Nicolai.
"When I started in business, I feared losing it all," he says. "To mitigate that, I developed a pension and profit-sharing plan that could guarantee wealth and security to my employees."
Nicolai administers the program.
The dealer, who started as a used-car dealer, also has a program in which 25-year employees receive a new car as a gift from the company. It was conceived over a staff dinner in the winter of 1961 when, according to Nicolai, the wine had lifted everyone's spirits.
After 35 years, the person is eligible for a second new vehicle. Nicolai's secretary, Deanna Carreira, was the first to receive two new vehicles, and her son, Todd Carreira, is approaching the 25-year mark.
To date, JN Automotive has delivered 10 new vehicles to veteran staffers. "We encourage associates to bring family members into the business," Nicolai says. "One of the main benefits is, it makes life easier for families. They are all on the same page, so to speak.
"And when younger generations apply for jobs, we know how they were raised."
Nicolai has been in the automotive business all his adult life. As a young man, his first sales position was with Gossett-Ames Ford Agency in Los Angeles. He got to know Hawaii when he served in the military, and he thought it might be a good place to set up shop.
"Honolulu was a sleepy town 44 years ago," he says. "A business license cost $2 then."
Nicolai says his employees can tap into their pension and profit-sharing accounts. Many have used the fund to pay for education for themselves or a family member, or to purchase a home.
He says the fund is a forced savings plan to which the employee doesn't contribute a nickel.
Although Nicolai is convinced the grass is not greener elsewhere, employees sometimes leave in search of something better. "Most who leave eventually want to come back," he says. "If they are serious about it, they must write me a letter explaining their reasons. It's amazing how colorful those requests can be."
Nicolai says he is proud of his permanent, stable staff. Whenever possible, he prefers to train and promote from within. He says that encourages people to stay and builds loyalty.