LOS ANGELES — In January 2007, the general managers of DCH Auto Group's 33 dealerships gathered at two hotels — one here and one in Woodbridge, N.J. — for 11/2 days of indoctrination.
They were called in to hear about a concept called the DCH Way, an effort by top management to codify the group's Asian business culture. To design the DCH Way, the dealership group hired Connecticut brand guru Larry Light, a former senior marketing executive at McDonald's Corp. Light studied the personal values of DCH's 68-year-old chairman, Hong Kong immigrant Shau-Wai Lam, and turned them into a process.
The concept is founded on customer service and heavy doses of teamwork — a communal approach to getting the job done rather than individual glory.
"It's a noncompetitive approach that fits in well with the Asian perspective," said Susan Scarola, CEO of the dealership group. "And it is a blueprint for what the customer experience is going to be from the time they walk in the door to when they have their car serviced."
The problem: Not everyone at DCH was buying it.
"Trying to bring it down to day-to-day operations is tough," said Scarola. "It was not something that everybody immediately embraced, even at the senior level."
Lam arrived in America 50 years ago to study mathematics at Purdue University. After getting an MBA from New York University, he went to work in the United States for DCH, a Hong Kong company that operated several business lines including an auto distributorship.
In 1977, DCH got into auto retailing in this country, and Lam launched the western region in California in 1979. He became president of the subsidiary in 1988 and four years later led a management buyout of the unit from its parent.
DCH, headquartered in South Amboy, N.J., today has dealerships in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and California. Franchises encompass Toyota, Lexus, Honda, Acura, BMW, Chrysler, Dodge and Audi. The number of stores has declined in the past two years to 25, with a 26th to be added in April.