Next month, 21 students will make up the first graduating class of the Hendrick Leadership Academy. Seven of them are already in line to be promoted to general manager positions at Hendrick Automotive Group stores.
Chairman Rick Hendrick, 65, developed the academy and launched it in June 2013. Its purpose is to build a strong bench of future company leaders.
"We've had more success with growing our own talent," Hendrick told Automotive News. "They understand our culture."
Some of the academy's instructors hail from Hendrick University, an in-house training academy; some are the company's best general managers; others are guests from NADA Academy, run by the National Automobile Dealers Association, Hendrick said.
Company leaders select 64 individuals from the pool of nearly 10,000 Hendrick Automotive employees to participate in the 17-month program, which includes 15 months of classes and a 60-day case study. It is exclusively for employees being groomed for leadership posts, but those selected don't have to stay with the company or sign a noncompete agreement.
Hendrick Group store general managers who perform well can end up with a 5 percent equity stake in their dealership.
Karla Williams, 51, controller for Mall of Georgia Mazda and Rick Hendrick Buick-GMC, both near Atlanta, is in the academy's third class. She travels to Hendrick Automotive's headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., for classes that run days or a week at a time. Working full-time and keeping up with class requires a major time commitment, Williams said. But she expects it will pay off when she graduates in May -- and not just with a promotion.
"It also helps me in the management position I'm in now," Williams said. "I can teach my fellow team members."
Hendrick is not the first to groom leaders from the inside. His friend, Roger Penske, offers a similar program at Penske Automotive Group Inc. Since it started in 2007, 190 Penske employees have graduated from the seven-month program, dubbed Dealership Academy Training.
Both Penske and Hendrick worked with NADA to develop curriculum, which is based on the NADA University curriculum, devoted to teaching participants how to operate a dealership, said Allen Phibbs, director of NADA Academy Programs in McLean, Va.
NADA classes consist of students from many dealerships with different cultures and processes. In contrast, the Penske and Hendrick classes are made up exclusively of those dealership groups' employees.
One advantage of exclusivity, Phibbs noted: The instructors have to teach only one data management system.