Once a year, Cox Automotive drops 13 to 15 auto retail executives in a remote wooded area in northern Georgia.
The exact location is a secret, and how each of them gets there varies: Some are taken by air, some by land and some by water. The assorted travel approach is deliberate to force the executives to consider the area from different points of view. When they arrive, they are strangers in the wilderness who must unite to survive.
“It puts them in a foreign environment, with people they don’t know well, where titles don’t matter,” said David Pyle, senior vice president for Cox Automotive Enterprise Dealer Partnerships in Atlanta.
“They have to figure out how to work with each other.”
It may sound like a deleted scene from Deliverance, but it’s actually part of the four-piece Cox Automotive SHIFT Program. The program, which is by invitation-only to a select group, started in 2013. It’s free to those who are chosen.
Pyle likened it to the TV show “Survivor,” saying, “The element of surprise contributes to it.”
“It’s been very interesting how these people have learned to work together when they otherwise would consider each other competitors,” he said.
The idea for SHIFT came when some of Cox’s dealer clients asked for help with dealership culture so they could improve the hiring and retention of talent.
“We’re not in the HR business,” said Pyle. “But we are into helping dealers understand what the future will be like and finding solutions. We thought we could share how Cox developed its culture.”
SHIFT participants range from general managers to dealership owners, and they must be influential in their company and the industry for Cox to chose them. They partake in four “experiences” that start in June and end in February, Pyle said. Besides three days in the woods, those experiences could include a visit to high-tech industries on the West Coast or the World Business Forum in New York. This year, they will go to the NationalCenter for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. SHIFT also brings in well-known speakers and authors to discuss leadership at various venues.
“After they have exposure to new ideas and thoughts, we have them spend a session talking about how they would apply them to their own leadership and how their business can benefit,” Pyle said.
Jeremy Beaver, COO of Del Grande Dealer Group in San Jose, Calif., completed SHIFT in 2016, calling it: “Nothing short of life-changing.”
From it, Beaver built a network of peers and hired a leadership coach to continue to work with him.
Del Grande, in Silicon Valley, competes with technology companies for talent. To win, the group has created three full-time jobs: director of talent acquisition, talent acquisition team member and talent acquisition coordinator, Beaver said.
He credits SHIFT for the inspiration to create those jobs, which he said will lead to better future hires.