LAS VEGAS — As the automotive retail industry enters an era of unparalleled change, young leaders are faced with both opportunities and risks. But with the right pillars in place, they will help direct the industry's evolution, said dealer Don Flow.
"In the largest industry in the world, you have an incredible platform to make a difference," Flow, CEO of Flow Automotive Cos. in Winston-Salem, N.C., said during the Automotive News Retail Forum: NADA here. "There is a high chance that [the industry] will change, but you are the folks that will be changing it."
The auto retail industry needs young leaders to help navigate the business shifts, Flow, 62, said in a speech directed to Automotive News' 2017 40 Under 40 honorees. "Be bold and get ready to take the helm of this wonderful business," he said.
Develop purpose and character by your late 40s, Flow told the honorees. "Those who have not focused on developing those by their late 40s either crash and burn or flame out," he said. "Our industry cannot afford for you to flame out. You're too important and we need your leadership, so pay attention."
Effective leaders, Flow said, set their priorities around three pillars: preservation, improvement and innovation.
1. Preservation: Auto retail leaders must establish the core of the organization's DNA, he said. "In times like this of high volatility and change, it's critical to know what you will not change and what you will change," he said. "We must be open to changing everything, just not the core of our business."
2. Improvement: Dealership leaders should always be able to articulate their visions, Flow said. "So clear and compelling that the person at the lowest position in your organization needs to be able to talk about that as well."
Improvement should be urgent, now more than ever, as the industry evolves so quickly, he added.
3. Innovation: Innovation is "imperative if an organization is going to flourish in the future," Flow said. Dealers must analyze the business and ask if there is a better way to operate.
"Small experiments that bubble up everywhere in our organization must be the norm," he said.
Overall, effective leaders "preserve; they intentionally keep doing what they have been doing, that which is central to their core DNA," he said. "They improve; they do what they have been doing better. They innovate; they do something new they have not done. They create and capture new value."