With its six business units, JM Family Enterprises Inc. of Deerfield Beach, Fla., is involved in almost every element of automotive retailing — from distributing and financing vehicles to selling them to consumers.
Brent Burns, 58, CEO since July 1, understands the magnitude of the responsibility of running an enterprise with a legendary founder — Jim Moran — and an enduring mission.
Burns has served as JM Family’s CFO and COO, and is currently president and CEO. Under his leadership, JM Family continues to grow. This year, it broke ground on a $150-million-plus headquarters renovation and is investing $100 million in a processing center in Commerce, Ga. JM Family had revenues of $15.1 billion in 2017.
“This is showing the commitment that we’ve got to the next 50 years,” Burns told Automotive News. “Our objectives are for us to be able to enable our associates to collaborate and work in a campus environment where we have all the technology we need to compete and to do it better.”
Burns spoke with Staff Reporter Jackie Charniga.
Q: Three months into your new position, how is the company doing?
A: So 2017 was a record year for the company, and we’re off to a really solid — may not be record, but it will be close to it — year in 2018, and it’s pretty much across the board. We are defying a little bit of the market in general in that Southeast Toyota, our year-over-year we’re up 5 to 6 percent, and our market share has actually grown about one point year over year. At Southeast Toyota Finance, which of course serves the same 177 [dealerships], they too are having another record originations year. From a market share perspective, their penetration is running about 60 percent, and then at JM&A, our F&I products company, they have a 50-state footprint and aren’t just limited to the Toyota dealers in the five Southeast states. They’re on track for a record volume and a record market share year as well.
What are some major industry headwinds on the horizon?
We’ve been at the peak, and we can all see a bit of a slowdown in the marketplace. Margins are getting tighter and a little bit tougher and harder to work to deliver the same results. But volume is good across the board.
There’s some big trends that we’ve seen: the continued shift of the market towards truck and SUV. Toyota’s done a great job of flexing their production system to help us get there. Toyota in general and Southeast Toyota in particular has been super strong in the car market. The new Camry has been very successful. It has clearly been a hit in a segment that is declining markedly, but we’re gaining tremendous share because of the quality of the product. Next year, we’ve got the all-new RAV4. It’s the hottest, fastest-growing segment that’s out there, so we think we’re positioned incredibly well from a product perspective as we go into 2019. We’re trying to defend and maintain car leadership while growing the truck and SUV segments.
All the tariff activity [is] still leaving some uncertainty — hopefully, we’ll get this [U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement] passed, and so we’ll at least have the North American piece of the puzzle resolved. We’re optimistic that the bilateral talks between Japan and the U.S. will come to a resolution. If those pieces come together, that should bode well.
How has having a legacy marketplace presence helped over the years?
We were founded by Jim Moran, who was the ultimate car guy. When you build your business model around helping your partners be successful, it creates a virtuous circle. When you create success for them, keep your ear tuned to what the consumer’s looking for so that you’re delivering the products and the services that not only dealers are looking for but the kind of product and service consumers are expecting, we think that makes for a great model.
One of the things that we live by is this concept that we do it better. The Japanese call it kaizen: You never rest on your laurels. We’ve literally been processing vehicles for 50 years. They have 18 different kaizen initiatives that are ongoing to continue to tweak and improve the way in which we process and accessorize and deliver a product to our dealers and ultimately our consumers. Technology is clearly enabling us to do that effectively and more clearly.
Each one of our businesses has strategic initiatives that are really about improving that digital retailing solution for the consumer, leveraging 50 years’ worth of data.
Is that where the majority of vehicle transactions are headed?
Some of the most digitally savvy companies in the world [such as Amazon] have identified that having a brick-and-mortar presence is incredibly important. It starts with the clicks and then it needs to move seamlessly to the bricks side of it. We find that people are doing about 16 hours’ worth of research — they know what they want when they get in the store. But it’s one thing for me to hit the “one click to buy” button on a $10 watchband; it’s completely another thing when it’s the second-largest purchase that somebody is making.