Automotive News 40 Under 40

Autumn Henderson

AGE: 33

POSITION: General manager, Liberty Buick and Liberty GMC, Peoria, Ariz.

Autumn Henderson

Taking over as general manager at one of the nation's highest-volume Buick dealerships as a 20-something was unnerving enough. Getting that gig in October 2008, at the tipping point of the financial crisis and with General Motors sliding toward bankruptcy, was downright daunting.

"I was already a little terrified just about becoming the general manager," says Autumn Henderson, who was 28 at the time.

It helped that the family store, still partly owned by her parents, Dana and Teresa Moore, had long been solidly profitable and enjoyed an especially loyal customer base, thick with snowbird retirees.

But those advantages also had lulled people there into a sense of complacency.

The dealership had no customer relationship management program, which by then was a common tool for a store of that size. Its system for following up on leads was based on a mostly ignored paper filing system. The one-person Internet sales department generated fewer than 15 sales a month.

Though young, Henderson had grown up in the dealership. When Henderson was 7, her mom would send a lot attendant to pick her up from school and bring her back to the store to spend the rest of her day.

Henderson worked as a receptionist there in high school and eventually became office manager. Then, around 2006, the store's general sales manager left and the position went unfilled. Most of those duties flowed to Henderson.

She also earned an MBA and took a general manager "boot camp" course at dealership-training firm NCM Associates. She applied her learning toward an operational overhaul of Liberty Buick.

Today, a customer relationship management system spits out a daily report of leads and follow-ups for each salesperson. A five-person digital sales force generates more than 50 sales a month. The Buick store sold 773 new vehicles in 2012, up 79 percent from 431 in 2009. Henderson expects revenue to top $70 million this year vs. $40.7 million in 2009.

Henderson also led a $3 million renovation of the Buick store and the Liberty GMC store across the street, where she has been general manager since 2012.

Even through the tough times, no employees were laid off. That's among Henderson's proudest accomplishments. After all, she has known many of the dealership's 100 employees since she was a kid.

"They're always joking with customers that they've known me since I was this big," she says. "And now I'm the boss."

-- Mike Colias