General manager, Stateline Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram
Achievement: Guided dealership through recession without layoffs
Kelly Alston's collegiate career plan to be a banker was sidetracked by a 1998 Nissan Maxima.
"I went to a job fair when I was in college -- I was just looking for a resume filler," recalls Alston, now the general manager of Stateline Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram in Fort Mill, S.C., near the North Carolina border.
He took a part-time job selling cars while he was in college studying finance, and Alston said his eyes were opened by the commission checks he began to earn selling that Maxima and other vehicles.
"I saw what kind of money could be made in the car business, and I saw the upward mobility that was available. That was very attractive to me," said Alston. "In banking, your upward mobility is based on who likes you and a lot of politics."
But Alston's education didn't stop when he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1999. Weathering the Great Recession, he said, was "a trial by fire" for learning how to run a dealership.
"It was challenging. We navigated our way through it," explained Alston. "In our dealership, we didn't lay off one single employee during the whole downturn. As I look back on it, it was probably an education that I could never pay for."
Each of those 80 employees had other people depending on them for their living, making job cuts in the face of a catastrophic downturn that much more heart-wrenching. "We cut everything -- advertising, Saturday lunch, gas in sold cars -- any outside service that wasn't absolutely necessary for us to conduct business," he said. "It taught me to make balanced decisions."
Stateline, part of Mills Auto Group, now averages about 220 sales per month, including 150 new vehicles. Those are exponentially higher numbers than the average during the 2009 recession.
"It's made me a much better leader and a much better businessperson as well," Alston said. "When you're faced with all that adversity, when you have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, it teaches you to dig in and face things."
-- Larry P. Vellequette