Dave and Katarski, 39
COO, Feldman Automotive Group
Achievement: Growing revenue 20 percent at Michigan's largest Chevrolet retailer
Dave Katarski had been accepted to Emory University's law school, but his father didn't want him spending the summer before classes started just lounging poolside with friends. So Katarski got a sales job at a Ford dealership near his home in Atlanta.He sold 34 cars in his first month and by fall had decided he'd rather spend time in a showroom than a courtroom."It probably would not have been as glamorous as I thought," admits Katarski, who hadn't seriously considered an automotive career even though his dad was a longtime executive with American Honda.Selling cars, he discovered, really got his juices flowing. "You either win or you lose every single day," he said. "I love the energy and the excitement."Katarski stayed with the company that owned the Ford dealership, AutoNation, for almost 17 years. He eventually served as its market president for the Southeast, overseeing 34 stores.In January, he became COO of Feldman Automotive Group, which has seven new-car dealerships in Michigan and aims to double the size of its footprint in three years. Katarski, 39, already has helped expand the business significantly; its website traffic has more than doubled and revenue was up 20 percent this year through May.Under Katarski, Feldman has added about 100 employees this year, and its ad spending has increased 12 percent. "We're not afraid to spend the money on that," he said.The aggressive investments are quickly paying dividends. Additional technicians have boosted customer-pay service business by 18 percent. Used-vehicle sales are up 23 percent after he hired a full-time buyer to replenish stocks faster and stopped wholesaling all but the most tired trade-ins. New-vehicle sales have climbed 21 percent vs. a slight decline in retail sales for Chevrolet, which accounts for 96 percent of Feldman's volume. (Four of its five Chevy stores are among the brand's top 50 nationwide.)Closing rates have gone from below the industry average last year to above, helped by a switch in the group's customer relationship management system to improve tracking of leads.Owner Jay Feldman, who didn't previously have a COO, wanted "a fresh set of eyes," Katarski said. "He's the visionary, and he lets me go execute upon it.