Fadi Hijazi, 37
Vehicle exchange/lease retention manager, Penske Mercedes-Benz of West Covina (Calif.)
Achievement: Started Penske's vehicle exchange/lease retention department, which has spread to 10 other stores.
Fadi Hijazi was born in Lebanon, grew up in West Africa, speaks fluent French and travels to Europe regularly, but he'll tell you the most exciting part of his life is selling cars.
"It's really changed who I am," said Hijazi. "I'm more of an extrovert now, and I get to meet so many different people. It's just exciting to me, and it offers a good financial prospect."
His father co-owned a Mitsubishi dealership in West Africa, but Hijazi never worked there. He planned for a career in international business. But while in college in Ontario, Calif., in 1999, he needed a job and heard car dealerships paid well. So Hijazi, who spoke little English then and was shy, interviewed with Saturn of Ontario.
"The manager told me I wouldn't last two weeks in the car business," Hijazi said. "That really got me going. He took a chance on me, and he ended up not regretting it."
Hijazi worked there until he finished college in 2004. He decided to branch out to different dealerships to experience selling various brands, he said. When he landed at Penske Mercedes-Benz of West Covina eight years ago, that's when he "found a home and started growing," he said.
Hijazi was hired as a salesman and promoted to Internet manager in 2011. A year later, store leaders tapped him to build a department to identify customers due for service appointments who had equity in their vehicles. Then he or one of his team of three would approach the customer to discuss selling him or her a new or used vehicle.
It took him about a month to create the guidelines for the department, select the software, hire his team and get the department running. Within two to three months, it was generating profits, improving customer satisfaction scores and building loyalty, he said.
The department handles about 40 to 45 cars a month — almost 20 percent of the dealership's monthly new and used sales.
The average profit margins on his team's deals are higher than those in regular sales, he said, because the customers already like Mercedes-Benz and trust the dealership, so they negotiate less. It has done so well that 10 other Penske stores have started departments based on Hijazi's model, he said.