Joe Wajda, 36
Executive manager, World Subaru
Achievement: Used theater background to keep turnover low while boosting sales at the two dealerships
Before working in dealerships, Joe Wajda was a professional musical director, working in various theaters in the greater New York City area.
Wajda, who grew up passionate about the arts, soon found the theater pay was no match for the crazy hours he worked. He decided to take his friend up on an offer to spend the summer selling cars instead.
He started at a Saturn store in 2002. Three years later, Wajda landed at World Jeep-Subaru as a sales manager. He was promoted to general sales manager within the year. By 2014, he was promoted to general manager of World Subaru and World Jeep-Chrysler-Dodge-Ram, which became separate stores in 2011.
Wajda found his theater experience wasn't wasted in dealerships.
"The collaborative effort that is needed to run a dealership and to have a great team work with you on a daily basis is not that dissimilar to a theatrical atmosphere where so many different people collaborate with different talents to produce the same work," Wajda said.
The focus of much of his work now is his employees, where turnover is minimal, he says. The fact that customers "see the same face" when they return to the stores has helped push overall Subaru sales up 30 percent and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram sales up 20 percent since Wajda took the reins in 2014.
"We try to put employee satisfaction as high on the list as customer satisfaction," Wajda said. "I think just having a team-focused atmosphere, where it's not just one guy at the top that says what we're going to do, but really listening to the concerns and the needs of our employees and making sure that they feel valued," builds that satisfaction.
According to Subaru of America, last year, World Subaru ranked No. 5 in the country for certified pre-owned sales and No. 75 for new-vehicle sales.
In January, Capstone Automotive Group, backed by New York private equity firm GPB Holdings, purchased the two dealerships and promoted Wajda to executive manager, giving him a 5 percent ownership stake in each store.
And Wajda hasn't forgotten his roots: The Subaru store sponsors the historic Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J., where he also volunteers.
Stephanie Hernandez McGavin