Natasha del Barrio, 37
CEO, Bert Ogden Auto Group
In 2006, when the then-CEO of Bert Ogden Auto Group in McAllen, Texas, asked Natasha del Barrio if she’d rejoin the dealership group as a finance director, the spunky 24-year-old declined the job, proposing she take his post instead.
Bob Vackar, the former CEO, “was a little stunned,” recalled del Barrio. Afterward, she was embarrassed for implying that he was old and insisting that she could take his job. She remembers thinking, “What did you just say to that man?”
Five years later, that impulsive comment by del Barrio resurfaced.
She had worked for Bert Ogden as a teenager until she was 23, mostly on the marketing team.
When del Barrio told Vackar she wanted to run the group, she was working in indirect lending at Citigroup, and the Bert Ogden stores were in her market. Vackar was still mentoring del Barrio during her years away from the dealership group.
In 2011, to her surprise, he reminded her of their conversation and offered her a job, suggesting the CEO role could be in her reach someday.
She rejoined Bert Ogden as a corporate strategist in 2012, working in wealth management and estate planning. But “I lacked the capacity to mind my own business,” del Barrio said. “If there’s a problem, I can’t walk away.”
She found herself inching into other areas of the business and became chief administrative officer. In 2017, she was appointed CEO at age 35. It was a rapid rise to the top for someone who didn’t grow up in a family that owned dealerships.
Del Barrio first went to work at Bert Ogden as a junior in high school when her uncle, a store general manager at the time, told her about an opening for the marketing director’s assistant. But he wouldn’t share that person’s phone number and said del Barrio would have to figure out how to apply on her own. Del Barrio, working as a waitress then, figured a dealership job would offer more long-term opportunity. She tracked down the marketing director’s number and called her persistently until she got the job.
Bert Ogden has 18 stores in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and sold about 24,000 new and used vehicles last year.
One of del Barrio’s most significant challenges has been converting the mindset of auto retail veterans who are averse to change. She tries to show the staff the big picture by giving a thorough explanation for why something is shifting, explaining the situation and how the new approach will benefit the company, customers and employees.
“Generally speaking, that tends to win people over and get them to at least give it a fair shot. But, you know, every now and then you’ll have the holdouts that just have got a more negative attitude,” del Barrio said.
That response can be trying, especially when there is a sense of urgency and excitement around the change, she said.
One area del Barrio needed employees to rally around: used-vehicle sales.
As the retailer added six dealerships during the last six years, it put a lot of emphasis on its relationships with automakers and new-vehicle sales, said del Barrio. Balance was needed.
Today, “as those margins shrink and factory programs become unrealistic, it didn’t make sense to put all of our efforts on the new-car department,” she said.
But transitioning from the longstanding view was a challenge and required a lot of guidance with the new-vehicle staff, she said. Once employees embraced the change, the improvements became tangible.
Bert Ogden began approaching the used-vehicle business more strategically and statistically, determining how many cars to take in, monitoring the stores that weren’t meeting the standard and enforcing a strong reconditioning objective.
In May, the group sold 792 used cars, beating its record of 691. Before Bert Ogden overhauled used-car operations, it sold around 400 per month.
The reconditioning standard, implemented in 2017, better prepared the group to take advantage of lucrative certified preowned vehicle sales. Before that new standard, some employees struggled with whether to certify vehicles as they figured it would add expense and cut into per-vehicle profits.
But with the new reconditioning program, “the certification was sort of negligible,” del Barrio said. “We already reconditioned our cars to such a high standard that they immediately would pass a certification.”
The shift gave the company marketing and branding power.
With the group’s resulting strength in CPO sales, “we have found a very good balance between the volume and the gross, so changing that mindset has been a phenomenal profit driver for us,” she said.
Under del Barrio’s leadership, the company also combined its used-vehicle listings. All of the group’s used vehicles now appear on every dealership website. Before, each dealership website showed the vehicles only on that store’s lot.
Bert Ogden Way
Del Barrio and her team also are working to develop the Bert Ogden Way. After the group’s quick expansion, del Barrio homed in on the lack of uniform companywide processes.
“This dealer group may have been around for 40 years, but we’re a very young large company. Along with such rapid growth, it was a real challenge in terms of a consistent process,” she said. “Many times, as a dealership was acquired or an open point was put in, sometimes there was not the ability ... to maintain a synchronized Bert Ogden process.”
The dealerships had their own ways of doing business, which weren’t incorrect, said del Barrio, but that presented challenges. “When you’re trying to look at them as a group, there were many times where it was very difficult to make comparisons and to make decisions because the process was so different in each store,” she said.
The transition to the Bert Ogden Way will start at the store level.
“That way at a corporate level, there are apples to apples and oranges to oranges,” she said.
— Hannah Lutz