William Knowles, 29
COO, Mike Maroone Automotive Group
Profitability at Mike Maroone Automotive Group of Colorado Springs, Colo., has surged with William Knowles as COO, but there is something he is prouder of accomplishing at the relatively young dealership group.
“Our employee turnover has fallen drastically, our [customer satisfaction] is up, our reputation scores are much higher,” Knowles said. “All those things lead to better processes, better procedures and ultimately more profit.”
How did the dealership group reduce turnover in an industry rife with it? Knowles said it comes down to the company’s “Culture of Caring” motto. “It’s about putting in a little more effort for the person next to you. Initially that sounds like words, sounds like a nice saying that doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “But over time, when you’re consistent with it, and when you go above and beyond for your teammates, it kind of builds, and it creates a little bit more stability, piece by piece, bit by bit.”
Knowles started as a vice president for the dealership group when it was founded with the acquisition of four stores in Colorado in 2017 and was soon named COO. In 2018, the group’s profits nearly tripled.
“In fairness to 2017, that was the year of the transaction,” Knowles said. “So that causes its own disruption and lost days.”
In 2018, Mike Maroone Automotive Group’s team jelled and became process-driven. The profit hike came “without selling a lot more cars,” Knowles said. “Our team accomplished this by working hard to create a better, more rationally functioning business.”
This year is off to a good start, too, with profits up 18 percent over 2018’s pace.
Knowles came to the dealership world in a unique way. After college, he put his finance knowledge to work at Bill and Melinda Gates Investments, the office that manages the Microsoft co-founder’s fortune. Knowles eventually landed on a team that primarily oversaw investments in publicly traded companies. His work included the transportation sector, and specifically car dealerships as investments. Bill Gates is the largest shareholder in AutoNation Inc., the country’s No. 1 new-vehicle retailer.
Meanwhile, AutoNation COO Mike Maroone retired from that company in 2015. Knowles had been with Bill and Melinda Gates Investments for a while at that point and was looking for a new step in his career. He had always wanted operational experience in a business, and the complexity involved in auto retailing and the various business lines and profit centers of a dealership interested him.
And Maroone wasn’t done in the car business. As Maroone explored re-entering the dealership business, Knowles got to know him and his family well — so well, in fact, that he became part of it.
“He and I built a professional relationship,” Knowles said. “I also married his daughter.”
— David Muller