Johnson King, 33
General manager, Tuttle-Click Ford-Lincoln
Johnson King didn’t grow up a car guy.
An Oklahoma City native, King moved west to attend Pepperdine University. After graduating with a degree in economics, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but his uncle co-owns Tuttle-Click Auto Group, so the self-described “people person” thought he’d give auto retailing a try.
He started in 2011 as a salesman at Tuttle-Click Ford-Lincoln in Irvine, Calif., one of the group’s 16 locations. Nine years later, he’s the general manager, overseeing more than 120 employees.
Profits and market share have risen during his tenure, but the job hasn’t come easy. King said he didn’t really get comfortable in the industry for about a year.
“At first I didn’t know what to make of it,” he said. “But after that, it gets in your blood. It was one of those things where it was right place, right time combined with hard work. It’s really been quite the journey.”
King’s store set a monthly sales record in December 2019 and posted record Lincoln volume. Profits last year jumped significantly from 2018 after King improved some internal processes and placed an increased focus on parts and service, which he called the “last piece of the puzzle.”
He credits George Saad, the dealer group’s vice president, as his No. 1 mentor, and said he tries to empower employees to make decisions without fear of reprimand.
“Whether you’re a service adviser or a salesperson, I want to give them the power where they don’t have all these roadblocks and need to get approval from a manager to do this or that,” he said. “We try to train our team to make the right decision in the moment to take great care of our customers.”
King said he hopes to continue growing market share at the Irvine location and hopes to take responsibility for more stores in the future. He said the coronavirus pandemic has helped his store evolve, leading to an added emphasis on digital retailing and other technologies.
“You have to constantly find ways to tweak, pivot and be nimble in a market that’s incredibly unforgiving for those who don’t make changes rapidly,” he said.
— Michael Martinez