John Allen, 37
General manager, Allen of Monroe
John Allen went from a 12-year-old washing cars at his family's dealership to its general manager. But getting there wasn't simple or straightforward.
In 2008, Allen was selling cars for a dealership in Colorado and skiing in his spare time when his father, Tom Allen, asked him to come back to Michigan to work for him just as the recession was beginning.
After he did so, General Motors put his father's franchises on its termination list as part of its bankruptcy restructuring.
The same month, his father became bedridden with stage 4 cancer, leaving John Allen to run the business during a turbulent year.
The family fought the franchise termination but needed a partner to keep the store afloat. After taking majority ownership, the new partner fired John Allen and demoted his brother from a management position, though the Allen name remained on the building.
It took nearly a decade for the family to get its store back.
"I have always bet on myself, and I don't lose when I bet on myself," Allen said. "I know I'm going to get it done. I'm going to put in the work."
When he was fired, Allen had no car and $100 to his name. He bounced around dealerships in sales and finance jobs, trying to fall in love with the business again.
In 2013, he landed the general sales manager position at Grass Lake Chevrolet in rural southern Michigan. In three years, sales increased sixfold and gross profit per vehicle doubled.
He soon was promoted to director of operations of that store and another GM store in nearby Chelsea. He doubled the Chelsea store's sales and profits and reduced annual employee turnover to 15 percent, from half, at both stores.
In 2018, Tom Allen bought his former dealership back, and GM quickly approved John Allen to run it, having worked with him at the Chelsea and Grass Lake stores. He rebuilt the staff after many left for a competitor. His two brothers also now work at the dealership.
"Family is huge for us," he said. "That's why we are doing it. My wife, Holly, is a huge part of my success."
When he took over, the store sold an average of 105 vehicles a month. This year, it's on track to more than double that. Despite limited inventory because of the coronavirus pandemic and the global microchip shortage, Allen increased his sales staff by 30 percent over the past year.
"When this inventory comes back, we're built up and set up for a massive sales increase," he said. "We want to make sure we're properly staffed. You can take this time and sulk in your sorrows, or you can work on your craft. We've been in an all-out training binge for two months."
At the start of the pandemic, when Michigan dealerships were forced to halt sales, Allen worked with state Sen. Dale Zorn, a Republican, to show Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that they could sell vehicles safely. Zorn wrote to Whitmer, and within a few days she allowed dealerships to resume sales online, partly in response to that letter.
"The letter showed detailed proof that we could do it," Allen said.
Allen rehired his staff and guaranteed to at least equal their year-ago pay for the next three months. Nearly all salespeople reached or exceeded their year-ago targets.
A drive to help others has kept Allen coming back to the car business.
"You can change lives," Allen said. "There is no better feeling than seeing [an employee] who can barely make ends meet within three months, six months, a year, watch them buy a house, a new car and go on vacation. How can you not love that?"
— Hannah Lutz