Zach Hester, 37
CEO, Caldwell Automotive Partners
Zach Hester, CEO of Caldwell Automotive Partners in Caldwell, Texas, has an ambitious goal: To bring his company to over $500 million in revenue in three years, split between $400 million in new and used Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet vehicle sales, and $100 million in government vehicle fleet outfitting.
Under his leadership, the group is already partway there.
In addition to being Caldwell Automotive Partners' CEO, Hester is dealer at the group's other locations, about 100 miles northwest of Houston: Caldwell Country Chevrolet, Rockdale Country Ford and Cameron Country Dodge, an acquisition set to close by this month. The group also owns two locations for CAP Fleet Upfitters in Belton and Houston, with another one coming to Caldwell in 2022.
Under Hester, the company saw sales of about 6,000 vehicles and $250 million in revenue last year.
To help achieve his larger goal, CAP is building a 100,000-square-foot facility for its upfitting operation, which saw record revenue of over $30 million in 2020. It was named No. 1 Government Fleet Dealer with Chevrolet for the 14th year in a row.
Hester hopes to achieve No. 1 Government Fleet Dealer in the U.S. with Ford and Dodge and maintain Chevrolet's status. The pandemic spurred a greater need for those sorts of vehicles, a trend Caldwell Automotive is hoping to capitalize on, he said.
"2020 was our best year as a company, because the nature of our business is so government-related and specific to first responders," Hester told Automotive News. "When the shutdown happened, we were honestly as busy as we've ever been.
"Timing is everything in life," he said of his pursuit of his plan. "I believe that fully and I think that, oddly enough, COVID was one of the weird things that helped speed the process."
Hester joined the business at 17, selling motorcycles. Since joining Caldwell, he has had sales, finance and management roles. He became CEO in August, when he led a management buyout of the previous owners.
"The automotive industry provides anybody in any walk of life the opportunity to have a great living if you want to apply yourself," he said. "It allows people who want to apply effort an opportunity to do anything, and I'm the perfect example of that.
"I bought the company that I worked for. I was very lucky and very blessed along the way to work with good people, good owners and have good friends that were able to help me achieve that goal," he added. "Education is the most important thing in the world. I don't mean school, but self-education. Finding out how you can do what you do better, but also how you can better your staff and provide an atmosphere that creates positive growth and positive ideas."
Hester, who comes from a family of educators, said learning through crises is key to success.
Managing through the industry's global microchip shortage is giving Hester and his staff the lesson of a lifetime. The production cuts have substantially reduced the group's inventory. It normally has about $80 million in inventory this time of year, between Ford and Chevrolet. But at the end of May, it stood at $22 million.
The situation is requiring Caldwell to look for new ideas and apply lessons learned along the way.
"It's changing right before our eyes. And if you do it right, you have a really good opportunity in front of you."
— Alexa St. John