General manager, Mall of Georgia Mazda
Although the last two years have presented a number of challenges for dealers, the Mazda store Brandon Apon runs in Buford, Ga., has thrived, with all departments posting improved sales and profits and, most importantly, holding on to its employees.
The store, located nearly 40 miles northeast of Atlanta, is part of Hendrick Automotive Group, a company whose culture, Apon says, is laser-focused on employees’ well-being and growth.
“Mr. Hendrick has built an incredible empire both in automotive and in motorsports. And he’s done it by taking care of his people. He’s done it by servant leadership, and I have tried to model that in my store. If you take care of your people and surround yourself with quality people, you can build this culture fortress of sorts that can withstand anything, any turbulence, any adversity, because you have resilient people, and everyone loves each other and you have teamwork,” says Apon.
Of the store’s 60 employees, Apon hired roughly half. So, while the company’s culture filters down from corporate leadership, it’s on his shoulders to turn those words and policies into action.
He’s passionate about recruiting and hiring employees who want to change the dealership experience for customers.
“We don’t look at hiring as ‘We need three salespeople or whatever. We look at who is going to believe in our mission and our vision and who is going to become an advocate for what we are trying to do, which is change the way people perceive the dealership experience.
“The quote I live by is take care of your people and your people will take care of your customers, so for me it is making sure the team is fulfilled, engaged and happy. And those happy people will make happy customers,” Apon says.
Because Apon has worked in nearly all of the store’s departments, he understands each person’s role and can empathize with their concerns.
“When you have spent time side-by-side with somebody changing oil, washing a car, taking an Internet lead, you just develop a natural respect for what someone goes through. You know where to be empathetic. And you also can differentiate between what is inexcusable, sloppiness or whatever.”
Apon, who earned a business marketing degree from Liberty University, did not grow up enamored of cars and never planned a career in the auto industry. But he got recruited by Hendrick as he was graduating from college, and he worked his way up through the ranks at the same store where he began his career.
If he wasn’t managing a new-car dealership, Apon says he could see himself either coaching football — he was a standout tight end at Liberty University — or owning a barbershop. “I’ve actually cut hair since high school. And I’ve cut employees’ hair over the years when they have a wedding or some other special occasion. If I were to chase my entrepreneurial dreams, I’d open a barber shop, which I still think I want to do when I retire.”
— Richard Truett