Corporate fixed operations director, Len Stoler Automotive Group
Aaron Zimmerman is a veteran of the auto industry, with 20 years of experience that includes stints as a service director at five dealerships. But the corporate fixed operations director at Maryland-based Len Stoler Automotive Group said one key to his success is continually thinking like a short-term employee.
"I basically operate like I'm on a 30-day contract each month," Zimmerman said. "I always try to be better than I was a month ago; it keeps me from getting complacent. I also always try to beat last year's financial results by 15 to 20 percent.
"It's kind of a rush when you're constantly moving the bar higher and higher."
By the sound of it, Zimmerman doesn't lack motivation. His first dealership job was working as a porter/janitor in 2004.
"It offered a lot of room for advancement," he quipped.
But within two years, he was promoted several times and eventually became a second-shift service adviser. His aspirations rose even higher after a promotional idea he gave to a visiting tire distributor was adopted by the dealership's management.
"They decided to implement my idea and I enjoyed that they valued my input," he said. "That's when I decided I wanted to be in that room — be the guy that calls the shots and effects changes."
To promote healthy competition among the 10 service departments in the auto group, Zimmerman sends out a daily email to general managers, service managers and other management-level employees that includes critical data points for each store, such as customer-pay repair orders and gross profits.
"The sales side does a great job of monitoring those things, but the fixed ops side usually doesn't do it as well," he said. "We break down and track some key performance indicators, which keeps us from getting complacent."
One of his biggest career achievements was turning around a service department hemorrhaging $100,000 a month. As service director at a Cleveland store, he made what he called "aggressive changes to staff and operations" and dramatically improved the culture.
"Our department became a sought-after place to work," he says.
He also is a big believer in providing training for employees, as well as encouraging them to think outside the box to improve processes and operations. He partially achieves the latter by periodically holding special events outside of work.
"I get sick of hearing people say they do things because that's the way they've always been done," he said. "So I think it's important to get people away from work and get to know each other better, which helps them use each other as resources to innovate rather than trying to figure out things on their own."
— Ken Wysocky