At the helm of the largest new-vehicle retailer in the U.S. for 50 days, new AutoNation CEO Carl Liebert already has had one about-face. He won't hire a COO after all — at least not for the foreseeable future.
Liebert, who in March replaced longtime AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson, doesn't want to put anyone between him and top executives Jim Bender, who leads sales, and Scott Arnold, who leads parts and service and the retailer's brand-extension strategy.
"Until I learn this business, it would be both a disservice to me and a disservice to them if I layered somebody in between," Liebert told Automotive News last week after AutoNation reported lower earnings and revenue but higher per-vehicle profitability in the first quarter.
"So my hands are going to be in the engine room of this process because that's the way I like to learn."
When his appointment was announced in February, Liebert had said he'd eventually hire a COO after he'd had a chance to visit stores and evaluate in-house talent.
Liebert has spent his first weeks on the job visiting dealerships and has met with executives from automakers such as Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar Land Rover and with other partners such as Waymo and TrueCar. Two Liebert initiatives already are underway:
- Get AutoNation-branded parts to the company's dealerships and collision centers faster. That effort taps into Liebert's supply chain and logistics expertise, which he developed in an executive role at Home Depot.
- Strengthen an already robust finance and insurance business by helping lower-performing stores improve their results to company standards.
"There's always opportunity for stores that are outliers in performance, but you have to go in those stores, roll up your sleeves and help those stores improve," Liebert said.