DETROIT — In 1962, at Dick Fencl Chevrolet in suburban Chicago, Pat Ryan created the first designated finance office for dealership employees to sell credit life insurance to customers. He later founded Pat Ryan & Associates training academy, which trained thousands of finance and insurance professionals nationwide.
In July, Ryan, 82, was recognized for his trailblazing F&I achievements when he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. At MGM Grand Detroit before his inauguration ceremony, Ryan spoke with Reporter Jackie Charniga about the first F&I office and how training has evolved since then. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: You're credited with creating the first F&I office. Did you know that it would be considered a watershed moment in automotive retail?
A: I knew it needed to be done. But when you start you don't know how large it will get. I thought it would get quite large. As a matter of fact, my wife interviewed me when our relationship started getting more serious. She said, "Well, what do you plan on doing with this company?"
We were in three states. I said, "I think it's a national business. I can't say international, but I think it'll be national." Because there was such a demand.
There was pushback from salespeople who were selling F&I products themselves at the time. How did you promote the idea of an F&I office despite the resistance?
The key was and still is selling the dealer on this is the way to manage that business. Then let them handle the pushback from their employees.
But we always insisted on bringing in someone new to the industry, so they didn't have preconceived beliefs that they know how to do it differently and better.
We recruited high-quality people, but trained them in the right way. And that worked really well. But like anything else, when you introduce a change of behavior, you change the policy, it doesn't take effect deeply right away.
A lot of F&I trainers that underwent training with Pat Ryan & Associates still talk about it today, even brag about the experience. How would you define a well-trained F&I manager?
They have a very serious responsibility. You're handling financial affairs for a consumer. It's really important that it's done professionally, it's done thoroughly, and that you take the mystery out of it. People that have good interpersonal skills — that's very important — are well-organized, and have belief in the process.
We've literally trained thousands of people at Pat Ryan & Associates training, and many of them went on to be sales managers, general managers — many became dealers. It was an influx of talent into the industry.
What was F&I training like in those days?
They got very attached to their instructors. Still, people would come up to me, and say, "I was in your class in 1979 and my instructor was Bob Kemp. How's Bob Kemp doing?" There was a bonding.
It was a two-week immersion. We did something people weren't doing in those days: We videoed everybody. Being videoed making a sales presentation is very illuminating. They saw themselves, live, and people were frightened to do it.
But visualization became a big part of it. They visualized themselves succeeding. We didn't pioneer that, but we were early adopters.
A lot of training now is done remotely, or F&I managers sometimes take online courses before or after in-person training. What does a two-week immersion feel like, and is this something that can be translated to an online format?
Some of it is done online, but do you want to go to a university and sit in the classroom and have coffee with your classmate afterwards? And do you want to talk about what you just learned? Do you want to ask questions of people? Do you want to be in a social environment that stimulates the personal and the academic? Or do you want to do it online?
A lot of dealers across the country are trying to downsize the F&I office and go back to a one-point person to close a car deal. How do you feel about that?
I wouldn't be one to change a very successful model. I mean, it's not rocket science. But it is really an important interpersonal engagement.
People are talking about their home mortgage. They're talking about their financial affairs. Saying, "Why should I go to a bank? Do I go to the credit union?" These are things where you guide them. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I believe you can divert too easily when you're losing your focus.