One of the main concerns that many pundits had when Alan Mulally was named Big Boss at Ford was that he isn’t a car industry guy. In fact, that really is an issue throughout the manufacturing side of the industry. Mulally seems to be a pretty smart guy though and is planning to see what happens in the trenches. At his first visit to the NADA conference in Las Vegas, it was announced that the Ford chief would spend a few days on the sales floor at a Ford dealership. Which dealership is yet to be decided.
It’s interesting to note a current trend within the car maker’s side of the industry as opposed to the retail side. If you look at the older guys who work in the dealer support end of things, you might find one or two at each office who were dealership techs years ago. Beyond that, all the more recent folks have a university background. Even more interestingly, the hiring rules for most field reps at most manufacturers state that new hires must be university educated. Now don’t get me wrong, a university degree is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t teach beans about the retail environment of a car dealership.
It’s no secret that the retail end of the car industry is volatile at worst, and difficult at best. To be successful requires a very specialized set of organizational and people skills. These skills aren’t taught in university, they are learned by interacting with people. This is true not only on the sales floor, but even more so in service where we do our very best to make people happy. Again, the skills needed are learned daily thoughout one’s career. Manufacturer’s reps are supposed to work with us to help lead the way. How can they lead the way when they have no idea what they themselves would do in any given situation?
Alan Mulally may be one of the smartest guys in the corporate world as we know it. He needs to get in the trenches to learn what the front line problems are in order to fix them at the root. If he’s really smart, he’ll spend a few weeks on the service counter too. Not in the Service Manager’s office, but actually on the counter with the advisors. Then we might really see some changes.
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