Anderson Automotive Group
A Culture of Caring
Business View Magazine interviews Mike Brennan, COO of Anderson Automotive Group, for our focus on Growth in the U.S. Automotive Industry
Whether through serendipitous fate or circumstance, some companies went into COVID-19 not even realizing they were prepared to handle a pandemic but discovering that all the pieces just fit together. This is certainly the case for the Anderson Automotive Group in Raleigh, North Carolina, which has grown its business over the last two years.
Mike Brennan, COO of Anderson Automotive Group, shares, “Long before COVID started, we had decided that what would define our company culture would be a ‘culture of caring’. Just weeks before the beginning of the pandemic, we had completed a whirlwind tour around all our sites at which we conducted about 20 town hall meetings. We focused our conversation with every single associate on owning the culture of caring and how important it is to us as an organization.”
Having taken time to do those meetings and talk about the culture of caring left the company more prepared to deal with the pandemic, but also labour issues, health concerns, getting people to come to work, and getting people to come back to work. Brennan adds, “From day one we decided to take care of our people and to make sure they felt listened to. They trusted us, trusted our decision making around COVID and because of that we didn’t have much difficulty getting people to come back to work. This paid off for us.”
This was not the only lucky coincidence for Anderson Automotive. In January 2019, the organization went through a leadership training exercise to have the senior leadership create a strategy for what they would do if there was an unforeseen business circumstance that caused a major disruption. Brennan explains this as some outside force drastically impacting their business – say a 25 percent drop in sales, or what happens if no new cars are being sold. They coincidentally worked out a blueprint to deal with something like a global pandemic and were quick to put that plan in motion.
Horace McCormick, Chief Human Resources Officer, explains, “Another thing that we did here when COVID hit was to create the Anderson Leadership Academy. We developed a nine-month program in partnership with some professors from the University of North Carolina and Duke University which we are very proud of and which has become extremely important for us – it is a critical part of our culture and what we are trying to become. The program is still running, and we are looking at expanding on it in the future. It teaches you about our culture by focusing on three things which are: operational excellence, the ability to lead yourself and others, and creating a culture of caring. We go into a lot of detail about who we are and how we do this as a company, and this is where we teach everybody our secret sauce and how we differentiate ourselves from everyone else.”
Anderson Automotive Group has definitely differentiated itself over the years. It all began when W.H. “Andy” Anderson was hired at the parts counter in a Chevrolet store just after World War II. He worked his way up to assume more responsibility, and when a neighboring dealer went out of business, Anderson’s boss gave him a loan to start up his own shop in Creedmoor in 1955. After five years, Andy took an opportunity to get back to western North Carolina and opened Anderson Chevrolet-Oldsmobile in Waynesville, NC. Andy’s son Fred Anderson grew up helping out at the dealership. Starting in the service and parts departments, he gradually moved into sales and learned the dealership business. When a Chevrolet dealer in a neighboring town went out of business, Fred was presented with the opportunity to take over as owner operator.
In 1970 at the age of 21, Fred Anderson became the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the country. After becoming the largest volume GM dealer in Western North Carolina, Fred Anderson started to expand in the early 1980s with the acquisition of local and Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Nissan (Datsun at the time) dealerships. In 1987, Fred Anderson earned the opportunity to open a new Toyota dealership in Raleigh. Through years of hard work and dedication, that Toyota store became the flagship operation of Anderson Automotive and one of the largest volume Toyota dealerships in the southeastern United States.
In the early 2000s, Fred’s son Michael Anderson came aboard to work in the family business. With many years of ground level experience and several more working outside of the family business, Michael Anderson worked his way through the dealership ranks from a Salesperson, Service Advisor, Finance Manager, Sales Manager and General Manager. Michael Anderson was appointed CEO of Anderson Automotive Group in 2018 after serving five years as President and Chief Operating Officer. Under Michael’s leadership, the company has assembled a world class team that consistently performs at the highest levels.
Today, Anderson Automotive has eight stores and 936 employees. 2021 will also be the first year they have surpassed $1 billion in annual revenue.
“We can’t take all the credit for that,” Brennan admits. “The market has helped. But our people took advantage of the challenges that were thrown at them. In terms of new vehicle supply, we are now at an all-time low. Although we’re starting to see the light at the end of that tunnel. We’re optimistic for 2022 to start building our new vehicle inventory back to a more “normal” days supply. The shortage has created both obstacles and opportunities. It’s pushed us in many areas to keep “Mastering the Basics” – one of our guiding principles. For example, our online sales component took off during COVID. At the same time, we also had to search for talent and think about how to retain talent – while looking at new ways of interacting and being together. It’s been interesting trying to balance consumer expectations in this changing environment. I think what COVID forced us to do is accelerate our learning curve and our investment and commitment to what we call ‘meeting the customer where the customer is’.”
According to McCormick, “We have managed to create an environment where many employees have been with us for 30 years or more. Especially on our Raleigh Campus. Even during COVID, the reality is that we are a very customer-facing business. It is critical that staff are present to service cars and to sell cars. A couple of years ago, we implemented a technology platform called Workday and that helps us manage our human capital. It has become a big part of our preparation as a company, as we think about our present and our future. One of the things that is very important to us is how we manage talent and human capital. The systems side of that is extremely important to us from the perspective of succession planning and a platform which we call Anderson Learning, which is part of the Workday platform. This platform is also a part of how we administer payroll, time off, how we train people. All of that is funnelled into the Workday program.”
The pandemic has brought severe supply shortages to the automotive industry, especially in terms of the computer chip components of new cars. That and the overarching problem of just not enough new cars and therefore a shortage of used vehicles, as well. “What we’re seeing is a dynamic shift in the market,” Brennan explains. “In our business, franchise dealers primarily get their used vehicles through trade-ins, but as the new vehicle inventory went down and the sales of new vehicles went down, our ability to capture those vehicles obviously went down, as well. We’ve been quite proactive in utilizing other channels to acquire vehicles. We’re acquiring vehicles out of our service department. We’re buying vehicles “over the curb”. We’re advertising that we’re buying vehicles even if you don’t buy from us. We had to utilize all these other channels because our main channel prior to COVID was the vehicle auctions and unfortunately everybody in this business uses the auctions. The entire process has made everyone become innovative.”
There is no doubt that Anderson Automotive has flourished because of the value it places on strong relationships. Those include the Comerica Bank; the JM&A Group, which offers vehicle insurance, car protection plans, and auto finance services; and the Moran Group, a Louisiana-based advertising company. Brennan credits all of them for helping the company navigate these difficult times.
“One of the great ways that we have been giving back into the community comes from a program we call ‘Anderson’s Drive for a Difference’,” Brennan notes. “We ran it for six months in every one of our stores at all eight dealerships. From June through November, each of them donated $5000 a month to a local charity… it was really neat how we did it. Some months we let our employees vote on who the charity should be, and we had great participation. There was a lot of passion from a lot of people. Another month, we let our customers vote for who the donations should be given to. I think a lot of people are on cruise control these days and we wanted to show that we are concerned about tomorrow and developing people and relationships with communities that will carry us forward once we’re out of COVID.”
Looking to the future, he adds, “We are very bullish in 2022. We think we have handled the challenges of the last few years very well and we are prepared to grow our organization going into the next five years. The thing about Anderson Automotive Group, and a lot of people will agree with me on this, is that we walk the walk. We care just as much, if not more, about how we do things. It is not just about results.”
AT A GLANCE
Anderson Automotive Group
What: A successful family-owned and operated group of automobile dealerships
Where: Raleigh, North Carolina
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