Bruce Daugherty has built an extensive career in the industry by working his way up in automotive sales and service business since 1981 to executive management, most recently serving as Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Sunroad Auto in San Diego. For the last 25 years, he managed in all three major time zones and touched nearly all manufacturers in the business. Currently, he is owner and president of his own consulting company.


He took some time to share his insights about hiring management and leadership in a highly complex industry.

What’s the first thing you think about when prospecting for leadership candidates in the automotive industry?

All industries look for unique characteristics in their management and leadership teams. Automotive sales and service, however, require a precise set of skills for success.


I recommend that if you want to hire for greatness, you’ll have to verify that your candidates bring five special qualities in addition to an outstanding resume:

  • experience
  • structure
  • scale/ adaptability
  • patience


The idea is to narrow down the candidate pool until the top candidate with the best fit remains.


And that’s who you hire.


Why is experience critical to leadership success in the automotive industry?


In general, management and leadership are the same across the board. However, automotive sales and service are so unique that industry experience matters greatly. Anyone trying to bluff their way into a manager role or learn as they go will find themselves drowning in a sea of diverse departments and internal protocols.


To begin with, look for candidates that are automotive people. The auto industry is unique and specific, requiring broad-based skills. When you need a rainmaker, you need someone with commensurate skills.


That’s not all. Find someone with verifiable results. Anyone can walk in and talk a numbers game. I tell those who work with me, “The best predictor of future results is past performance.”

What about structure? Why is this characteristic critical to success? 


I want candidates to tell me how they won at their previous job. When they do, I’m specifically looking for structure and daily routines, including how this regimen evolves into a weekly, bimonthly, monthly, quarterly and annual cycle.


You have a winner if you’re talking with a candidate who can speak fluently about their schedule and regimen without any prompting. You shouldn’t have to prompt the candidate or ask too many questions… They should be able to roll right through it. This candidate is a rainmaker because they already have daily structure and disciplines.


Structure and regimen are more important than experience.

Why would structure supersede experience when considering a candidate for a leadership position?


Disciplines and structure are everything in leadership.


The potential for outstanding leadership in the auto industry depends on scalability. Their new job means adding more zeroes behind numerical problems — in the same amount of time as before. Therefore, regimens, routines, and schedules take precedence over experience.


Leadership is a prescriptive process. If candidates can work with their routine and add a few more prescriptive processes, they’ll win in their new roles. I help them work with bigger numbers in the same amount of time.


Scaling up is a prescriptive process, and having an outstanding resume is not enough. Hires must be able to adapt to (and not overhaul) new methods and develop a new routine and regimen. Look for candidates willing to learn the new system, not duplicate the old one.


If they want to run the department their own way, they need to be an owner (which is a topic for another post), but even then, they would still report to someone else, most likely the bank.

How does adaptability fit into the picture?


New hires who can adapt will be a success.


Candidates must know new prescriptive processes and how to incorporate them into their own preexisting processes and talents. You’ve got to let them know what the job will call for. Give new hires a set of “house rules” so they know what’s expected of them and how they’ll have to adapt. Lack of clarity – what I call desperation hires — leads to new hires running away.


Make sure you hire people who know what your house rules and expectations are. Be clear on what adaptations you expect.

Why is patience necessary for leadership in the automotive industry?


Make sure you hire candidates that are willing to exercise patience and prove themselves for 4 or 5 years. Let them know that promotions can come sooner but that’s your timetable.


I advise people to stay with something long enough to outlast or outlive the others. You have to earn your stripes and work your way into higher leadership positions. Be willing to put in the time and work. People who ask, “How soon will I be eligible for a promotion?” may need to be reminded they are interviewing for the current position.

Any other advice for hiring auto industry managers and leaders?


When hiring, try to get beyond specific brand knowledge. Anyone can learn a brand, but it’s harder to learn the other skills mentioned here.


I also like to bring in candidates for three interviews. It’s a tremendous way to get to know the person and be sure they understand what the job entails.


Finally, I end the interview with, “What can’t you do?” This question helps me understand how the candidate will fit in the organization.


After all, hiring great managers and leaders sets the direction of any business.


If you would like to connect with Bruce, please reach out to David and AutoPeople.


So when you’re ready to have the recruitment team at Autopeople in your corner, give us a call at 1-800-659-9501, visit our website at or email us to discuss what Autopeople can do for you.