An Expert on Yesterday with Tom Ryan

September 30, 2022
Tom Ryan likes change. And Tom Ryan knows he can navigate through change. He’ll figure it out. He’s been doing it his whole career, and figuring it out over and over again has given him a directness and an optimism that’s infectious. To him, automotive is a simple place: Let the customer buy the way that they want. We talk about that plus a lot more.
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What we talk about in this episode:
Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

2:53 Paul and Kyle both share stories about the first time they met Tom, and the conversation pivots to Lululemon’s history and pregnant pauses in conversation.

8:38 Tom traces his journey through automotive, from working his way up through the Walser Automotive Group to having a falling out and reconciliation with Paul Walser to founding and launching FUSE Autotech.

19:18 There’s only one north, in Tom’s mind, and the goal should be always moving towards that north. For Tom, that means transparency and honesty.

25:19 The reason that there are 3rd party vendors in automotive is because the customer hasn’t been able to buy the way they want to, according to Tom. He’s excited for the changes that are going to come to retail automotive because it means that the good dealers who are helping customers will rise to the top and succeed.

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Michael Cirillo: 0:00You know what else I didn't get while we were in Philly.Unknown: 0:09

This is Auto Collabs

Michael Cirillo: 0:11

I did not get to the Italian market.

Paul Daly: 0:14

The one suggestion we had

Kyle Mountsier: 0:17

the one time but one go to a place and we all didn't go to a place.

Michael Cirillo: 0:23

So you know what that means? We just need to go have an excuse to get back to

Paul Daly: 0:28

back to Philly. Oh, I think I think we honestly I've thought about this. If you don't know this podcast started with us in Philly, you know, sitting around a table recording the beginnings of what was the Auto Collabs podcast, we went back another time, and did that in person we wanted in person to be a critical part of the show. I think we have one more in us personally. I've never. I think we have one more Philly in us. And then we should definitely do the Italian market. And we should film it.

Michael Cirillo: 0:58

We should film it. We should somehow try and do something in the Italian market. Not a flash mob. I don't know why I was just picking up Flash.

Paul Daly: 1:07

Flash we should surely haven't been friends in the last couple of years.

Michael Cirillo: 1:11

After you eat at the Italian market, you don't have the energy to to do a flash mob.

Paul Daly: 1:16

That's the cruel trick. Everyone starts dancing. That's where they get you. Oh my goodness, I could as well. You know, I feel like the eccentric start to this podcast episode matches our guest to a tee. Tom Ryan is one of the most brilliant and eccentric people in the auto industry, period. End of story. He just has like a Seth Godin vibe to him. Absolutely. But he has also all this automotive knowledge and all these automotive relationships that that kind of sent me for a little bit of a twist.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:52

You know what's really interesting? Tom Ryan is like one of the most connected people in auto, from what I understand yet. I don't even know if he knows how to spell social media. It's incorrect. Like, it's one of those. It's one of those ratios where he just like he's gotten to know everyone over the years. You're like, Tom, what are you up to? I just got I just got out a dinner with the president and a blop blop blop. Laura, and I'm like, where were at? He goes Abu Dhabi. Yeah, I don't know. Maybe not. The most interesting place with the most interesting people never ceases to blow my mind. But he's so down to earth even. It's like there's this there's no disconnect between him and humanity and real conversations at all times.

Michael Cirillo: 2:37

Wow. I don't know if we could say any more. I hope you guys enjoy this conversation with Tom Ryan.

Paul Daly: 2:50

Tom, it is so good to sit here with you. I remember the very first time I saw you. We were in sun Chevrolet. And Todd Caputo was switching over to be one price store. And I walked in and I was like, who brought like Seth Godin's cousin to this room? Because you did not look like the typical folks that I see when I walk into a dealership conference room, which is like the most boring space, right? It's like a Manila office that is functional it and I was like, I need to pay attention to what this guy is saying. So it's good to be back with you in this. We've seen each other a few times since then. But I'm seeing you in this. Yeah,

Tom Ryan: 3:31

it's awesome.

Kyle Mountsier: 3:32

I have a question. I have a question was Tom Ryan? Or was he an early adopter of Lululemon pants at that point as well?

Tom Ryan: 3:40

Yeah, I didn't wear Yeah, by then I was although we still pre pandemic on professional settings. wore suits funny, my youngest daughter for a long time. Now she's 25 years old. And so in high school, I had to go so she went a bit this would have been seven, eight years ago, nine years ago, maybe more even 10. She made me go to Lululemon to get her stuff get she was playing volleyball. And at that point, I didn't really know they made men's clothes and I happened to be standing around while she was getting stuff and I thought I should try these on or go for this. And now that's it.

Paul Daly: 4:27

I've never I wouldn't have known that unless you said that because I only saw him in the suit which was a really well fitting suit. I might add

Tom Ryan: 4:37

your suits which are wonderful Italian suits. The problem is I have a closet full of stuff now that I wear T shirts most of the time.

Kyle Mountsier: 4:46

He's like I went full t shirt Lululemon pants, they snap out when you pull them out of the luggage

Tom Ryan: 4:54

I've never had Do you know the story on how they got their name? No,

Paul Daly: 4:58

no I'm guessing we're about to find out. Find out.

Tom Ryan: 5:01

No, it was a Canadian guy that founded it started making yoga wear in the 70s. And they ended up the Asian Chinese market knocked them off. And so they bootlegged all of it. And so he then kept that logo, which is now the Lululemon logo, made a new company and picked a name with the most ELLs that he could find. Because you use Rulu revenue, right? It's it's the one thing they have trouble pronouncing. He's like

Kyle Mountsier: 5:39

they're gonna have some rural remnants around. So

Tom Ryan: 5:46

funny thing,

Kyle Mountsier: 5:47

what, what a Canadian if I've ever if I've ever heard of one Yeah.

Paul Daly: 5:52

Okay. My Cirillo was here right now to hear this. If Cirillo

Kyle Mountsier: 5:57

was here, this would be next. Okay, so my story, maybe not doesn't maybe it doesn't. But my story is like this, I didn't meet him in person. And first time, I'm on the drive from one store to another, everybody. And in the end, the company is we've got like, probably six or seven people on the call, you know, everyone, from COOs, to CEOs, and it's like, Hey, we're potentially moving to one price one person, and there's this guy, Tom Ryan, and we've got to have, you know, these 6 7 8 people on the call. I'm, I'm driving because it's kind of inconsequential at this point. And, you know, there's kind of this general introduction, and everyone gets to know each other for a second, Tom, Tom explains exactly what he does from a consulting perspective. And then the price comes out. Right. And, and it was probably one of the greatest moments ever. And, and the price comes out, because, you know, everybody asked price at the end of the call, and, and then one of one of the people on this side of the company and kind of goes, well, you know, Tom, we have, we have a few locations. So, you know, I'm sure there's a little bit of like, figuring out we can do with that. And there's this, like, really pregnant pause that happens. And I'm just I'm like, I feel like I'm in a car getting pumped. I'm looking around like, oh, man, someone's gonna get me right. And Tom, just like so elegantly. I don't know, I've never told you this. But I literally I had to mute I laughed so hard after he said this. But he goes, he goes, Well, I do. I do convert one price dealerships? Yeah. Like, it was just this moment. And from then on everything. Everything that Tom Ryan has said to me, or like, interacted, like, there's always I always feel like there's a moment where there's just a pregnant pause, where he just kind of like, just kind of sets the tone for what He's about to say. And I just appreciate that that nature of

Paul Daly: 8:02

like a well placed pregnant pause, right.

Kyle Mountsier: 8:06

Yes, exactly. Tom, so take us back. Because you you haven't always been, you know, with Fuse or consulting dealers on one price, one person and you've been in the industry for quite some time. Yeah, you know, I know a little bit of your history and your story. But take us back, like go all the way to the beginning. Because I think what's really interesting is that there's a through line for you that nothing has really changed, except everything's changed at all at the same time.

Tom Ryan: 8:36

Yeah, so I my dad was part of the Walzer Automotive Group and my uncle founded it so Paul and Andrew are my cousins. I started as a lot guy back in, like, in 1975, roughly. And I was in high school. And then when I got out of school, I was I moved in with my cousin Paul Walzer, who is the back then the used car manager of the Ford store. So while I was in school, he said, Well, why don't you sell a car? So I started selling used cars at Walzer Ford. And over time, that led to becoming a finance manager, new car manager used car manager, GSM and then the GM of three of the stores. I really kind of fell for I don't know why I really liked the whole training thing. At one point, they came to me and said, you know, would you consider we want to, we're thinking about building out a training department to do all of the stores. I think there were a dozen at that point. And I said, Yeah, that's awesome. So let's build our own processes. We did that. Throughout then we converted to upfront pricing in 2000. And I was the director of training. And then throughout this so at that time I had been there, you know, 25 years. And I always I joke about it Kyle's heard me say it, I always wondered whether I actually had any marketable skills, or I was simply related. And so, one day I went in and quit, and that was 2008. Like, let's

Kyle Mountsier: 10:24

figure this out. Right in the middle of everything. He's like, I'm out.

Tom Ryan: 10:29

I literally went into my sister Peggy was there. She's Paul's personal assistant. And I told her, I said, is Paul around and she said, Yeah, what's up? And I said, I'm going to resign. Well, she said, Well, you wait till I leave the building. And so I did. And so I left and I went over. And I did moreys, by happy promise, they called it. And at the same time, I did the Holler Automotive Group, they were my first two clients. So it was a combination about 25 stores. And we were off to the races. And so

Paul Daly: 11:10

and just to be clear your clients as training them to also do like upfront pricing, right?

Tom Ryan: 11:17

Yeah. Yeah. And so there was a bit of a falling out between Paul and I, because we are, you know, I fixed him up with his wife, we've been really closer to him than my brother. And so I was talking with a guy, Austin O'Brien, who did our website and all that stuff. And he's a young guy. And he said, Well, you know, how much contact you have with your family? And I said, Really none. And I told him the story. And he said, wow, that's really lame. And I'm like, Oh, Jesus, really? And he's like, yeah, that's your family. And I'm like, so I called Paul one day, and I said, you know, it's been so long. I can't remember why I don't like you.

Paul Daly: 11:59

He's like, You, right?

Tom Ryan: 12:01

Yeah. I just can't remember. And he said, well, then we should have breakfast. So we had breakfast. We kind of hashed things out, spin the clock forward. He then we were working out one day said, Would you be willing to sell half of the Ryan Adams group at that time to Walzer? And I said I thought about and I thought, sure, why not. And I didn't know at that time, they had acquired the Luxury Collection in Wichita, and he was going to be involved with NADA. And he just thought that was really the wave of the future. And so we partnered back up. Another time at the gym. I asked him, I said,

Kyle Mountsier: 12:43

things, the gym, they do we work

Tom Ryan: 12:45

out. Just right. Just

Paul Daly: 12:49

some Lululemon target.

Tom Ryan: 12:51

I said to him, we were on the elliptical machines. And I said, you know, when would be a good time for you to make your cousin rich? And he said, Well, when do you want to be rich? And I said, I don't know, like 15 years ago. Why don't you buy into some of the stores that I had kind of hooked him up with Carl Schmitt to do the Hello Auto Group. Yeah. And I said, I didn't know as an option. And he said, Sure. Do you want to buy in, you're welcome to? And I said, Awesome. How do you pay for it? He said, I have no idea. The accountants do all that. I think you're gonna have to write a check. So, I did. And so I bought in to the Hello group. And that's been awesome. And throughout all of this, Walser I've converted over to single point of contact, and they developed FUSE in about 2010 2011 right in their fuses Finance Under Secured Environment software built as a cash register. And every time I would have clients like, Kyle's previous employer, they all excuse me, come to Minneapolis to sort of see what this is. And they'd see FUSE and say, This is awesome. So I had been working or trying to get my cousin's to take FUSE to market for a number of years. And then the pandemic hit. And we were in talks with an Israeli venture capital firm that Andrew was friends with. And these were some big these were co founders of Skype and Groupon and one is the chairman of Wix the website company and you know, little word. Yeah, they're huge money and these guys were really interested. And so we decided to take FUSE to market at that time. I guess we didn't know right? We had no idea what we were doing. FUSE wasn't perhaps robust enough at that time on the platform, it was had to be switched over from Microsoft AWS built in a different in. So these Israeli development team, which there's 30 of them over there are unbelievable. And so that was the beginning of FUSE than they asked if I wanted to be the VP of Sales for FUSE. So I sold the Ryan Adams group to fuse. And here we are, my job so,

Kyle Mountsier: 15:33

so here's, here's your job hasn't changed. You said something in there. You said, We had no clue what we're doing. And when I when I like, listen back through your story, you know, it's like a lot Porter turn salesperson had no clue what I was doing, but figured it out. First training thing, I'm sure there was a moment that you were like, have no clue what we're doing. But we're gonna figure out, you know, hey, I'm gonna I'm gonna consult with dealerships to do something that we did at a at a single place for eight years had no, you know, I've actually heard you say that, like, when we started this, we had no clue what we were doing. So we built some systems and processes to move people through a six month timeline. And now currently, it's like, had no clue what we're doing. But we're figuring it out. And I think what I love about that is, I mean, you know, for the people that don't know, Tom, there's, you know, you're not on social media, big and loud or anything like that. But if you go, Hey, Tom, do you know someone at such and such and such The answer is probably something like I had dinner with him last week? Normally, right. Yeah. But the reality is, that's the automotive industry. When I look at it, it's like, we didn't really know what pandemic hit. We figured it out. All right. And that's how I think

Tom Ryan: 16:51

in you and I had conversations that I never thought failure wasn't I never dawned on me that it wouldn't work. Right. It dawned on everybody in the world, that funny stories how Kyle knows, Paul, you may not. So I've been sober. 42 years, I went to rehab in 1980. So we were walking around the lake Paul, and it was my 41st year of or whatever. And he said, You know, when you went in to rehab, the over under was about 90 days. Under the thick of it, everyone did. And you know, it never dawned on me to that to not, you know, I mean, so I my whole life, have looked at it and go play up, if that makes sense. If you're if you're a tennis player, play tennis with great tennis players, and you'll succeed. If you're a golfer, play golf with great golfers, don't play with people you can beat. Do everything in life, that with people that challenge you and challenge the status quo, to bring you up, not to bring you along.

Paul Daly: 18:03

What's the other side of that? So, you know, you say you know, play up so you're constantly learning and gleaning from people who are better than you trying to be around them. So you can glean from them. How does that pass through you to like the next person?

Tom Ryan: 18:18

I think you and Kyle would tell you this, simply because I know I've never been closer to him than Paul. I think I'm an open book. I don't think I hide anything. I think if they have an answer, give them the answer. And I'm always help. And I'm painfully direct Well, right. Yeah.

Kyle Mountsier: 18:46

This is this is a normal conversation with with Tom real quick, I'll just give you the the basis of it. Hey, Tom, I was thinking, Well, I'll tell you well, really, that's all it I mean, he just I mean, that's what it is. And that's normally like by the end of the conversation, he's throwing his hands at you, shrugging his shoulders and being like, what did you expect me to say? The non truth

Tom Ryan: 19:12

there's only one north and it's easier to stick to that. And I think that's why the world's in trouble a little bit today from not to get off but from a news perspective, nobody nobody nobody knows right? You flip from one channel to the other. There can only be one baseline of North and then we can all navigate the world today we have two Yeah, and that leads to problematic right leads to North's Yeah. And so I think that that's so I tried to keep my north as consistent as I can what what is your north? I think transparency and honesty and it doesn't mean I you know, I'm like every other person that BS is my way through stuff but you In front of a group, we have standard people that all of us that are influencing this to do our best because Weren't you know, I'm an expert on yesterday, not tomorrow. And so we're all trying to figure out what tomorrow looks like. And so you do it based on your best estimates and guess. You know, I had this conversation with somebody very recently this week, a dealer was visiting Walser. And they asked the question, I got this, I was talking to Sherry Schultz, she worked. She's the head HR person. And in conversation, it dawned on me that because she had said that, she said, Look, our salespeople are actually customers for the first year. And I went, Holy crap. That's why they sell so many. Because they don't. They're not trained, like salespeople have been ruined yet, right? Yeah. And so that's what's attractive to them from customers, is their thought process is the same. And I think that's what customers in our world really want is they want information, they want facts, and they want answers. And they'll given that they'll conclude the right things. And so, this, the pandemic has not been good for deals. It's been awesome for all of us financially. But it's been terrible for our industry, right? They have gouged, they have they've done everything wrong to customers weekend, and high demand low availability is the worst thing for sales process in the world. Right? Because it's a take it or leave it, you don't want it someone else well, and on top of that, everything we've known about selling cars, is under scrutiny, meaning we were all taught you had to drive with them, right? We're all taught you had to sit down and do a needs analysis, but that we are also all taught they if they don't drive when they can buy one, right, no one's driven one in the last year and sold more than we've ever sold. And for more money. And so I think it's there's a, you know, you have to be open to the idea that it's not the way we did it, it's how they want to. And so I think that I like change, because I'm able to distance myself between people that won't change and what the future looks like.

Kyle Mountsier: 22:37

I love that, like, some people, there's kind of a continuous What's that? Yeah, it's a FUSE pen. It's a it's a Lammi. It's a it's an incredible pen, and it writes perfect.

Paul Daly: 22:51

Or do you just recognize it?

Kyle Mountsier: 22:53

You know, what's really funny? Tom gave it to me in a box that has FUSE on it, but this one actually didn't say FUSE on it. But I know it's a FUSE pen and everybody

Paul Daly: 23:02

and everybody watching this podcast knows it's a fuse time.

Kyle Mountsier: 23:06

But there's a continuum on change. It's like, over here, you've got a hate change, then you got then you have I don't really like change, then it's I accept change, then it's I'm okay with change. And then over here, which is what I what I heard you say just now which was I love change. And that's an aggressive position to take in, in a in a place where comfortability is comfortable. But if you love if you actually admire and pursue change, then like the result of that is change becomes a matrix that you're constantly able to just drop into.

Tom Ryan: 23:46

Right? I think you're I'm either dumb or I'm not sure because I don't have any fear of it. I have a fair amount of confidence when I am actually very conservative. I think some people see me as a risk risk taker I'm not, they're very calculated, but I'm willing to go there because I believe in my heart that that's the right direction. And when you believe you have conviction, and I think that's appealing to people, right? I find what we do religion as it were, I think it is the right I think it's the way customers want to buy. I do and so that's easy for me to stand up and and talk about it

Paul Daly: 24:34

well in that thread. You love change. You see what's going on over the last three years in the industry and where we are right now you have kind of a front seat as for where we're going because of the things you're involved with. What are you most excited about for the on the industry's behalf? Because right because there's a lot of challenges coming up and you know, not inventory aside right? We have this FTC stuff we have you know You know and trends in and district you know quote unquote disruptors, whatever we want to call them, like you see all that and you have a front row seat to that, what are you most excited for? For franchise retail auto over the next 24 months,

Tom Ryan: 25:12

that customers get to my car the way they want?

Paul Daly: 25:16

No, but that's why you're excited for customers?

Tom Ryan: 25:19

Well, I'm excited because that's going to force change on our industry in a good way. It's going to take us out of I mean, there's a reason why and I'm sure heard you know, Lexus did that study, which was the top rated occupation was the firefighter 100% 9% automotive came in at perfect strangers, if there's a punch line came in at 54. That's a pretty telling thing, right? And so I don't see that when I look at you, Paul, or you, Kyle, I see friends. And I see people that if customers met us, they would trust us to do business with us. There is no other industry. There's no, no true jewelry, true mattress, there's only TrueCar. And that's a third party getting involved because of a lack of trust. That's my fault, not the customers fault. If we did a better job, those industries or that those businesses wouldn't be necessary. And so I I'm excited that the industry will change or those that won't may not make it, because there's so much pressure against the agency model. Right that the electrics are. And certainly, you know, Ford has been pushing that direct kind of thing. And the only reason they're doing that is because we're not willing, today collectively as the dealer body to do it the way customers want to do it. Man.

Kyle Mountsier: 26:53

Well, I'll tell you what, if you if you just met Tom Ryan, for the first time, I'm guessing you've leaned in just a little bit. And we're excited that you're going to be with us at ASOTU CON, I'm guessing people are going to be finding you at a lunch table near them. I will be right next to him hit by him because Tom is such a good friend. Tom, thank you so much for joining us on the Auto Collabs podcast. And we can't wait to see you soon.

Tom Ryan: 27:18

Awesome. I can't wait.

Paul Daly: 27:24

You know, when Tom Ryan talks about believing and having conviction and moving, and that he's not actually a risk taker, he's actually just convey has conviction. The direction he goes, it all of a sudden clears up for me why his personality is so dang magnetic. Right? Yeah, he just draws you right in and you're like, I want to pay attention to this guy. I want to have a conversation with him. I want to, like kind of already agree that whatever direction he's going in, is the right one.

Kyle Mountsier: 27:51

My favorite thing, like every conversation that I have with him is so matter of fact, and even in this conversation, it's just not that's just the way it is. That's the way I feel right now. At least, you know, or this is I've had the experience, just trust me. You know, there's no, there's almost not even, there's not this like place where he feels like he has to persuade you or push you to something. It's just so matter of fact to him that you can either come on board and move forward or not. And that's okay. It's your way. It's like, Oh, you don't want to that's okay. That's

Paul Daly: 28:27

the most persuasive people. If you think about it, like that's exactly how they operate. They're never actually asking you to do anything. They're actually compelling you through their words and their body language and their confidence and conviction that like I, you know, I want to Well, and

Kyle Mountsier: 28:43

here's the thing, when you get a guy that collects books, that are worth hundreds of 1000s of dollars, well, I don't know about hundreds of 1000s, but a lines of 1000s of dollars. And he knows everything about them, as well as stories like The Lululemon story, but you all of a sudden have some confidence that this guy knows enough about enough things. That was the thing about being an expert opinion here. You know,

Michael Cirillo: 29:07

the other word that comes to my mind, we've said commitment, conviction, courage. There's a lot of vulnerability in this episode opening up about his story. There's sobriety, he's talking about sobriety, and these are not typically things we talk about in the automotive industry, in out in the public. And it takes a great deal of courage, I think, to have enough self awareness to know what you what you're like what your mode of operation is, and to proactively kind of almost go against it, like create intentional friction against yourself to go and do the big thing because I think the world that we live in today, we, you know, on mass, we spend more time talking ourselves out of doing something that we want to do for fear of whatever. And so that conviction that ability to be vulnerable, and do the thing regardless requires a great amount of courage and that therein lies the differentiator, you know what I mean? Like, and that's something that I just picked up on. And I think it's worth noting for those that are listening. That's what's brilliant to me about ASOTU. And this mission and Auto Collabs. And having these types of conversations, this is how we elevate this industry is by saying like, hey, guess what, we're, we are not automotive. We are people that work in automotive, and as people, we have these things, and you can be as courageous as Tom, and you can go and do the things that you want to do with as much conviction. She

Paul Daly: 30:30

was a way to wrap it on with that. Michael,

Michael Cirillo: 30:36

put on that on that note about myself, Michael Cirillo. Paul J Daly, and Kyle Mountsier. Thanks for joining us on Auto Collabs.

Unknown: 30:44

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