From Strict To Empathetic with Don Hall

June 10, 2024
In this enlightening episode of ASOTU CON Sessions, Michael Cirillo sits down with Don Hall, President and CEO of the Virginia Auto Dealers Association, to delve into his extensive 45-year career in the automotive industry.
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In this enlightening episode of ASOTU CON Sessions, Michael Cirillo sits down with Don Hall, President and CEO of the Virginia Auto Dealers Association, to delve into his extensive 45-year career in the automotive industry. Hall shares his insights on the industry's evolution, the importance of adapting to change, and the critical role of employee satisfaction in creating a positive customer experience. Drawing from his own experiences and the principles learned from the Marine Corps, Hall emphasizes the value of empathy, leadership, and maintaining a balance between accountability and understanding.

Hall highlights the necessity of investing in employees' well-being and professional development, advocating for practices that foster a supportive and engaging work environment. Through anecdotes and reflections, he illustrates how a people-first approach can transform dealerships and enhance customer interactions. This conversation offers valuable lessons for industry veterans and newcomers alike, providing a roadmap for nurturing a motivated and loyal workforce while navigating the dynamic landscape of the automotive sector.

0:00 Intro

0:45 Don Hall’s 45-year journey in the automotive industry

3:00 Focusing on people in dealerships

3:30 Creating environments for employee happiness

4:00 Impact of happy employees on customer experience

4:45 Balancing empathy and accountability in leadership

5:30 Hall’s evolution from a strict manager to an empathetic leader

6:15 The role of empathy in negotiations and customer interactions

7:00 Wisdom and patience in seeing real change

8:00 Hall’s advice for young professionals in the industry

Thanks to Effectv for making this episode of ASOTU CON Sessions possible! Learn more about Effect here:

Paul J Daly: 0:02

You're listening to the asoto concessions by Effectv live from ASOTU CON 2024.

Michael Cirillo: 0:09

All right, welcome to the ASOTU CON podcast stage in collaboration with Effectv AI Michael Cirillo sitting down with my new pal, Don Hall. You're the president and CEO at Virginia, auto dealer Association. Thanks so much for joining me on the stage.

Don Hall: 0:23

Thank you. Good to be here with you.

Michael Cirillo: 0:25

We were talking pre show, just briefly. And I asked how long you had been in the industry. And you said, I

Don Hall: 0:33

said, I'm just completing 45 years of working for car dealers Come

Michael Cirillo: 0:39

on. Now, if you're watching live 40 A year

Don Hall: 0:43

and I'm only 50 years old. That's my story isn't that nuts. But more than five years, I've worked for car dealers in one capacity or another.

Michael Cirillo: 0:49

That's insane. Over those 45 years, obviously, there's been a lot of change. You've seen ups in the industry downs, lots of ebbs and flows. Now you're here we're looking to the future, in the great collaboration, what are some of the things you've observed in the last 45 years that remain consistent, that you think will remain consistent in the future, and maybe some of your thoughts around what's changing?

Don Hall: 1:13

I think one of the consistencies of our business is is an exciting business to be in 1979, as a young kid, going to college, just coming out of the Marine Corps, I fell in love with this industry, I knew it was going to be a great business for me. And I believe no matter your age, or your experience, or whether you're white, black, or whatever you might be it doesn't matter. This is a great business to be in. But it's a business that is evolving quickly. And being here at the ASOTU conference even more validates the fact that not only is it changing, but it should change. And thank you for the leadership of you and your organization and what we're doing here today, because I think these principles being taught need to be acted on at all dealerships throughout the country.

Michael Cirillo: 1:56

I love it. Well, first of all, thank you for your service. Thank you, the Marine Corps, I'm not a Marine, but our chief revenue officer as a 20 year retired Marine. And that's just heightened my awareness of the service that so many give for for us and the freedoms that we enjoy. So I want to thank you for that publicly. It's all about people, isn't it? That's what we're here doing something you said stands out to me, which is it's it's one thing to acknowledge, change. It's another thing to have meaningful conversations and then apply those conversations to the context of our circumstances, because each of us is experiencing something different, right? It's, it's not enough to say, Oh, well, we all sell cars. That's what we need to do. We all sell service. We need more of that. It each of us has something that's slightly different that we're working on. How do you recommend and from your vantage point of 45 years, what do you believe is the number one thing that we ought to focus on the thing that matters most that sometimes gets maybe swept under the rug?

Don Hall: 3:01

I think, heartfelt comment, the most important thing, in your dealerships not in life in your dealerships are the people that you work with each and every day. One of the opportunities I've had over the years is to see the benefit structure as an example that dealers give to their employees. We've been terrible about that. We've been terrible with vacation time, you can take off two weeks. But God forbid, if you did two weeks consecutive, you start most shops today, getting three weeks on day one, not in our industry, a happy staff member, a happy associate, working in your organization, will make for a great buying experience for our customers. And we have a tendency to overlook turnover in the auto industry is still way too high. And we ought to be able to figure out who to hire, how to provide for them an opportunity, no matter where they come from, and be able to buy into this industry as an evolving business that requires charisma, excitement, enthusiasm, education, and so forth. So it is a unique time to be in the business. As I sit here listening to these other podcasts earlier today. Wow, there are things we can do to really change the customer buying experience. Let's take care of our customer for I mean, our our staff first right, they then will feel obligated and feel the desire and the need to take care of your customer. And so at the end of the day, it's about your staff that work for you.

Michael Cirillo: 4:35

I heard an interesting statistic years ago from someone I had on one of my other podcasts. They were all about culture, employee culture, how to actually quantify drawing a straight line from healthy workplace culture and happiness in the workplace to the bottom line and how that contributes. She said her her name was Chris Bosh. She said that there There is at least a one and a half to two multiple in productivity on happy employees. And while it's not our ultimate, it's not our ultimate position as a leader to make people happy. It is our job to create an environment within which happiness can exist. And that makes me think of what you're saying about some of these maybe compounding little flaws that we get really emotional or romantic about why couldn't they take two weeks consecutively? Or what is it that they actually care about? What are the things in their personal life that are impacting their ability at work? And what are we doing to show that sensitivity and care and concern for them, so that ultimately, they're, if I'm understanding what you're saying, bought in deeper, and showing up every day with Ownership mindset, not, you know, just the J, OB.

Don Hall: 5:52

So along those lines, here's a unique idea. I have the blessing of having grandchildren's for my life. But the idea that we say, you know, to one of our staff members, hey, I understand that your daughter or your son has a soccer match this afternoon, they're in middle school, wherever, take off this afternoon, go watch him do that. Because what we do know is this, we can't control what happens in their home life. But if their home life isn't well balanced, and happy, they're not going to come to work, without thinking a lot about those issues back home. And so at the end of day, I want to make sure we have happy staff. No look, I will readily admit, as a Marine Sergeant in the infantry, you know, I was a very matter of fact, young manager working in dealerships as a young man, very matter of fact, it was my way or the highway, you that did it this way you did certain things, if you didn't get out of here. And if you were the low man on the totem pole that month, you're out of here. We told you to prospect you didn't, you're out of here, I was wrong. And I'm glad to see that at this very conference today. People are talking about new ways to treat people, I will tell you that my daughter is finally and they're in their 40s now have said Dad, you've changed a lot. And I said, well, thank goodness, that's a good thing. But the car business, sometimes if we're not careful, it gets us a little kind of sharp, and we get a little tough about things. And we're still people dealing with people, we have our weaknesses, we have our strengths. I think if you treat your staff with great dignity, and understand their world, they're going to be so much better with your customers. And the fact is, that's what gives everyone a great experience, then it's fun to go to work, then we can sit back and say I love being in this industry and my case after 45 years, right.

Michael Cirillo: 7:42

And I think to be clear, if I'm understanding correctly, to have that kind of grace built into the ecosystem, doesn't mean give up accountability. It doesn't mean oh, just let anybody do whatever they want. How do you balance that?

Don Hall: 7:59

Yeah, I think a couple things. One thing as a leader in your various organizations, never, never, never ask them to do something you haven't done, or not willing to do yourself, have great empathy. Their lives maybe a little bit different than yours, you've been blessed, you're in a senior role, your income is a little different, maybe your understanding of your career is a little different. But I think at the same time, there are standards, we're going to hold you accountable. But when you live by the standards and the ethos of our organization, then you will benefit from this experience. Because you see, we want to expand we want to grow. And we need young people, young men and young women who want to go out and lead you lead by example. And you lead from the front, something I learned as a young Marine so very long ago, and those principles are just as true in our industry. And by doing that you can have standards and should have standards and accountability. But you also do it with understanding. And I think maybe age helps a little bit with that my case where I'm a lot softer today. Someone said we got grandkids, yeah, I am softer. They ignore me when I don't treat them right. But at the end of the day, I think we need to be more understanding of people, then it makes it easier when you're negotiating with a customer and they start telling you their problems and you're not wanting to really hear him you just want to sell the damn car so you can move on to the next customer. But the truth is empathy goes a long ways in all elements of our life.

Michael Cirillo: 9:24

I don't want to emphasize age. But wisdom takes time, doesn't it? We when we're young, and we're we have ambitions through the roof to the moon. And we're impatient. That causes us sometimes to want to go from the bottom step to the top step not realizing that each small step in between is necessary and then it just takes time. So I don't think it's just that you're a grandpa. I think the the wisdom that you've learned over 45 years, you just can't. You just can't expedite it, especially in a world like We live in today where social media makes us believe the best parts of everyone's fake lives that they post on it. Right? Here's the magic bullet. Here's the quick fix. Here's the sometimes it just takes time. How have you learned to get comfortable with the time it takes to see real, real change?

Don Hall: 10:18

You know, a couple of comments on that. One, when I look back on my 45 year career, and I've just told my board, given a choice, I like to work into my 70s not because I have to, but because I choose to. And I want to because I love serving this industry. Young people oftentimes aren't interested in chatting, because it well, he's an old guy, not much I can learn. I recall, you know, maybe having the same feeling when I was young guy, but I knew one because I came from the United States Marine Corps as a young person, that that person outrank me, so I better listen to him. And I learned things and when you're young person, you may not want always hear the stories. But the fact is, you learn some things. And that will better you at what you do. And at the same time, I think that younger people today have some advantages over even what we had in my generation. And empathy, I think is something that is understood a little more so today than ever before. This industry is unique. It attracts people who want to make a difference, you are in the business of making a difference. And in touching people's lives, cars are still very important to people. And you get a chance to do that. And those who choose this as a profession, you have the ability to imprint them with your experience, not as a bully, not as a drill sergeant. But as someone that I've been where you're at, I know it's a tough month, let me help you out. There's some things we can do here to help you with prospecting, or go back and call these these folks that came in that left, Do this, do that or whatever based on your experience. And so I just it's a great opportunity. And as an older guy, you know more than anything else is love what you do. And if you don't figure out some way to learn how to love it or find something else to do, because when you love what you do, this is not a job. This is a I get to do my hobby, I can do something fun of my life. When you love it, it becomes that the byproduct is you get to make a good wage. And some of you make a lot of good wages. And that's the byproduct. It's not the pursuit is the byproduct. I learned that with age.

Michael Cirillo: 12:27

Done. This has been a delight. I want to thank you so much for joining me here on ASOTU CON conversations powered by effective one last question how can those listening or watching connect with you?

Don Hall: 12:39

Well, I'm obviously on LinkedIn, dot Hall, I see my name all the buildings everywhere. This hall is everywhere. Hall I don't know what the deal is, is Don Hall, LinkedIn at Virginia Auto Dealers Association. And I appears throughout the nation, they are good men and women who run associations we care about you get involved in your associations, we need to hear your opinions, you need to remind us we're not paying attention. But more importantly, this conference has taught me some valuable lessons. And that is we need to spend more time focusing on the customer, and what the customer is all about what they need and want. Make sure the associations are helping you fulfill that obligation and that goal. Thanks so much for joining me today. Thank you very much.

Unknown: 13:22

Thank you for listening to this ASOTU CON session by Effectv if you want more content like this, you can check out our other podcasts we have a daily show called The automotive troublemaker Monday through Friday. Here on podcasts also live streamed on YouTube, and LinkedIn and Facebook. We also have a long form podcast called Auto Collabs Auto Collabs. And if you just want to go a little deeper into this community, you should sign up for our regular email we put our heart and soul into it. You can get it for free by going to a We'll see you next time.

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