The Highest Rated Dealership on Glassdoor with Sam D'Arc

March 25, 2024
The first question stunned today's guest.
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The first question stunned today's guest.

But it started an amazing conversation on the auto industry, leadership and what it means to be successful.

Auto Collabs welcomes Sam D'Arc, the Chief Operating Officer at Zeigler Auto Group and the host of the Driving Vision Podcast. Sam brings decades of experience to his leadership role in one of the most respected automotive groups across the country. Over time, Zeigler Automotive Group has become the highest rated dealership on Glassdoor. Through a series of personal anecdotes, industry insights, and engaging discussions, listeners will get an inside look at the principles and practices that drive success and satisfaction at Zeigler Auto Group.

The conversation takes us on a journey from Sam's early days, where adversity became his unlikely ally, leading him from washing cars at 17 to the C-suite of the automotive industry. His story is a testament to the idea that within the automotive world, opportunity is not just about where you start but how you leverage challenges to fuel your rise. The episode delves into the essence of Zeigler Auto Group's remarkable work culture, emphasizing the unique blend of President & CEO Aaron Zeigler's fearless growth strategies and a profound respect for every employee's role and contribution. This culture not only propels the group's success but also ensures it remains a beacon of work-life balance in the demanding auto industry landscape.

0:00 Intro with Paul J Daly and Michael Cirillo
3:53 Sam's journey to becoming the COO of Zeigler Auto Group
8:17 The expansion of Zeigler Auto Group to 78 franchises across four states, highlighting the influence of visionary leadership and the importance of valuing every team member's contribution.
18:28 How Sam and Zeigler incorporate AI into communication
23:49 The biggest threat to personal agency is control by insecure leaders

Sam D'Arc is the COO at Zeigler Auto Group and host of the Driving Vision Podcast

Michael Cirillo: 0:00

Hey, welcome back from Pakistan, let's do some taxes, man

Unknown: 0:10

this is Auto Collabs. Michael,

Paul J Daly: 0:12

I'm so glad that is this the first piece of content you've made since you've got back from Pakistan, the

Michael Cirillo: 0:17

first piece of content since coming back from Pakistan. I don't know what day it is. I don't know what time it is. I

Paul J Daly: 0:23

think I think since it's the first time I think you need to reach back and grab the hat. All right, there's if you're not, if you're not purely listening, there is a hat. If I were to explain it, I'm going to disrespect it by explaining it. So I'm gonna let Michael explain that he's putting it out right now. Okay, I'll explain that it looks like a mash up between a sailor's hat, a mummers hat. And you might not know what a mummers hat is, is it Philly thing? And, and a headdress?

Michael Cirillo: 0:51

Yeah, yeah. It so when I arrived in Pakistan, they greeted me, my team, they're greeted me with this hat and a kind of a scarf, and flowers. And and, yeah, this is something that they would wear to dress up. It's kind of a traditional, traditional hat. I can't remember what it's called. But a beautiful gift nonetheless. And

Paul J Daly: 1:17

now it's now it's hanging in the background. And it's a part of all of your content now, part

Michael Cirillo: 1:22

of all the content now. And yeah, I'm excited to be back behind the mic. You definitely. It's funny when you do content creation, the way that we do content creation. It's It's funny how often when you're not sitting at your mic, you reach for a mic, even though there's no mic. So, like, my hotel room, and I would just my arm would shoot out. Whereas I'm like, grabbing for him? Because like I'm so used to grabbing the mic and pulling it into into shop. So there you go. Well,

Paul J Daly: 1:53

I think it's appropriate. I mean, and I know more of your stories, we got to share a few of them before the show today. But there is a distinct line about what it is to be human what it is to connect from human to human, and what the reality of a situation is versus what the stigma of a situation is. And I think today's guest is going to highlight that because Sam dark with Zeigler Auto Group, he is the COO for a large group. I mean, they're they have 7080 stores, and they have the highest like rating on Glassdoor.

Michael Cirillo: 2:32

And yeah, I mean, I don't know how that's even like, I don't either. It's hard for just any any old business to get a high rating like that on Glassdoor, right, especially in this day and age when people will complain about their 50 cent IKEA hotdog, that, like mustard wasn't enough or whatever. So the fact that he's able to do that I think really underscores what you just said, we're excited to chat with him more about that and see how they've achieved that. So we hope you enjoy this episode for a seminar. Okay, so the other night, my wife and I watch a new Amazon Prime documentary about Yanis attend to Kupo from the books. And there and I learned all sorts of things about him that I've just really grown to appreciate. One is the humility with which he approaches the game. But that humility stems from having to go through and experience hardship. Now you know where I'm going with this leading set up. And that just creates such a compelling story about him. And I come to read some of the notes here about you, Sam. And one of the notes that stands out right out of the gates is you started washing cars after your parents kicked you out of the house at age 17. Oh, no.

Sam D'Arc: 3:53

Where'd you get that? No. Where did that come from? I gotta I gotta ask you about it now. Yeah, the internet me the details about why Wow, this

Paul J Daly: 4:01

is how you're gonna talk about inventory manager. This is what I

Sam D'Arc: 4:05

got your journalism. That's fascinating. Like,

Michael Cirillo: 4:07

I need to ask about this because I think what a tremendous now story we get to the today version. Yeah. But what do you what do you tell us about that? Like, what do you learn along the way that gets you from washing cars at 17 to being the CEO of Zeigler. Michael, you

Paul J Daly: 4:26

always ask. You're not You're not allowed to start the episodes anymore?

Sam D'Arc: 4:31

No. I love it. So you know, here's what you'll learn. First of all, who who doesn't at some point get kicked out of some sort of a community or some sort of a group at some young age? All right, if you're doing it right, it's a little bit of trauma. It's a little bit of excitement, but it helps you to become your absolute best. In fact, there's a there's a guy who wrote a book called The coffee bean and he says you meet the best version of yourself on the other side of adversity and here's what I learned. I learned this auto industry is awesome. There is no other business like automotive. This is the last great American industry. Let's go get me fired up. Right a meeting, you can come into this with any type of a background, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter your socio economic status, it doesn't matter your education, it doesn't matter your experience level. And if you want to work and you're willing to focus and give it your all, this thing will give you that and more. And I found that as a kid washing cars I you know, it's crazy. I tell this story, it was in a Sousou dealership before the trooper rolled over before the trooper was was found a rollover in the early 90s. And the they closed the deal. They closed the road in front of the dealership because they were doing construction. And I was out washing cars taking the dash sweat off the inside of these Isuzu troopers and rodeos and all that and customers would come on the lot and salespeople would not be there to help them because the road was closed. They were out at lunch, they were off doing other things. And I as this young kid just started talking to people and answering questions and helping. And I learned in that minute. It didn't matter if I wore shorts or jeans or if my shoes were wet every single day. I could help connect people with cars, and I could help solve their problems. And then I had the sales guys that saw I was willing to stay on the lot. They started splitting deals with me. And that summer right before I went to college, I went to the dealer and I'm like, Dude, I'm gonna sell cars. Yeah, he's right here. He's like, No, you're not gonna sell cars you're gonna do another year as a lot guy, and then you can sell. And on the last day before I was too. I was going to leave before I started college. He said fine. This was back in the day when it was super tough to break into a car dealer floor when everybody was old and veteran and senior someone had to retire or die. Yes, yes. And he let me in. And the thing I was super proud of is for the year, a couple of years, few years I was there through college. From that minute. Nobody ever beat me in sales. I crushed now. And I love I love this business. Because of that I tell our teams this all the time. If you want it in this business, you can have it you just gotta go get it. There's more than anyone will ever be able to get. And that's what I love about this business man. So great question. That every episode, nobody's the first question. Okay, what do you got here? That's all Nathan.

Michael Cirillo: 7:37

Nathan dug that one up. So we got to give him props. Good job, Nathan. So,

Paul J Daly: 7:42

so look, there's an obvious correlation between your vision for what not even just a vision. It's like, you're not It's not vision. It's not idealism. It's the actual existence of your experience firsthand in this industry, which seems to drive the fact that you kind of talk about vision a lot. You talk about leadership and where things can be a lot. You have your own, your host of the driving vision podcast, where you talk to people about you use it as an internal communication tool. There are countless correct 78 franchises under your purview. Yes,

Sam D'Arc: 8:17

yeah. 78 franchises, 41, stores for states 2700 employees and founded by Harold Zeigler. Back in 1975, his son Aaron Zeigler, in the early 2000s, took it over and as just crushed it. So Aaron is the dealer. He's active every single day growing this empire and I get the great privilege of just working alongside everybody that that is part of teams Zeigler.

Paul J Daly: 8:41

And so you also have a restaurant and you're one of the top places to work on Glassdoor as a car dealership. How does your experience in the beginning, like and what you just kind of walked us through? How do you feel like that kind of like comes out every single day as you look at all of these employees and all of this potential? Because people like you see potential, right? More than you see what is how does that actually spill out? How do you lead the organization to cultivate those elements in an operational sense?

Sam D'Arc: 9:13

So So I want to be absolutely super clear. Right? So Aaron Zeigler, he's the owner he runs this thing like I work with him this is his his organization. Again, I have the privilege of helping lead alongside one of the things he taught me early on when I made the transition. So I went from retail as a light guy to sales guy to I actually worked for a for a Swiss based insurance company that sold auto dealers, insurance and finance traveled all around the country working with the largest dealer groups on the face of the planet Earth and and at the beginning of COVID. I got frustrated at some of the restrictions that were put out there for big corporations and I'm like, Look, I want to go out and work. This is time to work. It's time to go peep, it's, it's time to get more market share. It's not the time to sit in your basement and wait for this thing to pass and Aaron's like, dude, come work with us, like, let's go. And so, you know, you talk about vision. Aaron Aaron is live this and I echo it, it's, you know, if you have a vision that is massive, about a goal or something you're looking to achieve and accomplish. You don't need to sit and micromanage people, you don't need to sit and over explain financial statements or metrics or anything else. If you create a vision so compelling, that inspires people, they will come running to be part of that. And they'll be inspired by that. And they'll give their heart and soul for it. The story we always tell on our podcast is you think about JFK back in the beginning of the space race, JFK wanted absolutely nothing to do with going to the moon. He though saw that the Russians were about ready to go. And he knew that they put the first satellite up in space, they put the first man ups in space, I think they put the first monkey up space they did. It was supposed to be Russian that was spoken on the moon, when the first human beings went there, if you believe they did, which I do, it's crazy. People conspiracy theorists thinking that it never happened. And Javor podcast did That's right. That's a different show. Say Mike,

Paul J Daly: 11:22

say my podcast.

Sam D'Arc: 11:23

That's right. Same year, too. Yeah, that's funny. JFK stood in front of the country. And he said, guys, gals, everybody, we've got to go to the moon in a decade, not because it'll be easy, but because it'll be worth worth it. And it will bring together everybody's talents. And people will discard their religious backgrounds and their cultural and their ethnic and everything else that splits people apart. It'll bring them together, and will accomplish something that's never been done before on the face of the planet. And if you've seen a movie, like Hidden Figures, there were people that were marginalized back then in the 60s that said, I don't care, let's do this thing. And we did it. And it changed the face of the world. And the first word spoken on the on the moon, we're English, by Americans. And if that doesn't make you proud and excited to be American, I don't know what does. And it's that same vision that can drive us today in the automotive industry that continues to drive us and really, you know, people I don't know if you've seen it, you know, for a long time, people have said, Hey, computers are going to replace humans and selling cars, you know, you'll be able to go online and there will be no human interaction. I call BS. I don't think that's true. I think this industry is uniquely human. And technology will help us deliver our best selves. But at the end of the day, it's that human connection. And that potential that we realize and connecting that makes this auto industry great, right? Yeah.

Michael Cirillo: 12:52

It. I love what you're saying here, because it's almost like every effort we make as a civilization to remove the human element. Yeah, just more deeply validates our desire, our inherent desire to have human connection. Like we can't do it. We're already I mean, do you guys remember the metaverse? Yeah, how quickly that one? Yeah. Oh,

Paul J Daly: 13:18

one car was sold in the metaverse kind of ish. Yeah,

Michael Cirillo: 13:21

kind of ish. And then it, it took all of 27 seconds for us to be like, wait, I actually want to talk to somebody, I want to look at somebody I want to shake their hand. I want to Yeah, you know, not just the

Paul J Daly: 13:31

metaverse, I mean, you look at you look at all the promises that technology made to us in the last five years, right, even even around like digital retail, as we call it, and how easy it will be to not come to the dealership and kind of the Carvanha promise. And what we're actually seeing now that data showing that the dealership visit the in person visit is the most impactful element. And the most enjoyable element that influences purchase influences decision to Gen Z buyers. Yeah. Right. And we would have all told you there's no way that's true. Three years ago, two years ago, and I think that face I've been in retail, that's a base layer of transaction, you get a price, let me pick out a product, right, let me get like set when I'm gonna get it delivered. That's like the base level. And we don't even like humans are pushing back on that base level we want to do shopping. But so like to think like, technology is going to solve the problem. And I don't want to speak to a salesperson, there's just no way. I do not believe that at all. Now

Sam D'Arc: 14:37

technology has its place with technology as a salesperson can help me get you all the information, or I can be I don't have to, you know, you remember back in the night. So I was selling in the 90s. Like, I would accidentally share something that just wasn't true, right. Like, you know, I think this is I can't even think about what it was but there were things He's back technology now can help me get information about every vehicle out there and convey that and relay that to the customer in a way that in the history of mankind we've never had it before. So it has its place but it can't replace us. People still want to come in and see me right and you I'm

Paul J Daly: 15:15

literally the same. Go ahead Michael.

Michael Cirillo: 15:18

Picturing now there are people to this day who are like, I'm still trying to figure out did Sam say that? If I told my car go go gadget. Lift that. I haven't figured that out yet. Maybe Yeah, maybe you.

Sam D'Arc: 15:35

To those people who bought a Kia Sofia for me a 9095 by manual transmission? Nowhere 5495. I can't remember, you know, there was probably some little bit of oil. No, I know what it was. We told them how to Ford Festiva engine, which I actually think was true. But I've never, you know, there was no internet to Google. In fact, this all died. I

Paul J Daly: 15:56

was like, Well, if he said so it must be the case. I think there's a very interesting correlation that happens. That comes from the one of the first things you said about adversity. Yeah, being what was it about the coffee bean,

Sam D'Arc: 16:10

if we meet the best version of ourselves on the other side of adversity, Damon was the coffee bean,

Paul J Daly: 16:15

I also think that you could replace technology, like in that sentence and say we can meet the best version of ourselves as a sales professional on the other side of technology. Ooh, lots of caveat caveats there, like if it's employee property, but you know, people have had this conversation, I've had it with many people about the use of AI tools like Chet GPT, saying no, like, it could be the source of a bunch of bad information, it could create laziness and producing things. Or it could be the most powerful assistant you've ever had, oh, no, I use it every day. And so like, I really do think like the best version of the sales process is on the other side of technology. And when you pair like this empathy with the bright technology, people should feel like it's just all effortless. Paul, that's

Sam D'Arc: 17:03

a great quote, I'm stealing that. Yeah, it's I would attribute that to you meet the best version of our sales. We haven't recorded

Paul J Daly: 17:11

by the way. So I love it.

Michael Cirillo: 17:14

Like you bring up a good point that I think about and and it is clearly in my observation always tends to be the differentiator between organizations that blow up. And organizations that say, stay stagnant is that the people that accelerate quickly are so dialed in to their soft skills, that's where they put the most of their energy intention. And to your point about technology, and chat, GPT and making it our assistant or our intern, like this would be my work, right? Everybody that's listening to this, like, use it as your assistant so that you can actually now focus most of your time developing those soft skills, which is the thing you spend less time doing, because you're so focused on product knowledge, and, you know, insert miscellaneous, whatever here.

Sam D'Arc: 18:07

The cool part about the auto industry is we're so afraid of being or not replaced. But like we're so focused on continuing to do what we do, that those threats, we find ways to navigate through them, so that we become better through them. Right. So

Paul J Daly: 18:24

example, give us an example of that, you know?

Sam D'Arc: 18:28

Oh, no, you would say that, I mean, the thing that comes off the top of my mind is, you know, we do do a podcast is called the driving vision podcast externally. And then we have one internally, it's every single week. And after a few weeks of doing that, I was like, You know what, people have got to be sick and tired of hearing just my voice and I couldn't get everybody with an auto group to contribute initially. So I went to AI and I came up with a AI generated voice. People love it. They had no idea for the first three months that it was aI generated. So the intro and the outro and some of the news, we deliver news every single Monday morning to Team Zeigler visa vie our internal podcast. It was by this cool British AI I knew I was going to be a Brit. And you can't tell the difference. It's awesome. People love it. And I feel sophisticated. Yeah,

Michael Cirillo: 19:23

yeah. Every sentence starts with morning, Governor. That's

Sam D'Arc: 19:27

right. And I actually cloned the voice of our head of BDC Lindsay Lascaux Chicagoland so sometimes she delivers the news, the

Michael Cirillo: 19:38

I need to hear this. Yeah, we need to hear this

Paul J Daly: 19:40

willings he's like well, I have one right here.

Michael Cirillo: 19:43

Let me let me ask you this Sam kind of kind of quasi shifting gears here a little bit because I am intrigued by you said 1975 is one correct similar started. So I mean, there are so many single point dealers who have been around Alan since the 50s 60s 70s, et cetera, what do you think has differentiated Zeigler from some of those single points that, like they've been around, you know, same amount of time, but like, and we're in America for crying out loud the land of opportunity. What was it? What was the maneuver that took Zeigler to where it is today, and keeps those dealerships you think where they're at. So

Sam D'Arc: 20:29

two things. Number one, the owner, Aaron Zeigler, has absolutely no fear. In fact, he com commonly says on our podcast, he says the biggest mistake most people make is not going in enough not being big enough, not having big enough goals and dreams. And he's like, we will not make that mistake. And he's never made that mistake. If you think back over the last decade or two decades or three decades, every single one of us probably would have been bolder, bigger, broader, and probably would have capitalized on that. Right. So timing has played a huge thing into it. Aaron absolutely is fearless ferocious. And we just continue to grow. The second thing is we 100% respect every single employee. That's the reason we get the Glassdoor endorsement that we have best. We're the highest ranked auto dealer on Glassdoor for work life balance. Think about that, in the auto industry in retail auto industry, who has work life balance, right. But but but we're in where that comes from is at the GM level at the sales manager level of finance. Porters office, there is ownership. Not financial, because he owns the entire group. But there is ownership for what you do and the work product you put put out. And when I feel ownership, as a general manager, I show up to work every single day to win. And to deliver a great result. I personally put my name on that. And in in and I think, you know, I look at all the auto groups I've worked with over my 20 year career at that Swiss insurance company. And Aaron is unique in his ability to deliver that ownership to the individual to respect them and allow them to grow, grow a business that that that just that crushes it. So I think those two things, I think ownership and and just fearless growth. You know, there's

Paul J Daly: 22:28

there's a word Michael and I and Kyle who's not here, we're kind of amateur theologians. And there's there's a word that that kind of rings true to me when you say ownership because I love that word. But it's a word, the word agency. Oh, yeah. And meaning that I can do things that affect the outcomes of the next things. Right. And I have decision making capability. And I have this level of agency over how things are going to go. And when people show up with that. It's funny when that when the hopelessness that happens so often in the workplace, broad, broad statement, is when people feel like they have no control over what happens next. And they're just, they're just kind of a pinball in a pinball machine. And I'm just going to wait for the next time the trigger gets pulled in, they get knocked over here, knocked over there. And at some point, I'll fall through, and I'll just reset at another job or reset at another career. And, I mean, we could just keep going and talk about like, whatever government employment doesn't work. What

Sam D'Arc: 23:29

do you think the biggest threat to agency is? Because I think this is fascinating. I agree with you. I love that word, by the way.

Paul J Daly: 23:36

Yeah, there you go. Write that one down to the biggest threat to agency. If it is, it's actually a very similar word. It's control. Yeah. What?

Sam D'Arc: 23:49

Which comes from a super insecure leader. Ooh, so So you go. So you look at some of the the worst people you've worked for, or worst cultures, or the poorest work environments. And it's an insecure leader that feels like they have to Paul, you said it, right. I love it. They got to control everything. Because that's their job. And I gotta tell you what to

Paul J Daly: 24:15

do, and Muay Thai identity and their self esteem is wrapped up in that control. Yeah, I get here. The

Sam D'Arc: 24:22

the employee Bill of Rights, if you want to call it that is, let me have that agency to act in my world and change the world and be awesome. You know, there are some people that are like, Well, I'm just a porter, right? Like, that doesn't mean anything. Bs means everything is like, that's a clean car. And that's a ride somewhere that everyone's always looking

Paul J Daly: 24:49

to you for something. Yeah, have control over everything. So

Sam D'Arc: 24:53

I debate I debate I've been on some shows, and we've debated Hey, there are some valuable jobs and there are some worthless jobs. And I don't believe that I think every single job in the car dealership, which is the world we're in, is super important. And the only way we succeed is if everybody's doing their doing their job. So, well,

Paul J Daly: 25:13

Sam, I feel like we could keep going for another hour easily. I can't wait till we get to spend some time in person, because I know how the conversation is going to go. So thank you so much for just being a beacon of leadership in the industry and giving us a few moments of your time today on Auto Collabs.

Sam D'Arc: 25:29

Thanks for allowing me to be here. It was a heck of a lot of fun. And I have some quotes. I've written them down and I'm going to use them Paul and Michael, thank you both.

Michael Cirillo: 25:41

Mean, but like, how about Nathan was the investigative journalism? When you asked

Paul J Daly: 25:46

him that first question. You were halfway through that question. And I'm watching his body language. And I literally, he said talk about gotcha journalism, I think is what he said. Yeah, I was like, Why did Nathan find this? Like, because I assumed he found it on the internet, so Colombo. He's an amateur private detective.

Michael Cirillo: 26:08

Actually, how you're gonna know every time you walk past Nathan's office over there, and you see just like manila folders on his desk, you're gonna realize they're actually like, casefile cigarette smoke coming out of the

Paul J Daly: 26:20

trench coat hanging off the door? No, but but the reality of Sam's transparency and obvious commitment to developing people on the human side. I feel like we need to visit there now. Because I can't believe we hadn't met before this, because he's so like minded.

Michael Cirillo: 26:37

Some of the things that well, and I mean, like just just, you know, some of his thought processes. What was the quote? I wish I wrote it down. It was that we coffee being one, not what we discover the best version of ourselves on the other side of adversity. That's it. That's not, that's not something you just read in a book that you think sounds good, and then you repeat, that's something you live, that's something you experience leave it? Absolutely, yeah, it's deeply rooted in you. And then you fast forward to nearing the end of the conversation. And it is clear that the reason they have What did you say the best work life balance and work life balance writing? Yes. Like what? And the reason that maps to Glassdoor and and those sorts of things is because they really believe it. They really live it. And he brought up some points that I think should hit close to home for a lot of operators in this business, just calling it how it is part of us building our community is raising awareness around certain issues. One of them is that insecurity from a leadership level. Oh, yeah, that was big. That has a rain fall effect on the rest of the organization. Like how many organizations have you and I walked in? Where at some point or another, somebody goes, like, I'm afraid for my job today?

Paul J Daly: 27:56

Oh, my gosh, you think I'm getting fired? And to be clear, like that sentiment, like, we'll tie it back to our our buddy Seth Godin, who calls it the lizard brain when your boss says, Hey, can you come see me for a minute, you don't think oh, he's finally going to realize all the great work I've been doing, give me a promotion. It's like you don't ever think that? You think I'm in trouble. Right? And with the best leaders, when you say, can you come to my office for a second, your human mind goes to the worst case scenario. Yeah. So that's just multiplied. When it's done. When there's a level of ego coming from the C suite, a level of control, it's coming from the C suite, how can you expect people to find any balance? In a situation like that? I don't know what Sam seems to have figured out and yeah, it's

Michael Cirillo: 28:37

the essence of top down leadership. We talk all about it. We got to experience some of that talking to him. firsthand, which is very, very refreshing fun guy. Man, I definitely want to be able to go and check out some of their stores. Hopefully we get to connect with them at ASOTU CON, nudge, nudge Hint, hint, Sam. But we hope you enjoyed this episode of Auto Collabs. On behalf of Paul J. Daly, and myself, Michael Cirillo, and of course, the invisible but here in heart, mind and spirit Kyle Mountsier. Thanks so much for joining us on Auto Collabs.

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Michael Cirillo: 29:43

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