Earl Hesterberg, president and CEO, Group 1 Automotive Inc.

Consumer Products & Services, Award Recipient

Earl Hesterberg knows cars. He’s worked in the automotive industry for 36 years, with experience as a manufacturer, independent distributor and retailer. He boasts three of the world’s biggest automobile companies — Ford, Toyota and Nissan — on his resume.

His experience has enabled him to significantly grow Houston-based Group 1 Automotive Inc. since joining the company as president and CEO in 2005. Group 1 is now the fourth-largest dealership group in the U.S. Today, the dealership owns and operates 111 automotive dealerships, with 143 franchises and 28 collision centers in the U.S. and the U.K.

Hesterberg’s first step in fostering success at Group 1 was implementing a restructuring. He transitioned all company stores to the same IT platform and implemented a standard chart of accounts to enable comparable evaluation of dealerships. He also consolidated and streamlined back-end operations. These efforts reduced overhead costs and improved efficiency for the dealership.

His next step to ensure company success was to transition the business to geographically and brand-mixed sales. Expecting the challenge to domestic automobile companies, Hesterberg cut poor-performing domestic stores and focused on strategic imports of alternative brands, such as Toyota, Honda, Mercedes Benz, BMW and Lexus. This padded the company against the 2008 automobile crisis involving the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler.

In addition to ensuring product security through brand variety, Hesterberg has added services to bring in additional sources of revenue including used vehicle sales, finance and insurance income and parts and service operations.

The company is now focusing on acquiring strong-performing domestic stores as the domestic automobile market is recovering, aiming to regain market share and better compete with import brands.

How to reach: Group 1 Automotive, www.group1auto.com