KAR Auction Services
If you think you had a tough path to follow to achieve your goals, you need to sit down and talk to Jim Hallett. It’s not that he would expect or want you to feel sorry for him, but you have to admit that the man had his share of challenges reaching his current position as CEO at KAR Auction Services.
As a child, Jim had a debilitating stutter, but he overcame it to become student body president. He grew up in a house that burned coal, didn’t have indoor plumbing and his family didn’t own a car. He was fired as the president and CEO at KAR’s predecessor in 2005, but connected with an activist investor and private equity sponsors and bought back the automobile auction company in 2007. Since that time, the company has reached new heights and in 2009, had a successful IPO.
Hallett was not raised with a silver spoon, but he never used the hurdles he had to overcome as an excuse. He continued to push forward, using his spirit, humility and authentic honesty to attract million-dollar deals with his word and a handshake.
Hallett worked at a car dealership in his 20s and it was there he put his philosophy —opportunities are created from other peoples’ failures — to work. Instead of shipping his used cars off to the closest auto auction that was two hours away, he started his own auction in the dealership’s service bays.
There would be more challenges, such as the economic downturn of 2008. It was during that period that Hallett made a huge bet and bought a marginally successful online auto auction in Silicon Valley. The purchase paid off and Hallett once again proved his skill for bringing ideas together and helping them become a perfect match.
Founder and CEO
Brad’s Deals is not the culmination of a lifelong dream Brad Wilson had as a child to become an entrepreneur. Rather, it is a product of the tremendous frustration Wilson felt as a cash-strapped, 21-year-old college student trying to buy the books he needed for his classes. The books in the school store were overpriced and Wilson was determined that there had to be a better way for students to get the books they needed.
He headed home, went online and found better deals. Then he spoke with his friends, got them to do the same and worked hard to share the idea with others. That led to a website, the printing of 10,000 fliers and a stand that Wilson made in front of the store to convince even more students to bypass the store for a better, cheaper way to get their books.
Wilson took a semester off from school to build an even better website and never went back. Brad’s Deals was born. It was a great idea, but getting the business established to the point where Wilson could support both him and his family took a lot of time, effort and stress.
He borrowed money from friends and family; liquidated, borrowed from and paid back entire IRAs; and applied for dozens of credit cards to get funding with 0 percent interest.
Along the way, he got married, celebrated the birth of two children and lost his father to cancer.
It’s been a whirlwind ride for Wilson, the company’s founder and CEO, but the result is a business that seeks to educate and empower consumers. The business itself has no variable cost, no inventory or sales team, and no billing or collection. It’s an opportunity to build a brand that consumers can look to and count on for reliable, trustworthy service.
Founder and president
Howard Stillman did not have a lot of role models growing up in Chicago to help guide him along the path to entrepreneurship. As a student in Chicago’s public school system, it wasn’t even certain that he would graduate from high school. All of that didn’t stop him from taking steps toward his dream. At 9, he was an Amway distributor and at 15, he started a business detailing cars at peoples’ homes. He didn’t have his driver’s license yet, so he had to hire someone with a car to move the supplies and labor to each job site.
Eventually, he went to college, paying for his own expenses since his family couldn’t afford to help him.
He finished his formal education, but continued learning when he moved to Singapore and studied Chinese. He became exposed to businesspeople from around the world, including a group from Moscow. Eventually, Stillman returned to Chicago where he spent a year searching for the right opportunity.
It was then that he received an offer to manage a small consumer finance company focused on used automobile lending. Level 6 is now one of the leading used car dealerships in Chicago and focuses on serving the city’s Hispanic population. Stillman, the company’s founder and president, continued to face challenges, including a particularly difficult moment earlier this year.
On March 11, Stillman received a call at 2:30 a.m. that his corporate headquarters was on fire. He was on the scene by 3 a.m., and by 4:30 a.m. he had rallied his executive team to the scene and put a plan in place to allow the business to function that day, despite the tragedy. The building burned for eight hours, but thanks to his unrelenting ability to always find a way, the company endures.