Ricart Automotive lays a framework for the future with an improved culture

When it comes to his family, Rhett Ricart feels like Urban Meyer.

“I have so much talent,” says the CEO and dealer principal at Ricart Automotive. “I just have to figure out where to put them,”

Counting children and in-laws, Rhett and his brother, Fred, have seven members of their direct families putting their stamp on Ricart Automotive.

Rhett started focusing on succession plans when he hit 40, a decade earlier than his father started planning. Today he’s helping the third generation find the right roles to make the business successful. A family council facilitated by an outside consultant does the rest.

“If you’re in an environment of a business where you have however many family members fighting for the leadership role, to be the leader, you’ll probably have failure,” he says. “You’ll have a bad culture in your company. You’ll have a lot of negativity. You won’t have any success. I’ve seen it in a lot of other families.”

The Ricart group of brands are complicated to run — Rhett says the average car dealership abides by 42 state regulations, while managing federal regulations, industry consolidation, digital disruption and more.

“We’re in the finance industry, real estate, motorcycles and everything else,” Rhett says. “So, to learn and get these kids up to speed, you have to let them find what they’re good at it, what they enjoy, and they can really contribute to the family. If they all put an oar in the water, boom, we can get there.”

Not as good as we thought we were

Rhett’s son, Jared, and Fred’s son, Rick, were named co-presidents in 2018. Ricart’s structure is organic, so the decision reflected what was already happening, and Rhett says other family members may rise to that level in the future, as well.

Rick focuses on sales and marketing, while Jared runs the service and parts component of the business. Together, the two have systematically worked to improve Ricart’s culture.

Their effort started with a 2010 rejector study from Nissan. If someone interested in a Nissan vehicle online was shown local dealerships but chose to go somewhere else, Nissan asked them why. Of the respondents, 67 percent said past experience or poor reputation.

“Jared and I looked at this report and we said to ourselves, ‘Wait a minute, if this is what are our guests are saying — because these are our customers — they don’t want to do business with us,’” Rick says.

Using the principle that happy staff make for happy customers, they focused on employee experience.

“It starts with the employees enjoying what they do every day, having a purpose, being a part of something bigger than what it is that they do at that moment,” Jared says.

To determine where Ricart stood, employees graded their managers using Ford’s consumer experience movement program.

“When the anonymous surveys came back, we realized we weren’t as good as we thought we were,” he says.

An employee certified in leadership training was put in charge of employee engagement as the champion of the CEM program.

“He works one on one with the department managers and supervisors to help them discover how they can adapt and build on their strengths and eliminate the weaknesses,” Rick says.

The majority of employees had the humility and willingness to alter their behavior, including the executive staff.

“Some of them showed change immediately; others took some time,” he says. “We believe in giving them time to work on these things. There wasn’t any need for knee-jerk reaction moves.”

Over the next four years, negativity was slowly weeded out. And if a top performer didn’t play well with others, the improving culture of teamwork usually helped lead him or her to the door.

Along with the surveys, employee turnover became another measuring stick. And, again, the company is seeing results — the past three years, Ricart’s annual employee turnover dropped to less than 19 percent.