“You recognize the unique and special characteristics that they embody, whether it’s how they treat people with respect, how they create a strong culture in a company, or their desire to be successful,” DeVoe says.
This proactive approach put him in a better position professionally to deal with the death of his father, James. The founder, who had served as president and CEO of J.D. Byrider since the company’s inception in 1989, was killed in a plane crash on March 23, 2006, in Florida.
Less than a month later, DeVoe was thrust into the role of CEO of the $750 million company.
“Whenever I work around other people that are successful, whether it’s other people that have been my bosses in the past or people that are successful in business, I’ve always tried to take note of some of the special things that they do that set them apart,” DeVoe says.
“You wrap it all up into what you are.”
J.D. Byrider has become a leader in helping those with financial hardships find an affordable vehicle. It now has 129 franchisee- and company-owned dealerships in 30 states.
The junior DeVoe’s commitment to leadership helped him make the transition to the company’s top spot, but he realized that if everyone were given the leadership skills to succeed, it would help the company grow.
The leadership team determined that the human resources department, if used properly, would be the perfect platform for teaching these skills to the company’s 600 employees.
“Our new obstacle to growth was a lack of ready and able bench strength human capital,” DeVoe says. “Our HR department was good at handling the tactical day-to-day issues of benefits, payroll, etc. But not enough was being done to create a strategic approach to developing human capital. For us to be able to grow, this had to change.
“We wanted a human resources department that could strategically help us develop people, develop job profiles, develop career paths and could hold essential leadership skills training classes.”
In the past, HR was an employee document department that was more mechanical in nature.
The plan was to transform it into a department that would provide leadership lessons to all employees, which would have a positive impact both on those being trained and the company as a whole. The instruction would help them become better managers by developing their leadership skills and helping them understand the impact that each employee has in his or her respective department or business unit.
In addition to leadership lessons, the new HR department would also serve as a sounding board for employees who feel uneasy bringing their concerns to DeVoe.
“They haven’t really been faced with a lot of these types of situations where they have to lead people, discipline people and motivate people,” DeVoe says. “Our human resources department is trying to prepare people on a proactive basis versus a reactive basis.” While only a very few select employees in a given company get the chance to be CEO, leadership skills can be an asset to employees at all levels.
“When you are running a company that operates in a huge market with little competition, the potential for growth is immense,” DeVoe says. “Rapid growth requires everyone to be thinking about who in the organization can take over their job so that they can move on to the next step on the ladder. Developing a succession plan for yourself takes leadership skills with others. Those skills accelerate opportunities for both the employee and the company.
“We give a lot of managers first-time opportunities to be leaders. Not just managers, but leaders. If you’re a manager, you’ve got to be a leader. ... I think it’s something that can be developed. I believe you have to have it within you, but it can be cultivated.”
To implement the HR changes, a strategy had to be crafted that would get employees to buy in to the concept and see the potential benefits it brought to the table, both for the company and for their own growth.
With the help of an outside consultant, employees were interviewed to get their perception of the human resources department as it had been operating.
Once the research was done and the feedback was gathered, the consultants and the company’s executives had a decision to make.
“(The consultant), me and the president of franchising met, and we talked and we said, ‘Here’s what we can do,’” DeVoe says. “We can keep doing what we’ve been doing, or we can make a hard decision and basically reconstruct the department.”
They decided to make the change and brought more help aboard to assist with the formal reconstruction of the HR department.
“We selected a recruiting firm that specialized in HR executives and provided that firm with the written plan from the HR consultant,” DeVoe says. “We interviewed various candidates and selected the best one to lead our new department. Finally, we allowed our new HR director to take the lead in recruiting the rest of his staff while adhering to the plan.”
A full-time recruiter was brought in, along with an employee development manager, as the new department began to take shape. A major change to a department as fundamental as HR can create some anxiety.
“I’m sure at the start, they thought, ‘What’s going on? This has been OK. My paycheck is right. Why are we changing this department?’” DeVoe says. “Some people didn’t mind, and some did. We formulated a strategy about how we were going to accomplish this transition, communicated it in e-mails and held meetings with other executives to share and disseminate with other employees why we were going to make these changes.”
Clarity of purpose
By transforming the HR department from a segment that primarily filed forms and handled payroll and benefits to one that conducts leadership training, DeVoe says a means will have been created to instill valuable leadership principles in all of the company’s employees.
“I think everybody is a creature of habit,” DeVoe says. “I tell our people to always have good peripheral vision. If you don’t, you will pull in and go straight to your office, or you’ll go straight to making your breakfast in the break room. You’ll do the same thing all the time, and you won’t see what is going on outside of your tunnel vision.
“I preach to our people to have good peripheral vision. Know what is going on around you and underneath you.”
Instituting a major change such as this requires a clear vision that is communicated to and understood by everyone.
“You have to be able to motivate people,” DeVoe says. “The art of leadership is getting people to do something that you want them to do. ... A good leader communicates effectively. People have to understand what you are communicating. It’s one thing to communicate, but it’s another for people to understand and really grasp what you are trying to tell them.
“Good leaders hold people accountable. People want to know with clarity what their job is and they want to be held accountable.
If you have loosely defined objectives or goals and you don’t have leaders that give people a clear vision of why we have to achieve this result, then you are going to get mediocre performance.”
Part of that clarity also comes from the company’s four values: Honesty and integrity in everything it says and does; maintain the highest regard for each customer and associate; develop and promote people from within; and use its collective strengths to make decisions and solve problems.
Each employee at J.D. Byrider carries a card in his or her purse or wallet on which these values are printed.
The HR changes serve as reinforcements for the value of developing and promoting people from within.
“When I was younger, I didn’t understand what (my fasther) meant about showing people a vision or a future of where they can be in our organization,” DeVoe says. “Not everybody can be promoted, but at the same time, it’s very clear in our culture. It’s our value. These are our core values. Everybody knows in the entire company what our values are ,and everybody knows that value No. 3 is to develop people and promote from within.”
A company considering a major change in its philosophy must also assess the effect it will have on all aspects of its operations.
“You have to create a win-win-win situation in business,” DeVoe says. “You can’t have a situation where everything you do is good for the customers, but it’s bad for the franchisees and shareholders.
“You can’t have a situation where it’s just good for us and bad for the customers. Your customer is the most important thing you can keep your focus on, but at the same time, the other strategic parts of your triangle have to win also.”
Training sessions began more than six months ago, and thus far, more than 100 employees have participated. They have learned about managing their workload, how to better communicate with others and added skills that will help them grow as leaders.
“It’s not an isolated department anymore,” DeVoe says. “It’s an open interactive department that is part of the people. If someone has a problem, they may be scared they can’t come in to the CEO, but they know for sure they can go in to human resources.”
HOW TO REACH: J.D. Byrider Systems Inc., (317) 249-3000 or www.jdbyrider.com