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How to drive company growth: Build relationships, nurture talent

60 seconds with...Bernie Moreno, president, Bernie Moreno Companies

Greater Cleveland Partnership Board member Bernie Moreno, president of Bernie Moreno Companies, and chair of GCP’s Middle-Market Committee, will be a presenter as a “Growth Champion” at the 2015 Greater Cleveland Middle-Market Forum on Friday, May 8 at Corporate College East.

In this Q&A with Every Monday, he talks about how he became an entrepreneur and shares some of the strategies that have led to his company’s success.

  • Every Monday: Your story is a fascinating one. Where and when did you first decide that the auto industry was where you wanted to make your mark?
Bernie Moreno: I’ve always loved cars, whether vintage, current models, or concept cars. My interest really accelerated during my internship at a leading automotive magazine while attending the University of Michigan. Understanding the power that comes from exceptional client satisfaction inspired my passion to succeed in this challenging industry.
  • EM: How did you make the transition from auto company executive to opening your first dealership?
Moreno: Life has its ways of opening doors, but you need to have your eyes wide open to see those opportunities. At age 25, with no retail automotive experience, I was hired as a General Manager for one of the largest dealer groups in the northeast.

Twelve years later, after rising through the ranks to become second-in-command to the Dealer, Mercedes Benz offered me the opportunity to become the dealer for an under-performing Mercedes dealership in the Midwest. It took a giant leap of faith to uproot my family to move across the country and to risk my life’s savings. But it often takes risk and faith to grow.
  • EM: Your company’s growth from one dealership to 21 occurred during a relatively short period of time. What are some the key lessons you can share with other middle-market companies about how to grow your business both by adding new products and expanding geographically?
Moreno: Building a business is much different than building a car. It’s not simply a matter of assembling the parts in the correct order and position. It’s about building relationships and developing a culture that can grow with the organization.

Developing a team that understands and internalizes your vision allows the opportunity to shift them into key positions in a new venture without compromising integrity. A strategically built and talented "bench" of like-minded leaders-in-waiting assures continuity of the company’s vision, foundations, process, procedures and skills. Opportunity for growth within the organization inspires the passion and loyalty that creates great leaders. The learning curve is enormously challenging, and takes time.

Regardless of how fast or far a company expands, or whether new products or lines are added, propitious growth is dependent on developing a great team of people.
  • EM: The Collection Auto Group is well-known for outstanding customer service. What are some of your key strategies?
Moreno: First, it must be stated that we are all a culmination of the experiences we have had in our lifetime. As a child, my parents moved our family to the United States from Columbia. They quickly instilled in me the power of treating everyone I meet with respect and dignity. Early in my career, I worked in the Saturn Division of General Motors, which had one of the highest rates of client satisfaction of all automotive brands. I realized then that wherever my career road might take me, my focus would be to provide an experience of customer delight.

Today, the Bernie Moreno Companies “Four Foundations” include the second foundation point of being "client obsessed". Our team “Ten Commandments” include being a GREAT listener and responding to clients immediately. Our “Vision” focuses on creating positive memories for our clients.
  • EM: Middle-market companies can be faced with the ongoing challenge of recruiting, hiring and retaining management talent. How do you manage the process?
Moreno: We have created the following strategies that have been successful for us:
  • Management Trainee Program: We have a highly formalized program to hire individuals based on their strengths rather than experience. The initial program is four days long, during which time the new hire can be terminated if they do not meet and exceed our expectations of focus, attention to details, commitment, and performance. Their development continues with two-hour sessions each Friday, and a bi-monthly event to develop coaching, mentoring and management skills.

  • Formal Orientation Program: Every Monday, we hold orientation for new team members to introduce to them our history, culture, vision, foundations, and commandments. We also periodically bring in current team members as a refresher for re-enforcement of our company’s goals.

  • Human Resources Department: We have a highly efficient and specialized human resource department that is constantly recruiting for all levels of needs within our company. We also offer upwardly mobile positions to our internal team members as they become available. Finally, we offer a bonus to team members who refer a friend or family member who meets our extremely high standards.

  • Online Distance Learning: We are one of the only automotive groups in the United States to have a state-of-the-art distance learning program. It is broken down for each position category as well as units for all team members. Our training department will not put a live class on before the online modules have been developed. The reason is you can’t hold team members accountable unless your concepts, task, processes and procedures are in writing.