Pasadena, CA — Victoria Pearson, the new dealer member of the powerful California New Motor Vehicle Board, is at age 40 three years younger than the luxury-brand group created by her father in the Los Angeles market.
In keeping with marketing skills advanced by Paul P. Rusnak — making Rusnak Auto Group No.1 in volume sales for the Jaguar brand in the U.S. this year — his daughter wants the vehicle board to reach out to consumers. Specifically, she wants to apprise them of the services it offers state car owners.
“Disputes between car owners and their dealers can be resolved by the board's mediation service,” Pearson tells
's in an interview in the corporate office of the Rusnak Auto Group.
“In the luxury car business, there are numerous disagreements involving customers, and the board is planning to familiarize owners with the services it offers to settle those issues,” she says.
The vehicle board is better known for its role as an arbiter of clashes between dealers and manufacturers, and in this area Pearson brings aboard her record as an attorney.
She is a graduate of Gonzaga University's law school, prior to which she received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Southern California.
As chief operating officer and general counsel of the Rusnak Group, Pearson follows partially in the footsteps of a former vehicle board member, Alan Skobin, who is general counsel of the Galpin dealer group based in North Hills, CA.
“Alan is not a COO, but he was one of the first in-house attorneys to become an executive of a dealer group and has been an instrumental board member in addressing many dealer-factory disputes,” she says. “He's like a mentor for others who wear two hats, as I do.”
Donning her COO hat, Pearson says the Rusnak Group plans no more acquisitions on the heels of the shredding of dealers by General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC. Its latest acquisition in 2008 was of a Hyundai store in Loma Linda, CA.
“Those cutbacks were painful for the industry, but in the long run will be proven necessary,” she says of the dealership cuts. “Those who go on with the business of selling fine cars will be OK. Those who have to go because of overcrowded dealer counts in the urban markets are the unfortunate victims.”
The board could become involved in dealer-factory disputes over refusal of captive lenders to offer leasing or floorplanning financing, according to Pearson, a mother of a son, age12 and an daughter, 11.
But she sees no fallouts for the board and its administrative law judges because of the after-effects of the GM and Chrysler dealer realignments.
Rusnak's 700 employes work in four Southland locations — Pasadena, Westlake Village, Arcadia and Loma Linda.
Rusnak's other brands, besides Jaguar and Hyundai, include Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, BMW, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Rolls-Royce and Volvo.
“Dad started his auto career in 1959 as a Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge salesman and dealer in Culver City, CA,” says Pearson. “But he always had the goal of entering the premium car market.
“That gave him the opportunity to become a community supporter, with causes like the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Pasadena's AIDS service center. His college car, a Jaguar XK120 Roadster, got him started as a car salesman.”
Rusnak Group's 40th anniversary in 2006 was marked by a 120-page hard-cover book showing the group CEO in photographs with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed Rusnak's daughter to the vehicle board; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; former U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, and Slovak Republic President Ivan Gasporovic.
Rusnak, one of the five finalists for 2008 “dealer of the year” chosen by the American International Automobile Dealers Assn., and Pearson maintain offices in a plush separate building adjoining their Jaguar-Porsche-Audi-Bentley-Rolls Royce store on Pasadena's Colorado Blvd., its main road.
The group's peak sales year occurred in 2005, with about 13,000 new and used vehicles sold at retail.
Pearson oversaw the implementation of many new systems and programs as an aftermath of last fall's sales recession, says the group's director of marketing, Tom Valasek, a former AutoNation employee.
“Internet and cable programming was centralized and sharply improved so that viewers could see all new brands and certified pre-owneds promoted on the Rusnakonline.com website” he says.
He adds: “An outside consulting firm brought in updated incentive and sales goal programs. Employees were required to dress neatly, with suits and ties for the men, in a sharp departure from the Southern California casual style.
“Training and retraining was newly emphasized and has paid off in improving employee skills and closing rates. The results this year have been amazing. Mr. Rusnak believes the corner has been turned and a rebound is on the way.
“We have a customer data base of about 65,000, who are Rusnak-loyal. Our CSI score is consistently in the highest 2% for each of the luxury brands we handle.”
A son of a GM executive, Valasek holds a marketing degree from Central Michigan University.
“I've worked for a lot of auto-centered places, like a Honda store in Santa Monica, CA, and two Detroit ad agencies, but the Rusnak Group is the most inspiring,” he says. “This organization is moving up to a new dealership level, with Paul Rusnak and his daughter Victoria leading the way.”