The Kids Are All Right

Years ago I heard the late U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil speak. He was a senior citizen at the time, prompting him to quip, I've reached the age where I don't even buy green bananas. I've cited that quote several times during my stints as an NADA Director and workshop speaker. The point is that life, and how you live it, is relative. Lately I use that quote to describe my personal position

Years ago I heard the late U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil speak. He was a senior citizen at the time, prompting him to quip, “I've reached the age where I don't even buy green bananas.”

I've cited that quote several times during my stints as an NADA Director and workshop speaker. The point is that life, and how you live it, is relative.

Lately I use that quote to describe my personal position in the tapestry of life and as a member of the automotive community.

Tom Brokaw's best-selling book, “The Greatest Generation,” is named for the World War II generation because of the way they rose to the occasion at great sacrifice. I read the book and was not nearly impressed as Brokaw.

The case histories he recounted became tiresome after reading so many. However, a powerful message came through when he said this aging generation is succumbing to the grim reaper at a rate of 1,000 a month. Many of us are not buying green bananas.

As a member of that generation, a World War II veteran and a 20-year columnist for this magazine, I have recently begun to dramatically see the generation differences.

Future planning has always been an important ingredient of any success in life, including running a dealership. Sometimes we're affected by outside forces. In recent years, mergers and acquisitions by automobile manufacturers have often dictated individual dealership successes and failures. It's a sad commentary that domestic manufacturers allowed importers to snatch market share.

The nation's retail automotive industry has produced its share of courageous individuals from the “Greatest Generation” who were called upon to confront Detroit's bully tactics of the 1960's and ‘70s.

Names which come to mind are:

  • Merle “Doc” Yager, a dealer and former GM zone manager who all but single handedly fought for reforms which protected consumers and dealers.

  • Lee Iacocca, who saved Chrysler and several thousand workers from permanent unemployment, and who's still remembered fondly by a lot of dealers.

  • Dealer Ed Mullane, who brought integrity to the manner in which Ford reimbursed their dealers for warranty operations. He also championed many dealer equity issues.

  • Ron Tonkin who sued, charging price discrimination, and helped eliminate the cancerous fleet and lease subsidies.

Action, based on personal instinct is not everyone's forte. But some of my most successful employees were hired on my personal gut instinct. Time was, when interviewing prospective employees and managers, years of experience on a job was the most dominant factor for winning the job. Yet, in many instances, lengthy experience meant years of doing the wrong things over and over.

Working as a family business consultant during the past several years I've seen the generational differences in many prominent automobile families.

The passion to succeed, which was in the gut of many dealership founders, is seldom found in their offspring on the job. This is not a character indictment. Rather it is a simple statement that the latest generation prefers other worlds to conquer and has their own way of running a business.

That's important to realize as I counsel or mentor aspiring dealer candidates from the family business. I know that things change dramatically in the retail new-vehicle business. They need to know that, too.

Methods and techniques, appropriate a few years ago, may be totally out of date. Every generation has its day. But, if you've been around a while, when referring to “the good old days,” be sure you're not dispensing over-ripe fruit.

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