Five Questions: Frank Esposito

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Frank Esposito is a powersports industry veteran. Currently the president of Kendon Industries, Esposito has worked as the top executive for Tucker Rocky and Global Motorsport Group. But his roots go back even further — he was a worker for and eventually the owner of a dealership and was once the distributor for Ossa motorcycles in the East. Esposito recently led a series of management seminars at the Dealernews Learning Experience at Dealer Expo. For this month’s Five Questions, we talk with Esposito about a subject he knows well: management.

Dealernews: Why is education so important right now for dealers and dealership employees?
Frank Esposito: Education is always important. Thinking that the timing of education varies with market conditions and economic situations is a validation that our thinking toward education is fundamentally flawed. It should be a part of any good dealer’s culture and be in a steady state. We are delusional to think it only became important now that we are in an economic crisis, now that many of our businesses are being challenged.

Think of education as diet and exercise. The right way to live is to eat right and exercise to sustain good health. Most people don’t do the work or have the discipline until they have a life-threatening wake-up call. Education in business works the same way.

DN: Why is it so important to involve employees in the overall success of an enterprise?
FE: Empowerment is the key. The lowest person on your payroll knows something more about the business in some area than the owner. Employees are closer to the customer and your operation than the owner. People want to matter and want to make a difference. Creating a culture that empowers employees to “lead at their own level” raises the energy of the entire enterprise. When employees are empowered to improve the business and are rewarded and recognized for delivered results, a bright light also shines on non-performers. From there it should be “up or out” for any employee who is not making a contribution to the enterprise.

Let your employees speak. Hear them. Make them comfortable that there are no consequences. You will end up with an action list. One good way to start this exercise is to ask each employee, ‘If you owned the business what three things you would change first?’ You’ll find out very fast how much real knowledge you already have in your organization.

DN: What five things have you learned over your career that help you get through rough times?
FE: 1. A tragedy is always a more powerful teacher than a triumph. Embrace the rough times as the ultimate learning and training opportunities.

2. Find a trusted and proven mentor. Make sure your mentor has more battle scars and money than you do, and has a proven track record of going through some battles and coming out victorious. Don’t sign yourself up with an “academic” who has never been bloodied in battle. The ideal mentor is someone who emerged from business failure to a newfound success.

3. Create a detailed written business plan that gets your business through the crisis. Hope is not a plan. If you can’t put down a written road map that gets you through the business crisis, you are the passenger and not the driver.

4. Engage your employees. Be transparent about the challenge ahead and the possible outcome. Employees need to know the score and the dire consequences if each and every person does not carry their weight.

5. Make changes and take risks — you are already at risk. If the business environment has changed and you don’t make the appropriate changes, your business tombstone will read “Too little. Too late.”

6. Balance your life. Eat right, exercise, spend time with family and friends, read, relax, and unplug. This is when your most creative thoughts will come to you. And pay attention to your spiritual health. Business is just one small part of life. Don’t let it consume you. (Yes, these are six things, not five. Always do more than asked.)

DN: What’s your advice to dealers who are working to strengthen their business after the recession’s over?
FE: First, embrace a recession as a great opportunity. Empires get built in recessions and depressions.

Change your thinking if profit is your No. 1 priority. Put the customer first. If you have a mission and vision statement, time to re-examine it. Do you live it? Can your customer feel it? This is job No. 1.

Identify the spirit (heart) of yourself and your business. Exploit your core competencies. Exploit your uniqueness. Identify these three areas and see if those things line up with today’s customer’s needs. Products have changed. Customer behavior has changed. The supply channel has changed, and the economy has changed. Do the work to understand all of these components.

DN: During your Learning Experience seminars, what surprised you?
FE: I was surprised how few dealers had a written business plan and how few dealers had a business vision and mission statement. I was surprised how little dealers were doing to self-educate by reading good business books. I was surprised that the attendance of all of these great learning opportunities was not standing room only.

I was most pleasantly surprised by how many original ideas came from individual dealers in the workshops when challenged to create a list that served two specific needs — the idea had to provide additional profits for the dealership, and it had to make the customer happier. There were great dealers with very creative minds. Everyone was unselfish with sharing ideas. Dealers working together was truly the biggest surprise on how productive they were in delivering real actionable ideas that they could put to work as soon as they returned from the show. I gained a lot of new material for my next lecture and workshop from my audience.

This story originally appeared in the Dealernews April 2011 issue.