What's Up With the Executives at AutoNation?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

At least twenty upper-echelon executives have left AutoNation since the start of 2014, with the vast majority bailing within two years. Short stints with an employer and lackluster job stability may be the norm for bottom-rung millennials but senior managers with years of experience have a tendency to stick around a while.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there is something sinisterly “up” with the largest automotive retailer in the United States, but it does leave you wondering about its future. This concern was heightened after AutoNation’s chief operating officer, Bill Berman, suddenly resigned last week, not even four months after being named president.

One face the company can count on seeing in its roster is CEO Mike Jackson — at least until he retires, which could be years from now. The 68-year-old executive has been with the company since 1999 and, according to Automotive News, plans to stick around for as long as Penske Automotive’s Roger Penske. In 2015, Jackson signed a contract with AutoNation that would keep him on board until at least 2019. But Penske is now eighty, meaning Jackson could have another decade with his current employer.

“We have a very robust, professional succession plan in process,” explained Jackson without citing where Berman’s replacement would be coming from.

The CEO doesn’t believe the loss of seventeen executives in two years is cause for alarm and cited numerous players who have stayed on. “We have a very talented, experienced team [of senior executives],” he said. “I think the average is 16 years with AutoNation. I’d match that with anybody.”

Marc Cannon, AutoNation’s chief marketing officer, agreed. He stated that fifteen staff members at similar management levels left the company between 2012 and 2015. Some of the executives who left AutoNation in the last few years were veteran employees, regional and market presidents overseeing dealerships networks who simply wanted to retire. Former COO Mike Maroone, for example, had stuck it out as company president for fifteen years before handing the reigns over to Bill Berman. However, there were plenty of other executives who left to pursue business interests elsewhere.

In 2012, AutoNation brought in Dave Koehler from Sonic Automotive Inc., Alan McLaren from Mercedes-Benz, and Greg Revelle from Expedia Inc. as its next generation of leaders. Revelle left the company in 2014, with McLaren following in 2015. Koehler was demoted to a general manager position in late 2012.

In 2015, vice president Michael Stephan, senior vice president of customer care McLaren, vice president of internal communications Audrey Ring, vice president of human resources Julie Staub, and chief strategy officer Ron Frey all left — along with Maroone and several other high-ranking executives.

Those employees may not have left for nefarious reasons, but AutoNation has still lost a lot of its core leadership in the past 48 months, along with roughly seven regional and market presidents. The company hasn’t commented publicly on its succession plan for Berman — or Jackson, when the time comes — but claims to be “hard at work” on the matter.

[Image: Michael Sheehan/ Flickr ( CC BY 2.0)]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Stingray65 Stingray65 on May 22, 2017

    Several "experts" are predicting major downward pressures on used car prices as boatloads of lease vehicles are turned in. Perhaps the projected margins at these lower prices are likely to keep the Autonation stock price flat or worse which makes top executive stock options worthless.

  • Felix Hoenikker Felix Hoenikker on May 22, 2017

    I sold my Autonation stock at a profit in the late 90s. Maybe too soon, but I found better investments for the cash. Now I buy index funds and ETFs. Maybe a little less return, but much more palatable to an aging boomer!

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