Five Questions With is a monthly Q&A segment on AutoFinanceExcellence.org that offers a glimpse of what senior industry executives are thinking about outside the boardroom. Read on to find out.
John Thacker started his auto finance career two decades ago as a bill collector for Ford Motor Credit, and after “sitting in all the chairs” in the business has become national sales director of Hyundai Capital America this year.
“I collected, repoed cars, I moved on to a collections supervisor, then a credit analyst, then a sales rep, then a trainer,” he said. “In our business, you really don’t see that career path anymore. It used to be you had to sit in all the chairs, and we’ve sort of gone away from that.”
It’s vital for senior-most executives to have comprehensive knowledge of all areas of auto finance. To that end, HCA Chief Executive Ross Williams is pushing for employees to do job rotations to learn what other people are doing in different departments, Thacker said.
Auto Finance Excellence asked Thacker five questions to find out what his company goals are, advice that helped him earn top management roles, and a surprising fact that his colleagues would never suspect.
Auto Finance Excellence: What are your company goals in 10 words or less?
John Thacker: Commercial growth, ease of doing business, customer and dealer loyalty.
AFE: What is your favorite piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received?
JT: Years ago when I was working at Ford Credit one of the executives told me: ‘If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.’ I like that because basically what he was saying is, ‘Don’t complain about something, fix it.’ Don’t count on others to fix your problems. Now here we are, 20 years later, and I still adhere to that. We had an HCA sales conference earlier this month and we had that written up on the board. It was nice. The sales conference is an internal conference where we bring in our Hyundai, Kia, Genesis and warranty sales team and kick off the new year saying, ‘These are our sales goals, here’s what we need to accomplish this year, and here’s what’s going on.’
AFE: What do you think is the most underrated trend in lending practices?
JT: Loyalty programs and predictive analytics. From a captive standpoint, we are trying to focus on our existing customer base and when they are coming back in the market. We have a whole team of people looking at how the accounts perform, the demographics — they do a pretty good job figuring out when that customer is coming back to the market. Pushing that customer back to the dealer. We have a history with them we know how they pay. It’s a good traffic driver, and it’s much easier to keep a customer than it is to conquest one.
Driving traffic for our dealers is a big deal, and I think that is very underrated. We might have someone with rough credit, but they paid us as agreed. They can get up to a two-tier upgrade and lower their rates just by financing with us again. I think more people should do it.
AFE: What person has had the most significant influence on your career?
JT: This is the toughest question you’ve asked. I struggle with this. The guy who had the biggest influence in my career was probably my first branch manager out of college. He really taught me what it meant to be a captive finance company. We weren’t just loaning money, it wasn’t just banking, it was relationship-driven. Support your supporters. I’d say about 80% of what I learned from him I still use today.
He’s the same guy that brought me to Hyundai. Then he left the finance company and went to the motor company. At one point he was their interim vice president of sales and is no longer with the company. He taught me what it means to be a captive lender. I came to Hyundai and still to this day am trying to institute some of the stuff he taught me — like how we manage our dealers and manage our value proposition. Now he’s the president and chief executive of a dealer group. So I still talk to him — he’s now a customer.
He was tough, too. I remember sitting in his office one time and a dealer called complaining about purchase policy. He told that dealer, ‘Your floorplan provider should be buying these deals for you — give me their phone number and I’ll tell them the type of business they owe you, and if they won’t buy those deals then you need to reevaluate your business relationship.’ He was big on loyalty — and that still resonates with me today. I’ve been with two companies in 23 years.
AFE: What’s something all of your colleagues would be surprised to learn about you?
JT: Probably that I play guitar and I recently started building them. I started building guitars out of cigar boxes. Bo Diddley, the old guitar player, would play with a cigar box guitar, so I wanted one. I started building them and now people buy them from me. It’s just a hobby, but people liked it and now people hit me up to make them. I sell them for a couple hundred dollars apiece. I’ve got a Facebook page where I sell them. My kids are mortified.