in the past, minority dealers were offered less-than-ideal locations, but insist that has since changed. “Clearly there were some dealers who went into locations that were less than desirable,” says Marcia McGee, a member of GM’s global communications staff. “But the commitment now is to look for minority dealer locations that are rated as better than average.”
Eric Peterson, general director of GM’s MDD Program, adds, “If there are questions about the potential growth of a given area, or if a location appears to be in decline, we will not be targeting those particular points to place minority candidates in.”
Another complaint that the independent review examined was the insensitivity of mid-level management to the concerns of African American dealers. “We need quality deals to bring to the table,” says Gregory Jackson, owner of Prestige Automotive Group in Mount Morris, Michigan. “And that means middle management needs to be sensitive to the fact that it’s good business to assist black dealers. It’s not a social issue. It’s good business for GM and the stockholders to have reciprocal trade with the black community,” says Jackson, whose dealership had sales of $74 million last year.
“That’s still not clear to a large majority of middle-management people. They don’t see the real necessity for minority auto dealers. To get them to be accountable, their performance pay structure should be tied into how much they help improve the minority dealership program,” says Jackson. “But it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”
Latham believes the top brass at GM is committed to improving life for its minority dealers as well as increasing their numbers with the company. But he’s concerned about whether that message is getting to the mid-managers as well. He also favors a system of rewards and punishment for management. “We want to change behavior,” says Latham.
For now, GM appears to be listening and open to suggestions. “Our game plan is to go out to the field organizations and reaffirm what we want to do in the marketplace,” says Peterson. “They must understand completely the importance of improving relations with our minority dealers.”
But not everyone is as optimistic about the study as executives at GM. “It’s going to take more than a report to change things at GM,” says Cornelius A. Martin, owner of Martin Automotive Group in Bowling Green, Kentucky (No. 4 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list). “It’s going to take a major commitment and it’s not necessarily in dollars. It’s the commitment to training, selecting qualified candidates and making the right selection for the deal that I’m concerned about.”