Trading Places: Undercover Bosses

Five B.E. 100s CEOs who bravely stepped into their employees' shoes

Damian Mills, CEO, Mills Auto Group (Photo: Greg Plactha)

DAMIAN MILLS
Geared Toward Growth

When he opened up his first car dealership in 2005, Damian Mills, CEO of Mills Auto Group, was better situated than most new franchisees. As a participant in the Ford dealer development program, he was able to acquire the dealership in two years rather than the standard six. By 2006, he added a Chrysler dealership in Fort Mills, South Carolina, to the mix.

Yet, when Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and threatened to terminate agreements with dealerships, Mills couldn’t manage the turmoil—at least not on his own. He was concerned not only for the auto groups’ key managers who had uprooted their families and relocated to help lead the companies, but also for the approximately 90 workers who were working there before he took over.

He decided not to lay off anyone and to consolidate positions that opened up through attrition. “I was determined to keep my key people with me. I felt like my biggest asset was having capable, qualified, talented people,” says Mills. Instead he enlisted his employees to come up with innovative ways to reduce expenses without affecting jobs or the company’s 401(k) match. As a result of some of those ideas, Mills was able to keep his Chrysler dealership, added another Ford/Lincoln shop, plus Nissan, Chevrolet, and Fiat dealerships, and increased revenues by 52% between 2009 and 2010. “When you get people involved in the process they kind of surprise you. We were able to bounce back because of the flexibility and resilience of our people.”

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