Auto Service World
Feature   July 1, 2013   by Andrew Ross


While sitting in Roger Letendre’s office talking about all things great and small, the topic of team, and succession, and the role of the entrepreneur came up.

I offered the opinion that the jobber business today, as a people business, requires as much cooperation within the four walls that make up the operation as it does connection with the customer and the supplier.

I didn’t mean it to sound like something a flower child might say – I’m no faded hippie – but even I have to admit that there was a note of New Age in it.

While he didn’t disagree directly, Roger Letendre did offer this: As an owner, when you unlock that door in the morning and look around and go into your office, you are alone. And he said it with such gravitas that I had to believe that there were many times, over the past four decades when he has been at the helm of Groupe Maska, that he has very much had to rely solely on his own counsel.

That will be a familiar feeling for anyone in a position of authority.

It reminded me how profound the feeling of responsibility and aloneness can be even for those surrounded by family, and a staff that is practically family.

When it comes to the tough decisions, you can consult with as many people as you like – trusted friends and advisors, family members young and old – but in the end, it is up to you to decide which advice to heed, which to toss aside, and which direction you are to steer the ship in.

Even veteran business owners can still find themselves having to swallow hard at major investments and address business challenges with acuity and decisiveness.

The importance of smart decisions does not diminish as a business gets larger and you gain experience. In fact it becomes imperative. The bigger the ship, the harder it can be to shift direction.

I am reminded of the story of a 2001 dispute between William Clay Ford Jr. and then-CEO Jacques Nasser about which direction the Ford Motor Company should be moving. The company was in the midst of falling profitability, a price war, and lawsuits launched over a controversial performance evaluation system. Mr. Nasser stated his displeasure with seeing so many “white faces in the crowd” at a staff assembly and vowed to have that change, raising the ire of many long-term employees who cried “reverse discrimination.”

The story goes that as the power struggle reached its height, Mr. Ford walked Mr. Nasser outside the head office, pointed to the Ford Motor Company sign, and told him that only when his name was on the building would he get to make “those kinds of decisions.”

While that story is probably apocryphal, Mr. Nasser’s departure was not.

This industry is full of family operations that have managed to navigate troubled waters. And, as much as I believe Roger Letendre’s comments about the sometimes lonely life of the owner, I would hope that you all have some partners in life and in family and in business to help you choose the right path, as he does.

The days of having to rely solely on your own devices have passed. That’s true for you and it’s true for your customers.

The world is a more complex place and it is important to use all the resources at hand to help you make the right decisions.

Going it alone, completely alone, is no fun, and it’s probably not even wise.

—Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor, Twitter: Andrew Ross (@JobberNews)

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