We had the chance to sit down with Patrick Smith, a CoEFFICIENT® user and a Fixed Operations Manager (FOM) with Nissan, to discuss his love for the car business, his decades of auto industry experience, and what gets him excited to come to work.
Square Root: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the auto industry?
Patrick Smith: When I graduated from high school my brother had an independent repair business. I wasn’t into going to go to college, so I decided to work for him part time. This involved doing basic automotive repair, finding parts, cleaning parts, odds and ends like that. I always had an interest in cars, so it was logical to move in that direction.
SR: What was your first job in Automotive? How did you get started?
PS: I worked for a Fiat dealer for seven or eight years. I started out as the parts delivery driver and then worked the parts back counter. I moved up to service advisor and then gained responsibility as warranty administrator. There are few field people who have ever worked in a dealership, even though we are tasked daily with helping them. Without that knowledge it can make it it difficult to do the job. I lived through dealer operations for seven years and gained a deep understanding of how dealerships work.
I’ve also worked in wholesale operations for Subaru, Mitsubishi, Volvo, and BMW. I get to bring different skill sets to my current job from this diverse background. Honestly, anyone who works wholesale should find a way to work retail.
Before my current role at Nissan, I went back to working retail at Jaguar, Land Rover, Maserati and worked as a service manager. That experience kept me up-to-date with technology and customers, and showed me what the dealer principal expects from the role.
SR: What was the hardest part about your job?
PS: Dealing with under-performing employees. I didn’t feel like I had the skill set to tell people they weren’t pulling their weight or how to fix it. The other thing was driving profitability. The department wasn’t always generating enough income and spent too much money on goodwill due to mistakes. A constant challenge was just trying to move the needle fast enough in a given amount of time.
SR: Where did you go from there?
PS: I landed a role right here in Sacramento as a FOM with Nissan.
SR: So after spending time at all of these companies, how has your time been at Nissan so far?
PS: By far the best company I’ve worked for. At other companies, I was tasked with the same responsibilities, but I wasn’t equipped with the tools to achieve those things. Here, I have actual tools to drive business at the dealership.
SR: Coming into a new company, how did you go about getting to know your region?
PS: I’ve lived in Sacramento for 50 years and covered this territory at other companies, so I knew the geography very well. I actually began calling on dealers I’ve known from the past. I have a dozen dealers all within 1.5 hours of home in my territory, so that hasn’t been a challenge for me. You just have to get to know a bunch of new people and personalities and a new product.
SR: What is the best part of your job?
PS: No two days are identical. They are similar because I generally talk about the same things, but I deal with different people and personalities every day. There are different challenges, and you have to adapt. Every day I have to be prepared to walk in the door and expect changes in personnel and programs.
SR: What do you find most challenging about your job?
PS: After swapping some dealers, I have to do some overnights trips and flights each month. I can’t be productive while traveling, even though the email doesn’t stop. The demands from corporate and regional offices don’t stop. Lately, pressure to deliver on objectives is increasing, and sometimes they are not always realistic.
SR: What does a typical day/week look like for you?
PS: The week prior, I set my schedule so I know where I’m going. On Monday, I take an “office day” to finalize last week and get set for this week. During this time I pull reports, read up on information, and review notes from the previous visit for follow-ups. Prep for one dealer visit takes approximately 1-2 hours. I’m usually on the road the rest of the week.
Before each visit I email an agenda to the dealer so they know what I want to talk about and can be mentally prepared. I either meet managers individually or with a group. I have conversations, deal with curve balls, make notes for contact reports, and finish the contact report that day or evening. The next day starts all over again.
SR: What advice do you give the people you work with?
PS: You can’t eat an elephant in one bite. You have to learn to pick and choose your battles. Maybe start the battle today, and depending on the day, tread lightly or go in with guns blazing. Do your research before you open your mouth, and listen more than you talk. Don’t hesitate to reach out to other FOMs to ask for advice and make suggestions on how to improve things.
SR: What do you think will change about the FOM role in the next five years?
PS: The pressure to perform will only continue to increase, so you have to be more effective. I think the company will continue to provide us with the tools and information to get the job done. I think the technology will improve and communication will get better. These are my hopes, but honestly, I have no clue. I’m curious to see what it’s going to look like even just one year from now.
SR: Last question, what would you be doing if you weren’t in the auto industry?
PS: My passion as a kid was dirt bikes and motorcycles. I’d probably be doing something at a motorcycle dealership or within the cycling industry. I’ve gotten into cycling over the past 8 years and enjoy it. But the compensation doesn’t compare, so it’d be hard to change professions.
Thanks to Patrick for his time and thought leadership on the role of the Fixed Operations Manager at Nissan. To see how our solutions may help you, check out the CoEFFICIENT overview page.
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