I want to talk about Jim Press. I actually started this article a month or so ago, modified it somewhat and sent a different one out. I did that because I got chicken as I was concerned I might offend some of Mr. Press’s Toyota dealer friends. Due to a recent news article I’ve modified it again and decided to let it fly; so hang on.
It’s probably impolite to talk about someone you don’t know. I guess I’m just impolite. I mean I kind of know him. I’ve been around him 4 or 5 times, heard him speak maybe a half dozen times and certainly read a lot about him. Was he a hero at Toyota or what? What a superstar! So he goes to Chrysler to be their savior. What did he save? Nothing. What did he do? Nothing.
As you know it was announced a few months ago that he was leaving Chrysler. In addition, the Detroit News reported on September 18th that Jim Press, Chrysler Group’s outgoing deputy CEO, owes almost $1 million in back taxes and has been sued by his credit union for defaulting on a $609,000 loan.
I’m going to make a couple of reasonable assumptions. First, he lived in California while working for Toyota before his move to Chrysler and Detroit back around September 2007. I might have this wrong, but I don’t think the real estate market had crashed in California back in 2007. Second, if you’re moving from California to Detroit I would have to think you would be in an excellent real estate bargaining position. How could you not come out smelling like a rose moving from California to Detroit when it comes to buying a house?
I keep coming back to my famous saying, “You’re never as smart as you think you are and you’re never as dumb as you appear.” He appeared brilliant during his Toyota days and now he looks pretty dumb. Was he all that smart at Toyota and all that dumb at Chrysler? The answer in both cases is no. At Toyota he was at the right place at the right time in history. Great product, great organization and some darn good dealers to work with. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I highly doubt the dealers he inherited at Chrysler were any worse than the ones he had at Toyota. The mere fact that so many of those Chrysler dealers survived over the years is a testament that they were outstanding dealers and probably a lot better than some of the Toyota guys.
I don’t want to take anything away from you Toyota dealers, but some of you were also in the right place at the right time. That goes for some of you Honda and Lexus dealers too. Yes, some of you maximized your mess, but some of you just happened to be in the right place. We all have known dealers who have had hot franchises, but couldn’t sell themselves out of a wet paper bag. Lousy Dealers + Hot Product=Profits.
But then I’ve known some others over the years, two that I can think of from my home town of Va. Beach, VA, Ken Hall and Tom Riddle, (Tom’s deceased, but what a guy) who absolutely maximized the profit potential with a few good franchises. These were two hard working, hard driving guys. As the story goes Ken Hall sold his operations a few years ago for $250,000,000. Not bad for a guy who started out as a “car salesman.”
So, I want to make sure I acknowledge dealers like these two who absolutely took advantage of having a great franchise at the right time. But, I also want to pick on those who have been shooting fish in a barrel for so long.
Back to Jim Press. Like I said, I don’t know him personally and I’m sure he’s a nice guy. I wish him well and hope he can recover from whatever hard times he might be going through. He has some good leadership skills, but how great do you think he would have been had he been running Chrysler in the early 80s or Hyundai in the mid 80s? If the truth be known, he learned his best skills during those years he spent at Southeast Toyota under Jim Moran. You can say want you want about Moran. Yes, hard driving, hard nosed, but the one thing he understood is that the dealers were his customers. He knew how to maximize opportunity. He would make you or break you. He made a lot of average guys look great and made them a lot of money. Jim Press was excellent with the dealers, but he’s not the genius he looked like during his Toyota days.
I don’t know why, but I’m furious that Jim Press did nothing for Chrysler. Please, someone tell me what he did? I cannot imagine him leaving Toyota for Chrysler had there not been a lot of money involved. Many of you have had to come up with lots of personal cash to keep your dealerships going. Unless he was an investor in some dealerships that we’ve not heard of, this whole thing just boggles the mind. How could a guy as brilliant as him be having these sorts of problems?
The Jim Press Toyota days are over. As a matter of fact those days are over for all of us. Yep, even those of you with superstar franchises. No more shooting ‘dem fish in a barrel. The fish have gotten slipperier, faster and smarter. A new day is upon us. The Jim Press Superhero days are gone.
Since I’m on a role with my venting tirade, let me add one more thing. Times will get better, profits will too. We have always thought that the factory passed cost after cost on to us partly because they hated seeing all the money some dealers were making. They loved eating our piece of the pie and they wanted more and more of the pie. With the Government now having an Car Czar, it won’t be long before they figure out a way to extract more of your bottom line from you. If you think the factory enjoyed eating off your plate you ain’t seen nothing ‘till the fat ass Car Czar sits down at your table.
Life’s good, let’s eat. That’s all I’m gonna say. Tommy Gibbs