The Case For Hiring HR Leaders from Outside the Auto Industry

Given the historically low unemployment rate and competitive hiring market, successful dealers recognize the importance of rethinking their recruitment marketing and hiring efforts to attract top talent. And some dealers have even taken their elevated their recruitment efforts by adding strategic leadership roles – such as VP of People and Chief Human Resources Officer.
One way top dealers are thinking outside the box when it comes to winning in today’s applicant-driven economy is looking outside the automotive industry for qualified talent across roles – including on the HR team. Below, we’ve outlined a few examples of dealers that have hired HR leaders who don’t necessarily have retail automotive experience and several lessons your dealership can learn as a result.

Dealers Hiring from Outside the Industry


Lithia Motors

In July 2018, Lithia Motors, one of the largest dealership groups in the U.S., announced the appointment of Erik Lewis as its first CHRO. Prior to joining the Lithia Motors team, Erik held HR leadership roles at Apple Leisure Group and Walmart.
Lithia attributes much of its success and growth over the past five years to its people-focused culture and welcomed Lewis to help the organization continue to attract, grow and retain top talent. The executive-level role was added in 2018 to support Lithia’s mission of “Growth Powered by People.” In this role, Erik is helping Lithia’s management team take a proactive approach to employee development and rewards.

Walser Automotive

Sherry Schultz joined Walser Automotive Group as its CHRO in April 2018. Sherry has extensive experience as an HR leader across industries. Prior to Walser Automotive, Sherry held roles as SVP, CHRO at Catalyst Capital, LLC and VP, Talent Acquisition and Diversity at Sears Holdings Corporation. In earlier years, Sherry was the Director of Global Talent, Development and Diversity at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Before joining Goodyear, Sherry spent 9 years with Pepsi Bottling Group in several diverse HR leadership roles.
In her CHRO role at Walser Automotive Group, Sherry has oversight of all HR functions including: employee relations, labor relations, talent acquisition, leadership development, employee engagement, sales and service performance/training, benefits and payroll and facilities. Much of her focus has been to standardize and simplify the organizational structure and compensation plans, the company wide implementation of policies and an organizational code of conduct, and HRIS and ATS system conversion, as well as completing annual healthcare renewals and financial plan enhancements.
Sherry is also focusing on game changing cultural enhancements, building on Walser’s already dynamic “You Drive Us” employment brand. One of these enhancements is the launch of the “Women of Walser” (WoW) resource network, with the mission to actively engage women at all levels of the company through diversity accountability, mentorship, leadership, and various networking events.

What Your Dealership Can Learn


Embrace HR as a Leadership Partner at Your Dealership

Lithia and Walser are both among the leading dealership groups when it comes to embracing human resources as a true partner on the leadership team. If you don’t already have one in place, your dealership should identify and hire a strong HR leader – such as a CHRO or VP of People – who can not only take the charge of compliance and administrative responsibilities, but also turn your people into a source of competitive advantage.

A CHRO, VP of People or other HR leader in a similar position can partner with your recruiting team to ensure you’re making the right hires to meet the dealership’s operational goals. He or she can also ensure you’re intentional about your dealership employment brand and culture as you continue to grow. Once employees are hired, an HR leader can also give employees the tools they need to succeed with structured training and professional growth programs.

Expand Your Recruitment Marketing Efforts Outside the Industry

While some dealership employees might apply to your team because they come from a long line of family members in the automotive industry, or they’ve been interested in retail automotive careers for some time, others might have never even imagined working at a dealership. In fact, Hireology data found that fewer than 1 percent of job seekers are interested in a dealership career. Because of this, it’s critical to your dealership’s success to target your recruitment marketing efforts beyond job seekers who might already be interested in dealership careers – as this is a limited talent pool.
Similar to Lithia and Walser, your team can consider hiring a leadership team member who has seen success in another industry, rather than simply considering prospects with automotive experience. And reaching outside the industry doesn’t only apply to leadership roles. For example, if you’re looking to fill an entry-level sales role, a recent college graduate with a marketing or business degree can be a great fit. He or she might be looking into similar sales roles at a local retailer or startup, but by highlighting the benefits of working for your dealership, you might change his or her mind about career prospects. Sometimes, your best employees might end up being those who didn’t have an interest in retail automotive in the first place, but are motivated, competitive and driven to succeed.
Retail automotive hiring challenges show no signs of slowing down, so your team must take extra steps to ensure you’re getting engaged job seekers excited about your open roles. For additional tips on attracting top talent from both inside and outside the retail automotive industry, read our resource, “The Top 50 Retail Automotive Dealership Job Descriptions.”



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