We tried something a bit different on the podcast this week and it was a great success. To show our audience the possibility of getting promoted to top from the very bottom, we brought in John Taylor from Pure Honda Ferndale. John started out as a porter when he was just 17 years old and eventually worked his way up to General Manager of a dealership. Almost 40 years after he began in this industry, he’s now the Dealer Principal of Honda Ferndale.
Getting Promoted – The Rise From Porter to GM
To start things off, John told us his life story. When he was 17, he decided to go visit one of his friends who was a porter at a local dealership. As John tells it, that was a fateful visit. “The dealer saw me hanging around with my buddy and said ‘if you’re gonna stand around, you might as well start washing cars.’ So he threw a sponge at me and I got to work.”
The day after the sponge incident, John went in first thing in the morning and asked for a job. The dealer said he’d be able to interview him at noon, so John waited. Noon rolled around John poked his head into the office…the dealer said “get back in there.” So John kept waiting. At around 5:55 PM that night, the dealer came into the waiting room and gave John a job as a porter.
From there, getting promoted to the sales floor didn’t take too long. And after proving his bona fides on the sales floor, he was promoted up to General Sales Manager. And from there, it was just one more step up to General Manager. Before long, he was able get his own dealership.
Getting Promoted – Mentorship
One of the biggest factors in getting promoted over and over was finding his mentor, and that was Jim, the dealer that threw a sponge at him back when he was 17. John told Jim that he wanted to rise through the ranks, and Jim was kind enough to take him under his wing.
Jim owned 5 other dealerships around the midwest and he took John along with him when he visited those other stores on the weekend. After a few weekends of riding around in the dealer’s Cadillac and eating at nice restaurants, John was hooked. “Jim put the dream in me. And that’s when I put my blinders on. I know this was what I was supposed to do. I let the passion overrule the work.”
The lesson there is just how valuable mentorship really is. Finding someone you can learn from and turn to for guidance is absolutely essential. If you’re able to find someone who’s working at the level or position you dream of reaching one day, do whatever you can to shadow them and turn to them for guidance along your journey. But that’s not the only key factor to success. In addition to finding a good mentor, John was also an incredibly hard worker.
Getting Promoted – Work Ethic
The work ethic that John had to display to even get himself in that situation was a cut above the rest. He was sacrificing his weekends to learn more about the business and go on those trips with Jim, but that’s how he was able to get ahead. John had to work 7 days a week sometimes, but he was fully addicted to the dream. He knew where he needed to be, and he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way. As John said it himself, “I was too naive to know how hard it was going to be.”
I think there’s something to that mentality. It’s harder to get discouraged if you don’t focus on the difficulty of your dream. But even if you know how difficult a goal might be to accomplish, you have to put that out of your mind and keep your nose to the grindstone. If you have strong guidance and work ethic, getting promoted to the top is never truly out of reach. Another key part of John’s success was his commitment to educating himself.
Getting Promoted – Self-Education
“I felt like I was undereducated and didn’t deserve the right to lead. So I had to get it myself.” That’s another quote from John. He had a lot of wisdom to share, but one of the main takeaways was the necessity of self-education. When you take an active interest in what you do for work, you start to use your free time as an asset. For John, that meant reading every book he could get his hands on. When I asked which books helped him the most, his top three were no surprise to me.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. “Good To Great” by Jim Collins. “The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The first two books are foundational texts on leadership and it makes perfect sense to me that John read them during his formative years. And if you know anything about me, you know that I think Jocko’s book is one of the best leadership books of the past decade.
John didn’t go to college and he felt like he was missing some keys to success, so he went after it on his own. One of his tricks, and I think it’s a great one, is that he always tried to live about 45 minutes away from work. On the way to work, he started listening to books on tape to educate himself. And he’s been doing that for more than 20 years. John was genuinely curious. He read books on leadership, he read books on sales. “I took a lot of time to learn how to sell. You don’t have to be a natural born salesperson, you can learn how to do it.”
Recap – The Rise From Porter to GM
I think John’s story is an incredible inspiration to everyone working their way up in the automotive industry. With a little bit of mentorship, a solid work ethic, and a lot of self-education, getting promoted to the next step is entirely possible. And once you start climbing that ladder, you’ll get addicted to the view. I’m a firm believer in that recipe for success. I hope John’s story can motivate any dreamers out there. Keep pushing.