August 9, 2012
Interns can bring value to your dealership.
By Denise L. Rondini, Executive Editor
Talk to almost anyone in the trucking industry and you will hear the same thing: There are not enough young people interested in careers in this industry. However, complaining about is not going to solve the problem.
And while it is a small step, Dick Sweebe, president and CEO of the Diamond Companies, decided to do something about it.
After reading a column in the November 2011 issue of Truck Parts & Service magazine (sister publication to Successful Dealer), on Northwood University’s Aftermarket Management program and its requirement that students complete an internship as part of their curriculum, Sweebe contacted the school to get things started.
“We are always trying to find new talent,” Sweebe says. “I know a lot of dealers who have sent their kids to Northwood so I thought this might be a way for us to develop a link to an institution of higher learning where we might get some talent going forward.”
In addition, Sweebe says the dealership is celebrating its 30th anniversary and he felt a responsibility “to give back some of the things we have received. I felt it was our corporate responsibility to support the program even though most of the students thought they wanted careers in the auto business.”
Pat Crase, human resources manager at the Diamond Companies, worked closely with Northwood and received a list of three potential candidates. “Pat started speaking with them and ended up interviewing two of them after learning that one had already accepted a job in Florida,” Sweebe says.
From the remaining candidates, Crase recommended that Diamond offer Marquis Ragland, a junior at Northwood, an internship at the dealership’s Memphis location.
Sweebe wanted to make sure the internship had some structure to it, so he suggested that Ragland submit a report each week with his observations and comments.
Ricky Hall, parts manager at the Memphis location, was given the responsibility of supervising Ragland. “I felt we really needed to give Marquis an idea of the scope of our business and how we do things.” This meant that Ragland started off like every other Diamond Companies employee — as a delivery driver. “Everyone starts as delivery driver and then we bring them into shipping and receiving, followed by front counter sales and then possible outside sales,” Hall says.
“He started out riding with the delivery drivers to get a sense of what they do and to learn about the importance of delivery drivers to a dealership,” Hall says, “They are the guys who see our customers more than anybody else.” Then he progressed through other areas of the dealership.
“Every week he brought me an outside view into the running of our business. I told him I wanted to hear from him where he thought we were failing,” Hall says. “And every week he brought in different things to say maybe we are not giving the best customer service in this area. This gave me the opportunity to determine what we could do to make it better.”
The second week of Ragland’s internship he commented that the people in the shipping and receiving area did not seem to be gaining much recognition as they should. “We challenged Marquis to come up with a pay our program for the guys in the back and then to manage it while he is here,” Hall says.
While Sweebe admits many dealers employ young people in the summer, it often is not done in a systematic way. “They are given a job to do until they go back to school. What we did is dramatically different,” Sweebe says. “We were bringing someone in to give them the opportunity to learn the business so we put together a structured program. This sent a message to our own people that we are serious about trying to develop people, trying to give them an opportunity and trying to help young people advance their careers.”
Ragland says he was drawn to the Northwood program because, “as long as I can remember, I always have been surrounded by some kind of vehicle. I was always surrounded by a wrench or some other type of tool because my family was always working on cars.”
While Ragland knew he wanted a career in the automotive industry he says he did not necessarily want to be a technician. He searched for schools with automotive business degrees and found Northwood. “The aftermarket program basically focuses on parts, whether it be manufacturing parts, distributing parts, marketing parts, selling parts — so it gives me a wide range of opportunity.”
And the internship at the Diamond Companies has added another dimension to the mix. “I did not know what opportunities were out there for the trucking stuff, but I have had a blast so far,” Ragland says. He adds that he would recommend an internship at a truck dealership to other students.
“It has been great working with a bunch of people who have been in the field for 20, 30 or 40 years. These guys have taken me under their wing and I feel extremely welcome to be here. They are all willing to teach me and that is really all I can ask for,” he says.
He adds, “When I get back to school, they might have to try really hard to swing me back to the automotive side. I really enjoy it down here and I strongly recommend it.”
After he graduates in 2013, Ragland says, “I would love to keep going in the trucking industry. I am really hoping to get more exposure and see more opportunities and develop and all around knowledge of the industry so I feel like I can be in this industry.”
Ragland will finish out his internship at the Diamond Companies by working with the outside sales staff to get an understanding of what is involved in working with big accounts. He also has requested to spend a few days following Sweebe and the dealership’s chief operating officer to see what their jobs entail.
Sweebe also sent Ragland to work in his NAPA store in order to “give him a good variety of experiences.”
Overall, everyone is pleased with the way the relationship has worked out. “Marquis contributed more than he thinks he did. He really brought a lot to the table and was well liked by his co-workers. We have enjoyed having him and wish him well,” Sweebe says.
“And who knows, we may end up together in the future.”
Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning more about Northwood’s Aftermarket Management program or internship opportunities, contact Larry Silvey, firstname.lastname@example.org.