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Lithia Motors Inc: Built to Scale

Lithia Motors helps finance managers succeed by providing them with round-the-clock support from a dedicated sales and finance operations team.

November 2011, F&I and Showroom - Cover Story

by Justina Ly

(L-R) Steve Justice, Lithia Motors’ sales and finance operations manager, poses with Gary Richardson, assistant vice president of sales and finance, Bryan DeBoer, president, Scott Hillier, executive vice president of retail operations, Chris Holzshu, CFO, and Mike Fealey, F&I operations.
(L-R) Steve Justice, Lithia Motors’ sales and finance operations manager, poses with Gary Richardson, assistant vice president of sales and finance, Bryan DeBoer, president, Scott Hillier, executive vice president of retail operations, Chris Holzshu, CFO, and Mike Fealey, F&I operations.

Lithia Motors Inc.’s dedication to training and supporting its dealerships’ finance departments has helped it gain ground in the post-recession economy. In September, the dealer group was honored with this year’s F&I Dealer of the Year award at the magazine’s annual conference and expo.

With 86 stores in 12 states, the Medford, Ore.-based dealer group is one of the largest in the United States. To support the size and scale of its business, Lithia has a dedicated sales and finance operations department. That six-person team is led by Steve Justice, Lithia’s sales and finance operations manager. He is responsible for monitoring, training and maintaining the performance levels of 145 F&I managers.

Justice accepted F&I and Showroom’s top honor during a special ceremony at the F&I Conference. Lithia Motors was one of seven operations named in October as a 2011 F&I Pacesetter, an honor that made the dealer group a finalist for the award.

“It felt really good to be recognized among all the colleagues we had [at the show],” says Justice. “Everything we’re trying to accomplish and achieve was recognized at a national level.”

Hands-on Management

Walt DeBoer founded Lithia Motors in 1945 as a Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge dealership in Ashland, Ore. In the five decades that followed, Lithia acquired more dealerships and expanded into several other states. In 1996, Lithia became a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange.

Despite Lithia’s corporate demeanor, all of its dealerships are located in small and mid-size markets in the West and Midwest, which is why Justice and his team are so critical to the operation.

“We’re constantly in contact with our finance departments. Our role is to support the stores in any way we can,” says Justice, who has been at the helm of this department since August 2009. “I’m a 24/7 person to F&I managers. If I get a ring or e-mail, then I know they really need something.”

Justice has four staff members who travel two to three weeks each month to visit dealerships and troubleshoot their finance departments. Two more staff members who specialize in training are based at Lithia’s corporate office. The group also has quarterly conference calls with F&I managers, and offers refresher courses for them at Lithia’s corporate office.

Justice’s hands-on approach has earned praise from some industry veterans, including Don Schober, a Resource Automotive executive. “I would say that Steve, as well as the entire [Lithia] management team, leads from the front,” he says. “They don’t manage from an office, send out a memo and expect to get results.”

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