I apologize up front if what I am about write offends you, I am not a country music fan, even though my dad dragged me out when I was a toddler to soak in a Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe concert, thanks to the miracle of vinyl and a new turntable. I’ve aged since then, but my wife, daughter, and son still insist on insulting my eardrums with today’s country music.
My friends were amused when I was recently dragged to an Eric Church concert. He and his band performed for a good three hours. I recognized only one song, a Bruce Springsteen classic. In between the beer being spilled on me and the obnoxious light show, I spent time soaking in the scene and making observations.
I found it a little odd that a country star needed a big band to back him up — couple of guitarists, a back-up singer, a few dudes playing keyboards, and a drummer or two — and a compliance officer.
You read that right – a compliance officer. Or at least what my demented, meandering observation deemed this person to be. In baseball, they would be the utility fielder. On a football team, they are the lineman who can play all five positions on the offensive line. On a cruise ship, they are your breakfast server, your lunch cook, your dinner bartender, and the lead singer in the night’s entertainment.
This was the energetic dude who played all the instruments and would sit in when one of the band members needed a break. This is the person in your dealership you would call your compliance officer, if you have one. Taking this silly analogy a little further, the guitarists are like your sales managers, the keyboardists looked like your F&I managers, and the drummer is your controller.
The Compliance Officer Must Be Knowledgeable
Your compliance officer is usually nimble enough to sit in any of these positions in an emergency, or at least have a working knowledge of the positions’ requirements. I say a working knowledge because the successful compliance officers I work with share this common trait. This helps on two fronts.
First, a knowledgeable compliance officer talks the talk and walks the walk. The employees and managers whose work product will be challenged by the compliance officer will be defensive and try to undermine the compliance officer’s findings or knowledge, which leads to the second front. The compliance officer must be able to call BS on the excuses offered up for non-compliance and must be knowledgeable enough to win the debate.
Other Important Traits of a Successful Compliance Officer
Here are a few qualities you will want in a candidate if you are looking to create or replace a compliance officer position in your dealership or dealer group. The compliance officer must be a member of your management team with the authority to hire, fire, reward, and punish. Think of it like being a member of the circle of trust from the movie Meet the Fockers.
A compliance officer is a risk manager. Although the controller or CFO is the ultimate dealership risk manager, the compliance office will work hand in hand with the controller or CFO. The compliance officer must have an intense sense of risk management. You candidate must also have the ability and awareness to separate risk management from sales goals. The compliance officer must stand up to the sales manager who wants to deliver a vehicle to a straw purchaser because, “after all, we are here to sell cars.”
A successful compliance officer must have a burning passion to learn and stay current as compliance trends and requirement shift like the sand in a windstorm. Finally, the compliance officer is someone who has the guts to tell you no and leave you smiling.
These qualities are not easy to find in one person, but once you find that person, you need to cultivate and support their efforts to help keep you compliant. After all, replacing one guitar player is easier than the band member who can play the keyboard, guitar, percussion, and sign backup.
Continued good health, good luck, and good selling.
Gil Van Over is the executive director of automotive compliance education (ACE), the founder and president of gvo3 & Associates, and the author of Automotive Compliance in a Digital World.
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