Lithia Motors: People First

Last week I had the distinct privilege to serve as a keynote speaker at Lithia Motors’ 2016 General Managers meeting.  What struck me immediately was that entire theme of their two day agenda was focused on the people side of their business.

Lithia Motors (NASDAQ: LAD), is an $8.6 billion nationwide automotive dealership network headquartered in Medford, Oregon.  The business, led by CEO Bryan DeBoer, is performing exceptionally well: Lithia is now the seventh largest automotive retailer in the United States, and ranked #14 in Fortune’s Most Admired Companies in 2013.  In 2015, Lithia Motors broke into the Fortune 500 list at #346, following a year that saw the acquisition of the DCH Auto Group, one of the 10 largest dealer groups in the country.

When you have nearly 9,000 employees spread across the United States, managing the business with a sharp focus on the power of human capital can produce outsized results, and that’s exactly what Lithia Motors is doing.  You’re probably not surprised to hear that support for this “people first” approach starts at the very top; listen to CEO Bryan DeBoer talk about the business, and in less than thirty seconds you know that, for him, it’s all about the people.  In fact, Bryan recently created an executive role with the specific intent to elevate HR practices to the very top of the organization. Chris Holzshu, a Lithia veteran with a strong operating background, is Lithia’s very first EVP of HR.

Longtime readers know how vocal I can get about the importance of creating and living authentic core values in an organization.  Lithia does this in spades; surveying the room of General Managers, I discovered that everyone whom I asked about the Lithia core values could not only recite the company’s core values, but explain exactly what they meant in their day-to-day management approach.


Automotive retailing is one of the most competitive markets there is, and the industry is entering a period of transformational change unlike any time in the history of the business.  Declining margins, changing energy standards, the advent of transportation-as-a-service (Uber, Lyft), and increasing dealership consolidation is putting huge pressure on operators to differentiate and innovate.  Lithia Motors is an organization that understands that the surest way to build sustainable competitive advantage is through building their best possible team.