How Jason Graciano Built his Greenacres Nissan Team from Scratch

Jason Graciano built and managed one of the best sales teams in Honda history, smashing through global records and winning numerous awards. He’s taking his business savvy to a new venture as Managing Partner of the brand new Greenacres Nissan. Jason talks about how he builds and trains great teams and what it’s like to start a new store.

 

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Transcripts:

 

Adam Robinson: Welcome to The Best Team Wins Podcast, where we feature entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name is Adam Robinson, and for the next 25 minutes, I’ll be your host as we explore how to build your business through better hiring.

 

Today on the program, Jason Graciano is the managing partner at the all-new, soon to be open, Green Acres Nissan in Green Acres, Florida. We’ll talk with Jason all about that experience, we’re so excited to have him on the show. Jason, the best learning happens through real experiences shared by our fellow entrepreneurs, and we’re just so glad you’re here with us today. Thanks for being here.

 

Jason Graciano: Adam, thank you so much for having me on the show, I’m a huge fan of your podcast. Very informational. I’m able to get a lot of content that is actually usable in the workplace, so once again, thank you so much for having me as a guest on your show.

 

Adam Robinson: You’re welcome. I very much appreciate that.

 

So, you are a managing partner at a brand new store opening up in Greenacres, Florida. This store is scheduled to open at the end of the month here, and you just described this to me before we went live that it’s like landing multiple planes at the same airport on the same runway at the same time trying to get a store open. Congratulations on this accomplishment, I know it’s a big deal. For our listeners that aren’t familiar with the car business, why don’t you give us a quick 30 seconds on what you’re up to down there, and give us a little bit of the business and what you’re all about?

 

Jason Graciano: You’re welcome and thank you for acknowledging how difficult it is with your analogy of landing all those airplanes at one airport at the runway, and the logistics of it, and everything I’ve been going through in the last several months is quite difficult. But in the car business as a whole, the automotive industry as a whole, what we do is we provide a service. We assist customers in getting into either their dream car or just another car they’re trading in and getting into a new one. At the same time, we service those vehicles. Have maybe maintenance due, or some mechanical failures, or anything of that sort, we have a service department where we take care of that as well.

 

That’s really over the top, on the surface, but what really has me in love with the automotive industry is what so many people don’t know, and what so many people don’t know is how much a dealership contributes to society, to the community, in terms of tax dollars/revenue, as far as jobs that are created, as far as impact on the community by sponsorship programs, whether it’s athletic teams or academics, or events that go on where your local concert might have been sponsored by a dealership, or an event that’s held for maybe a five-K race to raise funds might be sponsored by a local dealership as well.

 

Within the dealership, some of the things I’m most excited about is what we do with our employees and the opportunity that it offers. For example, myself, I started as a sales person trying to have a part-time job and pay for school when I was in college, and a decade later I’m the managing partner at my very own dealership. There’s not too many industries and not too many businesses where they offer that kind of opportunity.

 

Adam Robinson: It’s an industry many people don’t consider as a career path, but you’ve proven that it can be a great one. Now, you’ve got your own store and you’re off and running. I think, for listeners, need to know that you have a high dose of humility. For 13 years you worked at the largest volume Honda stores in the United States, a top 1% operator. Brag about yourself a little bit. Tell us what led to your ability to go do what you’re doing right now.

 

Jason Graciano: I’m not very good at bragging about myself, but for the sake of the show and the people that are not familiar with who I am … Real quick, my background, my parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic in the late 1970s with close to nothing, very humble, humble beginnings. I came from a school where if you wanted to move up in the world, if you wanted to be better, you just had to go to school and make sure you got a good education, and then the flip side of that was work really, really hard. My father was not fortunate to graduate even high school. We’ve come from low education to now a point where I’ve got a higher education, and I’m an avid reader, and I go to tons of seminars, workshops, and sessions where I’m able to interact with people and share ideas, learn and grow.

 

Because I have that mindset, I was able to I guess stand out head and shoulders from the rest of the people that I was, I don’t want to say competing with, but people that I was in business with, or colleagues, and when I started in the car business at the early age of 20, I started selling cars and I grew rather quickly. I became a sales manager in about a year or less. I’m just turning 22 years old, about to turn 22 years old, and here I am in charge of a group of people that responsible for their livelihoods that are in some cases twice my age. It was a … You have to real serious real fast. I took that opportunity seriously. I made sure that the people that I was working with got the best of me, and we started growing, growing, growing, and we ended up being the number one sales team at the Honda store, and then that Honda store became the number one Honda store in the country, and as far as retail units are concerned, we’re the number one Honda store in the world.

 

Adam Robinson: That’s unbelievable. Congratulations on that career trajectory. It’s pretty amazing.

 

What people also should know is you were named one of Automotive News’ 40 Under 40. I forget, it was a couple years ago.

 

Jason Graciano: Yeah, it was a couple of years ago. I was 30 years old, so I made the cut 10 years early for Automotive News Top 40 Under 40 and I love that program and what they do, and it’s awesome that they give recognition to some of the people that are working day-in and day-out, and feel like there isn’t a spotlight or there isn’t a stage or a platform where they can interact with other business leaders in our industry, and share ideas and how they became successful, so for me that was a huge honor. I was extremely humbled, and it really, really helped me in my career. It made take things just a little bit more serious, and say, “Hey, I’m one of the Top 40 Under 40 in the United States. Am I having this conversation like one of those? Am I interviewing this person like one of those? Am I having the standards that a person from the Top 40 Under 40 would have that?”

 

So, it really made me hold my feet to the fire in terms of making sure that I kept true to that title.

 

Adam Robinson: Well, I’m excited to dive in to the people side of the car business, and how you go about conducting your business in an industry that’s not, let’s be honest, known for being particularly good at culture-building and team-building. The latest Automobile Association industry report, NAD report, showed last year turnover in sales positions approaching 70%, female employees turning over at nearly 90% a year. It’s a tough business to be in, but for the right person it can be an exceptional career path. You’ve done such a great job with it, I want to have listeners, particularly those in industries where they may be thinking, hey this is a tough industry to recruit and retain people, and share some-

 

Adam Robinson: Some tips on where you’ve got it right. So let’s dig in there. If you were to start with an overall philosophy about the people side of the business, and how you intend to manage that at your new store, walk us through that. What is your philosophy?

 

Jason Graciano: Well, my philosophy is simple. A manager’s responsibility, or a coach’s responsibility, or boss’ responsibility is first and foremost to develop people. I have a really strong belief that if you take care of your people and you develop them, you’re going to have people that are going to want to stick by you for the long run. Number two is to have vision. It’s very difficult for a person to be boss or a leader if you don’t have a vision, and you don’t have the direction in which you are headed. You have to be able to provide that vision and energize those people and convince that this is where we’re going, and this is why you should come with me.

 

Going back to the first point, that development part. If I was not developed, if I didn’t focus on developing myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve gone through different management styles, and the one that works the best for me is when I actually care about the people that are working with me, and I care about where their career is headed, and I care about whether they’re doing good or doing badly. You have to take that responsibility onto yourself of where they’re headed. If they’re not headed on the right track, that’s your fault. If they do really, really good, that’s your fault, too. So you’ve got be able to accept responsibility for both of those.

 

Adam Robinson: As you think about the opportunity that you have here to open your own store, which is a huge opportunity as you well know, you’ve thought about team building. I want to understand how you thought about the process of putting a team together. You had the opportunity to start from scratch. How did you approach that?

 

Jason Graciano: This was the first time in my life that I needed to call up several people at the same time. I was vindicated when I received the opportunity to have an open-point Nissan store. The reason I said I was vindicated is it made me feel like everything I was doing in the last decade or so was correct, was right. When I called a few people to let them know about my next venture, and I was calling a few people that I had worked with in the past that I knew would be proud of me, and that were started off as entry-level sales people and have worked their way up in the business, and these are colleagues that I have high regard and I have a high level of respect for, that are top producers in their position at their company.

 

I made a couple phone calls, and literally 90% of the people that I called told me, “Tell me when and where I need to be, and I’ll be there.” So I’m blessed, I’m fortunate to be able to have a total of 12 people that are moving themselves, their families, their kids, they’re relocating, moving, transitioning from the position that they had at the previous store, and volunteering to come in and work with me to make sure this is a huge success.

 

Circling back, if I had to do this on my own, I think I’d be up for a crazy challenge. Now, knowing that I have the team around me, the people that not only believe in me, that believe in the process and believe in what I’m capable of, I know this is going to be a no brainer of ultimate success, that we’re going to blow the roof off this place, and we’re going to just do great, great business.

 

Adam Robinson: Where did you learn how to hire people?

 

Jason Graciano: I originally learned how to hire people from my mentor and my previous boss on what are some of the quick … In the car business, you get training. I learned how to hire people after I was already a manager and responsible for people. That’s usually how that works in the car business. It’s like ready, set, go. Once the bullets are flying, and then you learn you need to duck and fire back. I originally learned him, but then, since I was a really young manger, and I had people that were substantially older than me, I was intimidated. It gives you a feeling of insecure. What I did was, I did as much research as I could, read it up on books, attended classes to get that skillset and be comfortable in speaking to, recruiting, and hiring people.

 

Adam Robinson: At your store, what’s your favorite interview question? What do you think tells you the most about what you need to know to make a decision?

 

Jason Graciano: I have very casual, I guess you could call it informal, interviews. I don’t like the structured, sit down, this is a list of questions I’m going to go over, and you gotta have the answers. Right answers, wrong answers, and you’re going to get a strike or a check. I have a very personable conversation that’s organic, and I let it grow from what it is.

 

But one of my favorite questions, and it’s a three-part question, but one of my favorite question is, “Where do you see yourself in one year?” Then I follow up with, “Where do you see yourself in three years,” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” That pretty much tells me everything I need to know about the person that’s going to be working with me.

 

The reason I say that is because I can tell whether that person has goals and if they have goals, which direction those goals are, what all their values are, what morals they have, what level of confidence they have and want to have, and you sort of segue that into the second part of the question, where … Well, what are some of the things that you’re good at now, that you want to get better at within a year, three years, and five years?

 

Similarly, the third part would be, what are some of the things that you might be struggling with, or you might have an area of opportunity where you could increase your skill sets. Where do you see yourself where you are now, and then in one year, three years, and five years?

 

Adam Robinson: You’re looking for goals, you’re looking for an upward trajectory. What would be an example of an answer that, if you got it, it wouldn’t wow you? What do you hear when you think, “Ah, this is not the kind of person I want.”

 

Jason Graciano: Well, something that I would here that’s not the kind of person I want is, regardless of the position that I’m interviewing for, the person says, “In one year, hopefully, I can maintain the job, and keep everything the same, and in three years I want to grow the business,” but if they give me some small numbers of what they’re looking to grow, it sort of says something about them, and in five years if they haven’t had massive growth in their personal lives and in their business lives, that’s just not the kind of person that I want to associate myself with. Because if I, personally, I’m looking for massive growth in five years, and to be able to double or triple what it is that I’m doing in two, three, or five years. I need to align myself with people that are operating at that frequency. People that I have that type of vision. Not for me, not to be aligned with my vision, but for people to have that vision for themselves.

 

So if I have a group of people, I have 10 people, 20 people, 100 people in a company, and my vision is to, let’s say for example, in five years triple the business that I’m doing. The hundred people collectively need to be able to think and have goals of tripling their business in five years. Even if they have those, and I don’t, my business is still going to triple, because we’re aligned in our thinking, we’re aligned with what our goals are.

 

Adam Robinson: So you’ve talked to somebody, you feel like they’re goal oriented, you’ve heard what you wanted to hear and you feel good about them. Let’s say they’ve started working for you or for a manager on your team. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Give us your approach to praising superior performance, and then on the flip side, what happens when somebody’s not meeting expectations? How do you handle that?

 

Jason Graciano: Well, in our business people tend to wear different hats. By that I mean they have different responsibilities or different levels of responsibilities, and there are people that are going to be good in certain areas, and people that are going to be not so good in certain areas. Where I think I’m able to really thrive and get the best out of people is when I have them focused in the areas or the categories that they’re actually good at. Not, “Hey, you’re a 2/10 in this category, so I’m gonna keep making you do this until you become a 10,” versus me filtering out and putting them into the position that I feel that they’re going to maximize their output, maximize their productivity.

 

Now, there are some cases where if a person is in a position, and I’ve had situations in my career where a person is not the right fit, but the person’s a good person, a good worker, fits most of the criteria but they’re not producing what they need to produce. Before you say goodbye to that person, I like to repurpose or transition people into other positions. There are many times, and I’ve witnessed many times where a person is struggling at a position, and you just switch him out, put him in a different job title, a different role with different responsibilities, and now this person is thriving. This person is doing amazing.

 

Not only that, the loyalty level increases through the roof, because they feel like they could have put me out to pasture, they could have put me out on the sidewalk, but what they did was they gave me another opportunity to excel in a different area.

 

Adam Robinson: That’s great. So when that happens, that’s fantastic. Give me the talk. I’m not working out. How do you hold someone accountable for results in a way that respects them as an individual but also moves them on if they’re taking up a spot?

 

Jason Graciano: Well, that conversation can’t happen only at the end. I’m really good at being transparent up front. Prior to the job being done, prior to us identifying that they are not fitting the role, that they are not excelling in that role, there is a … Prior to your beginning, there is an absolute layout of what an example of a good job is, a bad job is, and an outstanding job is. The person is not surprised. I think in many businesses, especially in the car business, they tend to shoot from the hip. A person’s not doing so well, they were never told what they were expected to do. A person not doing well, and it’s like, “Hey, listen, you know what. You’re not working out for us. It’s gonna be time for you to either get better or get out.” I don’t like that. I think if a person knows going in what is expected of them, and if they are not meeting those expectations, the conversation becomes so much easier, because not only you know where they are at, they also know where they are at.

 

The conversation is, “Remember when we sat down and we went over what is expected as far results or as far as productivity from your position or from your role? We have been there for 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, however long it is. We’re going to have to make some adjustments. The adjustments include you. They don’t exclude you, they include you. I feel like we will be able to try something different, where you can help out yourself and the company. What do you think about that?”

 

And then have the person respond, and then ask them for their feedback. “Where do you think you’d be able to do a better job within the company?” If you come off honestly and sincerely that you want to keep them in the company, and you want to find the right fit for them, they’ll come up with solutions for you.

 

Adam Robinson: What’s one thing you think you could do better as it relates to the people side of what you do?

 

Jason Graciano: One thing I can always do better is: increase the level of training. I am very, very, very avid into training. I spend a lot of time on training and developing my people, and even still, I feel like I could do a better job. I have really good relationships with the people that I work with, and that has helped me and hurt me. So not necessarily I could do better, but maybe I could be a little bit more cautious. When I say cautious, I mean of myself. Not let myself be turned off by having a relationship with someone because I had a bad experience with somebody a year ago, two years ago.

 

So backtracking a little bit. If I have a close relationship with someone, and that person turns around and leaves and goes to the competitor, or is no longer employed at the company, it’s easy for me at some point to feel like, “Oh, no. Everybody might do that to me, so let me distance myself.” I need to be able to separate those two, because I know that having a stronger bond and a better relationship, although there are business leaders that are totally against it, I feel like that’s why I’ve been able to get the maximum squeeze, or maximum effort out of people.

 

Adam Robinson: Now, in addition to being the new owner of Green Acres Nissan and opening the store from scratch, which I know is so easy, you have all this free time. It looks like you also contributed to a book that’s coming out in a couple of months called The Choice. Tell us about that.

 

Jason Graciano: Well, yeah. I am opening a brand new store, and I have no time. Because I figured … I’m native from New York, born and raised in New York. I was with Honda for close to 14 years. Now I’m in Florida, Palm Beach, so it’s a new state. Now I’m going from Honda to Nissan, which is a new brand, so I figured on top of all that, might as well just start adding some new stuff. I said, I feel like right now, all the choices that I’m making, being able to leave a very comfortable position where people work 20/25 years and hopes to be able to get to the level that I was at, and I made the choice to leave that for more opportunity, and to be able to go in a different direction. I feel like those choices that I was making, the choices that I’m making, and the interview and the hiring process. The choices that I’m making as far as the culture of the store, the vision of the store, the values of the store. All those choices, people can learn from.

 

I am where I am today because my mindset is a mindset of abundance, a mindset of being able to give, give, give, so that later in life I can start receiving. I’m not the type of person that wants to take. I’m going through some incredible broke times, to make it sound nice. But right now I’m stressed, I’m under a ton of pressure, I have a ton of choices and decisions that I need to make. I’m operating at a level that I never thought I was capable of operating at. I feel like people on a large scale can benefit from my story. So The Choice is about 10 others sharing choices that they had to make, difficult choices that they had to make in their life, and each story walks you through where they were, the choice they made, and where they are now.

 

For me, I have the unique opportunity of all amongst all the authors that I’m right in transition. I have a follow-up book coming out in about, I would like to say, six to nine months, but I know writing a book takes a little time, and publishing and making it available to the masses takes time, but I really do want to follow up and let everybody know this is what I did, and now here is where I am. I want to provide the results of the choices that I’ve been making in the last six to nine months.

 

Adam Robinson: So The Choice is available when?

 

Jason Graciano: The Choice should be available at the end of November.

 

Adam Robinson: Is there a way that listeners can check that out ahead of time?

 

Jason Graciano: Yeah, they can check that out ahead of time. I am beginning to start to post up on any of my social platforms. I’m very active on Facebook, very active on Instagram, very active on Twitter as well as LinkedIn. I have not crossed over to the Snapchat world, but I am active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and they can find me on all platforms under Jason Graciano. I’ll start posting up, and I’m going to start posting up snippets so that people can actually get some interest and see if it’s going to be their style of book.

 

Adam Robinson: Very good. Well, in addition to all of that, what book are you reading right now, and would you recommend it to our audience?

 

Jason Graciano: I’m in between two books. I’m reading one book for the first time, which is Extreme Ownership, and Extreme Ownership is by some military that had served, Navy Seals, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.

 

And I’m rereading, probably for the fourth time, Relentless. Relentless is a book that has completely revolutionized my thinking. It was written by … The other is Tim Grover, who used to be Michael Jordan’s personal trainer, and he then moved on to be Kobe Bryant’s personal trainer, and then he moved on to be Dwayne Wade’s personal trainer, and that relentless book just gets you in the right mindset, especially for the time that I’m at right now.

 

Adam Robinson: Jason, if you were to come back on the show a year from now and tell us whether or not you were able to tackle the single biggest people related issue or opportunity that you have in front of you, what would you be telling us?

 

Jason Graciano: First, the biggest opportunity or challenge that I have right now is I have a brand new store, and although I have 12 people that are relocated and moving because I know them, the total staff is going to be anywhere between 60 to 70 people, and I’ve been interviewing individually everybody, so my biggest challenge is taking all these different personalities that I’ve never seen work together, and putting them all in one box and hoping that they play nice. For me, it’s a matter making sure I find the right culture, the right frequency, and the right vibe within the store. So hopefully in a year from now, I’m telling you that everybody that I started with, 100% of the people that started with me are still with me, and that I’ve grown. That would be an ultimate goal for me.

 

Adam Robinson: Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the final word. You’ve been learning from Jason Graciano, car industry veteran and managing partner of the brand new and soon to be open Green Acres Nissan. Jason, thank you very much for being with us on the program.

 

Jason Graciano: Thank you again for having me, I appreciate you, and I appreciate your time.

 

Adam Robinson: That’s a wrap for the Best Team Wins Podcast, where we’re featuring entrepreneurs and business leaders whose exceptional approach to the people side of their business has led to incredible results. My name Adam Robinson, author of the book The Best Team Wins, which you can find on Amazon at www.thebestteamwins.com.

 

Thanks for tuning in, and we’ll see you next week.