We’ve completed our walk through strategic planning and are moving into the heart of organizational success – leadership.  We start this series by interviewing Kendall Dahmen, General Manager of the Fish Hatchery Zimbrick dealerships.  He has 9 direct reports, 35 managers and 310 associates.

DL:  Help our readers better understand your role with the Zimbrick organization.

KD:  I began working for the Zimbrick family in 1993 as part of the sales team.  Since then, I’ve been offered more responsible sales positions, until 2004, when I was offered the General Manager role.

DL:  So, sales are still in your blood?

KD:  Absolutely.  Sales provide the opportunity to serve customers in every area of the business.  Nothing happens in our business until we sell a car.  Even today, my role is a coach to the management team.   It’s all about people.

DL:  That’s an interesting response – your role is a coach.  I don’t often hear that from executives. 

KD:  We need leaders at every level to succeed.  I provide consistent vision and the ongoing support to help associates perform at their very best.  In addition to vision, I work with them to think “big picture.”  We call that “Big Hat” thinking.

DL:  Each industry has unique and common characteristics that define leadership.  What characteristics do you emphasize?

KD:  First, I want them to see the business with customer glasses.  From vision to the day-to-day activities, ask, how would the customer experience this with us?  Another area of emphasis, “Give the best to the best, and the rest to the rest.”  While we are accountable to helping all of our associates succeed, we focus on the associates who have the most to offer.  

DL:  How much of your associates success comes from hiring, and how much from their development?

KD:  Both are very important, but I need to be actively involved.  People we hire need to be able to think big picture, patiently ask questions, plan for the future, and seek feedback on the success they are expecting.

DL:  It sounds like you have a lot going on in the leadership and coaching role, how do you help your staff be clarify expectations?

KD:  Our associates are responsible for their career and their professional development.  I help everyone focus on what’s most important in two ways.  First, we have a mantra that is developed each year.  This year, everything we do is about ENERGY…ENTHUSIASM…PASSION.   I meet with each manager once a month and review a set of structured questions.  In addition, each dealership has a quarterly brand meeting, and then each year, we go off-site where I can facilitate a ‘Dream Retreat.’  Here we review our team performance and set the direction for the coming year.

DL:  I’m getting a sense that your interactions, meetings and coaching are high energy and positive.  This past year has been tough economically for your industry.  How have you adjusted your approach?

KD:  You’re absolutely right.  We have had to be much more disciplined in our numbers and make some very tough decisions.  We had a lot of late and sleepless nights.  Still, our associates and customers still depend on us.  I work to be more hands-on, visible, and accessible in the dealership.  When we had made tough decisions, we laid out our decision, gave reasons why, and talked it out with the team to get their buy-in.

DL:  What does the future look like for you and the dealerships?

KD:  The future looks great.  The Zimbrick dealerships continue to grow and evolve so that we can take care of customers.  We have an exciting future because of the team we have.  We will continue to develop and promote from within, with customers continuing to select us.


Dan Loichinger, CMC is the managing partner of Loichinger Advantage LLC, as well as a founder and partner in the Center for Exit Planning & Succession, LLC.