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Executive Interview

AMN Executive Interview: Autologue’s Jim Franco Shares His Recipe For Success

If you’ve ever met Jim Franco, CEO of Autologue, in person, you know he is a force to be reckoned with. Energetic, vibrant and sharp as a tack, Franco also is not one to follow the crowd. He marches to the beat of his own drum. As such, it’s no surprise he wanted to talk about something a little different for this AMN Executive Interview. Today, Franco lets us in on his “Secret Sauce,” so to speak – his well-crafted, time-tested techniques for running a great business.

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Amy Antenora has served as editor of aftermarketNews since 2002 and has worked in the field of journalism for two decades. A graduate of Kent State University, Amy also earned her AAP designation from Northwood University's University of the Aftermarket in 2009.

If you’ve ever met Jim Franco, CEO of Autologue, in person, you know he is a force to be reckoned with. Energetic, vibrant and sharp as a tack, Franco also is not one to follow the crowd. He marches to the beat of his own drum. As such, it’s no surprise he wanted to talk about something a little different for this AMN Executive Interview and you, dear readers, are the benefactors. Today, Franco lets us in on his “Secret Sauce,” so to speak – his well-crafted, time-tested techniques for running a great business.

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What does a day in the life of Jim Franco look like?

I could answer that by telling you this, I get up at the crack of dawn, walk my dog Chloe every morning and have oatmeal and fruit for breakfast with my wife. But, what really excites me is the opportunity to be the leader of a multi-million dollar technology company, and to make a difference for our team members and our customers. I have been very blessed. The Lord has given me passion, creativity and vision, and has born in my soul the drive, dedication and the perseverance to create the greatest technology company in the world. I have told many friends and colleagues that when I sit down at my desk, it’s like I’m strapped into a NASCAR car going 180 mph around a curve. That’s the adrenaline rush I get knowing that what we do is helping people be more successful both in their businesses, their personal lives and to enjoy the process along the way.

You recently told me your children are very involved at Autologue. How have you passed along your passion for the business to your children?

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I’ve been asked many times about my succession plan. Once again, I’ve been very blessed with two fantastic daughters. When they were young, they both came to my auto parts store and helped by counting the Dorman nuts and bolts for inventory. At first, they decided that the auto parts business wasn’t all that appealing to them, so after graduating they both chose their own careers. Jamie became a RN and managed a large ER facility, and

Tiffanie managed a medical facility with more than 40 employees. You’ve all heard the expression “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and my daughters have the passion, the drive and a great work ethic that I do. They both eventually came to see and appreciate what we do at Autologue and wanted to be a part of it. They joined me in the business years ago. They’ve been a part of the Autologue team for more than 10 years. Today, Tiffanie manages the marketing department here at Autologue, and is also the executive assistant to the chief operating officer (COO) and myself. Jamie manages our A/R department. They’re both members of our board of directors, guiding the future of Autologue and all its subsidiaries. My sister Phyllis ran the company as COO and chief financial officer for more than 25 years. A couple of years ago she had a heart attack and decided to retire. Donny Krause, the husband of my daughter Tiffanie was hired six years ago to automate our billing and accounting procedures. He stepped up and took over Phyllis’ responsibilities. Those were big shoes to fill, but let me tell you, he has more than just stepped up. He was very instrumental in the largest acquisition in Autologue’s history. The bottom line is this: all my children are “in it to win it,” they want to see Autologue continue to grow. I work side-by-side with them every day on knowledge transfer as well as mentoring them to develop the passion, drive and enthusiasm to continue Autologue’s success for decades and generations to come.

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As a technology company owner – a very competitive space – what do you feel are the keys to hiring and retaining great employees?

I don’t choose to refer to our Autologue team as employees. They’re family. This family consists of 90 experienced team members whose average tenure is 14.6 years, and we have a total of more than 1,800 years of experience combined. We hire for life, so consequently we hire very few new employees. Most of the team came from our acquisitions over the past 25 years. Autologue retains employees because of its culture and philosophy, which is explained below.

Here are just a few benefits we offer our team:

  1. We have in place an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) giving the entire team ownership in the company.
  2. We match 401k contributions.
  3. We pay 100 percent of the health benefits for team members.
  4. We give team members their birthday off with pay in addition to a bonus of $10 for every year of service.
  5. We distribute an Autologue Visa Rewards card that gets loaded with a small bonus every time a team member goes above and beyond and is recognized by a customer or their peers.
  6. We inspire our team members to transfer knowledge with one another, which strengthens us.
  7. We are generous with Thanksgiving and Christmas gifts, annual raises and year-end bonuses. These things keep everyone looking forward!
  8. We challenge all team members to be on the constant lookout for new ways to better operate the company from increasing customer service, new products, and the day-to-day operations.
  9. We buy lunch for each division’s office on the last Thursday of each month to foster camaraderie and to say thank you for another great month.
  10. We treat every team member like they’re family, because they are!

If you had to boil it down, what would you say are your top 5 rules to running a great tech business?

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  1. First, establish a “Customer First” culture for excellent customer service. Our model is to answer the phone on the second or third ring, by an experienced customer service representative who knows their particular system, and can usually answer the question immediately.
  2. Treat all team members with the utmost respect and compassion, letting them know how valuable and needed they are to the company.
  3. My personal philosophy is to surround myself with great people. I started in the early 60s when I hired my first employee to help me. I learned early on to invest my time and energy into my greatest asset – my team. Smart, experienced and loyal team members with a great attitude are hard to find, but not hard to teach and nurture. When you treat a person like you want to be treated yourself, the result is a positive and fun atmosphere. I want the team to actually WANT to come to work, not to feel like they HAVE to come to work!
  4. Our passion and what drives the team is that we get to help our customers be more successful and profitable, as well as showing them how to enjoy their business every day.
  5. Important to any successful tech business is its product(s). We’ve been blessed over the years with many talented professionals who have created a suite of business systems, as well as a host of e-commerce tools that have pole-vaulted us to where we are today. We count on eight DMS’s and many e-commerce products, all designed to help our customers be all they can be. Creating new and exciting technology tools is no easy task. We strive to continue to find new ways to help our customers. We listen to them and we attend 15 to 20 trade shows a year. We watch the industry as it changes to stay in front of what information is needed to make a difference in our customers’ lives.

What do you feel makes you stand out as an employer and leader?

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I’m very humbled and grateful for the honor of being able to run a great company. I’ve been very blessed by the Lord above to have been given the knowledge, the wisdom and the drive and the ability to be forward-thinking, to be a great leader. He guides my steps every day and shows me that the real value in business is being a blessing and making a positive difference in our team and with our customers, and that it’s not all about the money! I’m very thankful to have this fantastic opportunity. I challenge my team to constantly learn and grow to be the best they can be personally, which results in a great team member.

What has been one of your greatest lessons learned as a business owner?

I have learned many lessons, many of them very hard ones. The No. 1 lesson I would have to say is to NOT micro-manage my team members. I had to learn to trust in their ability, empower them to make good decisions. I also learned to delegate with grace.

As a business owner what keeps you up at night? What excites you and what concerns you about the future of the industry?

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I actually have nothing that keeps me up at night. I have the ultimate faith that our industry will continue to grow and is recession-proof. I’m also secure knowing that Autologue is positioned to be a factor in this industry, forever.

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