Joe Holman was one of the founding inductees to the Fleet Hall of Fame. Over the course of his 65 years in the business, Joe Holman helped lead Holman Automotive, the parent company of ARI, which, in 1948, started operations in the corner of the Rice & Holman showroom in Pennsauken, N.J. Today, ARI has offices in eight countries and employs 2,800 people. Holman shared with AF his memories of the company’s meteoric growth.
AF: Congratulations on your 65th year in the business and more than 90 years as Holman Automotive. Did you ever envision the Holman Automotive growing to what it is today?
Holman: Thank you. It is hard to believe it has been 65 years. I graduated from Princeton in June of 1950, got married a week later, and started with the company on July 1. I’ve been working here ever since.
Looking back, I think I could envision our dealership group expanding, but I did not foresee the tremendous growth in other areas of our business — particularly at ARI. It’s incredible to me that ARI now has offices in eight countries and employs 2,800 people. If my dad were alive today, he would be astounded as well.
AF: After surviving the Great Depression and the unavailability of new vehicles during World War II, the Holman Automotive business has experienced non-stop expansion, which continues today. What are the factors that have been responsible for this ongoing expansion?
Holman: During World War II there were no new cars available, and my father was engaged in buying and selling used vehicles to keep the business running. He not only retailed these cars, but had contact with dealer friends throughout the country and would sell to them. I can remember shipping the cars by rail to friends of his in California. Many dealers went out of business during the war and dad would buy their entire inventories. We would store these vehicles in any local warehouse he could find, and sold them to people who obtained permission from the government to acquire them.
After World War II, a man by the name of Charles Beacham was appointed as the local regional manager for Ford, and Rice & Holman was one of the dealerships for which he was responsible. During that time, I saw my dad for only about 15 minutes a day when he came home for dinner; he was at the store day and night, running everything on his own. Mr. Beacham told him he was going about the business in the wrong way; instead of doing everything in the first person, he needed to change his philosophy. Through the counseling of Mr. Beacham, Dad adopted five business principles which we still use today. They are:
- Hire the best people.
- Train your people.
- Set objectives.
- Pay on incentive basis.
- Emphasize control.
When my father followed these principles, it allowed us to expand. The most important of these is to hire the best people. If you find the best people, give them the tools and training they need to do their job, recognize them for a job well done, and share in the success, you will be in good shape. Our people distinguish and define us as an organization and I am grateful to all of our employees for their dedication to Holman and ARI.
Also, another key to our success has been the fact that we are a privately-held, family-owned business. This enables us not to be beholden to quarterly earnings, and allows us to make the best decisions for the long run. It has given us the ability to be thoughtful and calculated about how we develop different products, services and even lines of business.
For 91 years, we have never paid a dividend, and any capital that has been created has been reinvested back in the business; again, this fueled our expansion.
AF: Holman Automotive has a special relationship with Ford Motor Company. Can you share with our readers the genesis of this relationship and how it has evolved over the years?
Holman: Ford Motor Company has played a very important role in the history of our company — maybe the most important role, because they gave my father his first opportunity in the business. He was successfully managing a Ford dealership in Toms River, N.J., when his original business partner, Charles Rice, offered to help capitalize a new Ford dealership in Merchantville, N.J.
Together, they opened Rice & Holman Ford in 1924 selling the Model T, the Model A, and the first V-8 models during the early years.
The success of the initial dealership led to new opportunities, including a Lincoln-Mercury dealership, which opened in 1939, and the creation of an authorized Ford remanufacturing business (now Holman Parts Distribution) in 1946.
Currently, we have two Ford Lincoln dealerships in New Jersey, as well as one Ford Lincoln dealership and one stand-alone Lincoln dealership in Florida. We’re incredibly proud of our long history with Ford and look forward to many more years of continued success together.
AF: Why did Holman start Automotive Rentals Inc. (ARI) in 1948?
Holman: Interestingly, Ford Motor Company was also central to the decision to create ARI. In 1948, Ford came to my father and asked him to consider organizing a leasing and rental subsidiary to supply and service RCA’s fleet of trucks. This was a very new concept at the time, but my father agreed to do it and he formed ARI. Initially, the company operated out of a corner of the Rice & Holman showroom in Pennsauken, N.J., but it quickly grew into a successful business and outgrew its modest showroom beginnings.
AF: What ideals and business philosophies drive you and Holman Automotive?
Holman: Our business is driven by the same ideals and principles that my father established when he opened the doors to his first dealership in 1924. We seek to provide the industry’s best automotive-related services by training, empowering, and rewarding exceptional people; we seek to earn the loyalty and exceed the expectations of each and every customer by providing superior customer service; and we are committed to giving back to the communities that support our success. It is a foundation that has served us well through many decades, and it is something that continues to resonate with our employees and our leadership alike.
When it comes to doing business, I deeply believe in approaching every situation with honesty and integrity. It may seem like a simplistic approach — but even as the world around us has grown faster and more complex, I have found there simply is no substitute for doing the right thing and standing by your word.
We also seek to foster an environment of teamwork, mutual support and respect among our employees as a way to create a successful foundation for achievement. We emphasize a continuous focus on improvement — whether it is a business process that could be done more efficiently or improvement in oneself as a professional. It’s through these values that we ensure that we are giving our best to the customer every single day.
AF: After 65 years in the business, what have been the most important life lessons that you have learned and applied to your business? What has given you the most satisfaction during this period?
Holman: Many of the most important things about life I learned from my dad. He had a deep belief in empowering people through training and education — and it is this principle that has not only allowed our organization to be successful but has brought me the most satisfaction as well. I am proud that Holman and ARI have become organizations where people don’t just simply come to work, but rather seek to build a career.
The thing that has given me the most satisfaction over the years has been to watch the development of our people as they rise up through the company and take on more responsibility. I think about a fellow who started with us 25 years ago washing cars and is today one of our finest service managers, or a woman that began with us as a management trainee right out of college and is now president of our parts distribution business. Carl Ortell began with us as an auditor and is now the CEO of the company.
It is incredibly satisfying to see new people come into the organization and learn the business, advancing and growing over the years. It makes me tremendously happy to talk with employees who have been with us 10, 20, or 30 years who are still enthusiastic about the organization and their role in it. It is exciting to see individuals who have been with us their entire career now step up and take the lead in helping to shape our future as a company. They can also provide well for their families. Having this kind of an impact in people’s lives is what has meant the most to me.
AF: Holman/ARI is a multi-generational family business — how has remaining a family-owned business allowed you to evolve and grow over the past 60 years?
Holman: Being family-owned has given us the flexibility to strategically plan and respond thoughtfully and deliberately to changes in the industry, rather than jumping at every market change or fluctuation. It has allowed us to remain stable and true to our values, investing for the long-term.
At ARI, we have had a particular focus on investing in our people, processes and technology to the benefit of our clients. Over the past several decades, the fleet industry has become more and more about understanding and managing your fleet through technology, and our people saw that early on. We consulted with and listened to our customers — what their needs were and what their challenges were — and worked with them to develop innovative, ground-breaking systems and technologies that made their jobs easier and their fleets run more efficiently. And, we are still doing that, and plan to do so for years to come.
AF: Do you foresee the ARI business unit always being a part of the Holman Automotive organization? Would there be any circumstances under which you would entertain the sale of the company?
Holman: Let me be unequivocally clear: ARI will always be a part of the Holman Automotive Group and there are no circumstances under which we would entertain the sale of the company. As my daughter Mindy said recently, “Plan A is for ARI and Holman to be a family-owned business for generations to come, and there is no Plan B.”
In March of this year, we made several significant changes in leadership. Mindy was named chairman of Holman Automotive, Carl Ortell was named CEO, and Brian Bates was named COO. Additionally, Chris Conroy was named president of ARI. We made these changes because we believe in the future of Holman and ARI. We believe in this industry. We see great things ahead for this company and the industry, and there is not a chance we would step away now.
It has been an incredible journey thus far — from ARI’s early days as a desk in the corner of Rice & Holman Ford, to our expansion in the U.S. and throughout North America, to our eventual expansion overseas into Europe. We have evolved from a business that was mostly paper to one that has now come to be dominated by technology and data. We are at the beginning of a new time in fleet management, when the vehicles and the data they are able to return will help you not just know what to do today, but help you accurately predict what you should do tomorrow. I have tremendous faith in Chris, Carl, Brian, and Mindy to lead this organization into the coming years and I anticipate we will continue to be a global leader in the industry.
AF: Your long history in the automotive and fleet management markets has allowed you to personally experience the evolution of this industry and positions you to have a good perspective on where it may be going. With that said, how do you see fleet management companies, and the fleet industry in general, changing in the coming years?
Holman: I think that everything related to fleet — from operations, to reporting, to planning and budgeting — will continue to become increasingly based around data and technology, which will allow fleets to become more and more efficient. At the same time, I think the need for experienced fleet managers and other professionals in the process — from supply chain, to finance, maintenance and repair, safety and remarketing — will increase significantly. The advancements in the industry are remarkable but present a new and different set of challenges that will need to be solved. Fleet managers and companies need to embrace the change but never forget there is a human element to the entire process. Technology is a tremendous advancement that continues to change fleet management — but, without the right people to help lead the way, you’ll be sure to get lost, no matter how wonderful the technology may be.
AF: What do you foresee as the greatest challenges facing commercial fleet managers as we move toward the close of this decade, and how can a company, such as ARI, assist them in meeting these challenges?
Holman: I think one of the biggest challenges will be to discern what the right solutions are for each fleet and making sure they are implemented correctly. Many of today’s advancements are things that we never could have even imagined when the industry was young. Who knew we would be predicting maintenance needs so a vehicle stays on the road and not in the shop, have the capability to understand how a vehicle is using fuel so you can develop strategies to allow it to do better, the ability to proactively share training videos with drivers as soon as you know they may need a refresher? These are all remarkable things that we can do today.
Just imagine what we will be able to do tomorrow, or next year, or 10 years from now. But, being impressed with new technology is one thing — knowing that it is right for your own fleet is entirely different and fleet managers need to find the right partner to help them navigate the solutions that are available to them. ARI can help by clarifying what a fleet’s needs are and then developing solutions that meet those needs. We can help tailor solutions because we have been in the business, we have evolved as the industry has evolved, and have led the way in bringing innovative products and solutions to market. We can be there now and well into the future, as new ideas and innovations are introduced.