Special Profile Series: Nick Peluso


ATLANTA - 

AR:  Where is home for you?  We know that it is not Atlanta, where you now have your home.

Peluso:  That’s right.  I am a native of northern California.  I spent the first 35 years of my life living in the Bay Area…Oakland, Danville, and a lot of time spent up in Lake Tahoe as well. 

AR:  Were you an only child?

Peluso:  No. I am the middle child, with a sister who is a year older and still lives in the Bay Area.  I also have a brother who is also living in the same area, and he is a year younger.

AR:  So you are the only one who moved away.

Peluso:  You’re right…I don’t know if it was an original plan or not.  It turned out good, but getting here was interesting.  (laughter) 

AR:  Tell us a little about your home life…the kind of work your parents did.

Peluso:  When I was very young, my Mom didn’t work.  She was a homemaker, and my Dad was in the family restaurant business.

AR:  What type of restaurant?

Peluso:  You name it.  We had all different kinds.  We had Italian restaurants, Continental, seafood…there were about 16 different restaurants at different times throughout the family. 

AR:  Were all of these your father’s restaurants?  Or, was this an extended family business?

Peluso:  It was the entire family. My whole family…my aunts, uncles, and others…were all in the restaurant business.  They were really entrepreneurs, the first business they started was a service station business up in Angel’s Camp, California.  From there, I guess they thought it was easier serving drinks and making meals instead of working on cars!

But the entire family was more into the restaurant business.  We had family restaurants up in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, and the Bay Area. 

AR:  Did you also work in the restaurants as a child?

Peluso:  I started working in one of the restaurants, on a full-time basis, when I was about 11 or 12 years old.  I worked 40 hours per week even then…it was like it was in my blood. 

AR:  That was a lot of hours for a child.

Peluso:  (laughter)  That’s true, but the statement made to me was, “Don’t ever consider yourself full-time until you work all seven days!”  (laughter)  As I grew up in the business, my “day off” was eventually Monday afternoons.  That was my weekend off!

AR:  What type of work did you do?

Peluso:  I did just about everything you can do in a restaurant…busboy, waiter, bartender, cook….

AR:  Certainly you had a little time off from the restaurants to do some fun stuff.  What did you like to do for fun?

Peluso:  I typically entertained myself by getting into trouble!  (laughter)  I played a lot of sports…rode motorcycles at an early age.  I had a typical childhood.  I went to a lot of sporting events living in the Bay Area, and I was also fortunate enough to have relatives in Lake Tahoe so I spent a lot of time up there.

As far as sports go, I played whatever was in season…baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis, golf…I played them all as a young kid.  I got bored with some of them, but I enjoyed them all.

AR:  You said you enjoyed them.  Did you actually excel at any of them?

Peluso:  I enjoyed them.  Excelling is a tough thing to say when you are reflecting as an adult, because when you were in elementary school excelling was showing up.  I guess I would say that I had a good “career” in various sports, with the main challenge to not get bored with them.  There was so much to do. 

AR:  You were in business at an early age, as well as playing sports.  Many say there are a lot of similarities in both.  Do you agree?

Peluso:  Yes.  I think there are a lot of parallels between the two because it does take a commitment to perform.  I do think there is a difference.  In sports you can excel at one part of the game and be a flop at other parts and still be a success.  In business, you cannot excel at only part of the business; you have to excel across a much broader base. 

AR:  Outside of sports, how else did you spend your growing up years?

Peluso:  I was involved in Scouts, both as a Cub Scout and through Boy Scouts.  I remained in Scouting the entire time I was in the Bay Area, even serving as a Scoutmaster and then watching my son go through Scouts. 

AR:  Speaking of sons, Peluso is a fairly uncommon name.  What is the family history?

Peluso:  It is an Italian name, and there are very few Pelusos out on the West Coast.  I remember looking in the phone book in Northern California and every Peluso listed was a relative. 

There tends to be a more concentrated number of Pelusos up in the Northeast, the Pittsburgh area.  However, I have never met a Peluso with whom I am not related. We also have relatives in Italy.  I have never been there, although I plan to so soon.  Even there, it is not very common.  It will be exciting to go there.

AR:  What type of student would you describe yourself?

Peluso:  (Pause)  That is a great question.  I would say that I was a good student, but a lazy student.  What I mean by that was that school came relatively simple. 

I can remember one time in a math class, I think it was my first year of Algebra in junior high school, I did no homework for the entire year.  The teacher told me that if I didn’t turn in ALL of the homework for the entire year I would not pass.  So, in the last three weeks of school, I did all of the homework for the year and passed.  Because school came so easy, now that I reflect back, was probably a problem for me.  I think school has to be challenging. 

I’m not sure I would have done it (school) any differently, because I had a good time.  However, it is not what I preached to my son, but it was what I did.

AR:  You were certainly more worldly, because of your work ethic, than many of your classmates. 

Peluso:  That’s true.  I think that was because of the family restaurant businesses.  When you see how you have to perform on a day-to-day basis in order to eat, in order to survive, it changes your view as to what is important and what is not. 

There was probably no one event that caused this awareness to happen.  Just knowing that you had thousands of employees, that they had to eat first, they had to pay their bills, and if there was anything left over, the family got to keep it.  I came to realize that very early.  And, you lived and died by it. 

As a side note, I opened a delicatessen across the street from my high school while I was in high school.  I knew that I had to take in so much money a day to pay the bills and make it work.  I was taking the things I already knew and used it to make a little extra money.

AR:  Did your parents support you, or just tolerate you?

Peluso:  Tolerating is probably more accurate.  Actually, as I said earlier, my Mom was a homemaker when I was very young, but things can change very quickly and in our family they did. 

Both of my parents were much older than most parents when I was born, and when I was about in the fifth grade they separated.  Shortly after that, my Dad went into the hospital and never came out.  That changed a lot of the ways we had to do things.

AR:  Did you feel close to your parents?

Peluso:  Yes, I would probably say so.  But, Dad got sick and went into the hospital when I was only about 11 or 12, and before that, he worked a lot of long hours in the business.  This may sound a little corny, but by the time I was 13 I was pretty much on my own. 

I still lived with Mom, but when I wanted to buy clothes or other stuff, I was pretty much on my own.  Asking for money was pretty much nonexistent. 

AR:  Did you Mom keep the restaurants going?

Peluso:  No.  My Dad spent the next five or six years in the hospital with what today is called Alzheimer’s.  My uncle maintained and paid for my Dad’s care from the restaurants.

AR:  Did this create a financial hardship for the family?

Peluso:  I don’t know if I would say that, because we all got whatever we needed and most of what we wanted.  For me, I chose to take a different path.  I knew that if I wanted something extra I had to work for it, I had to make sure I had the money to do it.  

It was not so much that I had to do it, but that I wanted to do it.  Both my brother and my sister also worked, with my brother working with me in the restaurants and my sister earning money dancing ballet. 

AR:  When your father got sick, did you have other family members who stepped up and acted like a surrogate? 

Peluso:  You could probably get two different views.  If you asked my relatives, they would probably say they helped raise me.  I had one uncle that spent more time with me, but most of that time was at the restaurant….

AR:  Was he helping to raise you, or were you more of an employee?

Peluso:  Probably a combination of both.  I worked at the restaurant and he tried to look out for me, but then again he had a very large business to run.  It wasn’t like he took me to the baseball game or Little League practice and those types of things. 

AR:  Did anyone else take you to those types of events?

Peluso: No.  I either did them on my own, or maybe my Mom would drive me.

AR:  In situations like this, people tend to mature early.  Did you feel like you were more mature than your contemporaries? 

Peluso:  As I look back on it I don’t think I realized it at the time.  However, I probably had done more things for a person of my age than a lot of other people. 

I was trying to live both sides of the fence.  I was still trying to do the things that a 15 or 16 year old does, and at the same time trying to earn the means to do it.  I don’t want this to sound like Bryon’s Song or something, because it was a great time in  my life and I would not change a day of it. 

AR:  Your parents, as you said, were older when you were born.  However, what characteristics of them do you think are reflected in you today?

Peluso:  (Pause)  I would say that from my Mom I might have inherited determination.  She was a very determined woman, very head-strong.  And, from my Dad, maybe I got a little bit more of the wild side.  I’ve mentioned trouble, but I didn’t say that he used to box professionally.  I may have gotten a little bit of that spirit from him.

AR:  You have such an outgoing personality.  Was that something you received from either one of them?

Peluso:  I don’t know.  I am going to say not because neither my brother or my sister have my personality.  I would say that of the three of us (children), I spent more time actually working in the restaurants and I love to watch people.  I think this shaped me to be more outgoing.

I would say that my personality is a blend of the thousands of people I got to know over the years in the restaurants.  The restaurant business was my school; it taught me how to deal with people, it taught me about customer service; it taught me about how to make money.  I think a lot of people can run a business, but making money is a little bit different. 

I say around here that the auction business and the restaurant business are very similar.  If you walk into a restaurant and the waiter or waitress knows your name, knows that you like to sit at a specific table, and they know what you like to drink or eat…you will go back even if you didn’t have the greatest meal.  In the auction, if the general manager calls you by your first name, knows the cars you’re bringing, knows that you like to run in Lane 3 at 10:30…you may not have gotten all of the money you wanted for the cars but the service was absolutely perfect, your expectations met, and you’ll be back. 

AR: When in a service business like the restaurant business, or the auction industry, there is always a chance you will make a mistake.  What did you learn about being in such a high demand type business?

Peluso:  I learned not to take things for granted.  Another thing I learned was not to worry about the big things, but instead to focus on the details of the little things that might even prevent the big problem. 

The restaurants were so large and with so many people you simply learned to do things on a daily basis.  Every day was game day…very much like the auction business.  You had to be up; you had to be on show; there were no days off.  In our restaurants, we were open seven days a week.  We didn’t serve breakfast, but lunch and dinner and we had banquet rooms that could seat up to 1,000 people. 

AR:  Did you ever consider being in the restaurant business?

Peluso:  Oh, I thought I would be.  I thought at one point that the restaurant business would be my calling forever.  Some people ask me if I would ever go back into it, but I don’t think so.

Another career I thought about was the medical field, especially emergency first aid.  Even back as far as the fifth or sixth grade, those types of things appealed to me.  Something was intriguing about the medical field.

As a youngster, I didn’t even know about the wholesale car industry, but I used to buy and sell used cars as a student.  I used to run an ad in the flea market paper that would say “school student needs reliable transportation.”  People would sell me the car cheap; say if they said they would sell it to me for $200 I would take the bus out there, pull all the money I had in my pockets, which would total maybe $176.25, and they would sell it to me.  Then, I would advertise it the next day for $700.  (laughter) 

AR:  This was before Remarketing Solutions, but did you do any recon work?

Peluso:  (laughter)  I did.  I did a little bit.  If it was a station wagon, I would buy black spray paint and paint the bed of the station wagon; or taking fishing line and sew up the rip in the visor.  Simple things.  Maybe having a quick paint job.  I guess I had a little bit of that entrepreneurial spirit.

AR:  You’ve always been a little independent, haven’t you?

Peluso:  Oh, yes.  There was no fear of trying anything.  Sometimes that is good, and sometimes it is bad. 

AR:  Did that help build your self-confidence as well?

Peluso:  I would say so.  I’ve always had a lot of self-confidence.  I believe that if you cannot believe in yourself, then who can you believe in?  I’ve never had a fear of trying new things; I don’t have a problem in being out on point.  I’d much rather lead than follow. 

AR:  After high school you went directly into the family’s restaurant business.  Why did you decide to change careers?

Peluso:  There were a couple of things that I think changed me.  I reached a point where people were judging me—or I felt that they were judging me—on my success in the restaurant based on my family instead of the work I did.  I felt that the only way I was going to prove them wrong, which was important to me at the time, was to do something different. 

So, I thought about the medical field again, something I had thought about since junior high school.  I enrolled in some classes geared toward that direction at the university.  For whatever reason, that wasn’t right for me. 

AR:  How would you describe the Nick Peluso in his early 20s?  How was he different than he is today?

Peluso:  I was pretty much the same person.  I have always been a driven person…sometimes to the point of challenging myself by putting the bar so high that it was a challenge to make sure you got there. 

AR:  You got married young.  How did that impact your life?

Peluso:  (laughter)  That is a great question.  I think it taught me to grow up a little quicker than I might otherwise have done.  I had a lot of different responsibilities:  I got married at an early age and I had a son at an early age.  With both of those came new responsibilities, and I believe you live up to your responsibilities. 

AR:  Is that how you deal with life’s uncertainties:  accept them for what they are and then make the best of them?

Peluso:  I would say so.  I approach everything optimistically.  There is no situation I think you can put me into where I see the glass half empty.  I just believe it.  I think there is a silver lining to everything.  I think if you look for the silver lining, if you take the optimistic approach, nine out of ten times something good is going to come out of it. 

AR:  When you decided not to pursue a medical career, what did you do?

Peluso:  A friend of mine was working for a collection agency in the Bay Area, and they were involved in collecting past due medical bills.  He asked me to come to work there, and I did…primarily to pass time as I decided what I wanted to do.  I worked there for a summer. 

What was interesting was that after three months of doing it, I had a new skill set.  I could now do collecting. 

Then, I was reading the newspaper one day and came across an ad for a job with an auto leasing company that needed a collector.  I called, and the receptionist told me the job was still open and said I could come down and fill out an application. 

I told her no that I wouldn’t do that.  The only way I would come down was if I was guaranteed to get an interview.  She was shocked.  She said no one had asked that before.  I told her to find out if I came down I would get an interview; otherwise there was no need for me to come down.  She transferred me to a man named Jesse Bragg.  He got on the phone and asked how soon I could be there. 

I told him I could be there in an hour.  I got there within an hour and started soon afterwards. 

AR:  Was being that bold part of your strategy?

Peluso:  Nope. I just hated filling out applications and knew I would do a terrible job at it.  But, I thought if I could get in front of someone, I could sell myself…which is what happened.  It is funny, but to this day Jesse Bragg and I are the best of friends. 

AR:  How long did you stay with the leasing company?

Peluso:  I stayed about eight or nine years, and it was a terrific place to work.  I built a lot of friendships, many of whom are still my friends.  They really taught me the automotive business from the lender’s side.

While I was there I did collection, vehicle remarketing, credit officer, just about everything.  As I said, it was a great place to work and I probably would have never left if the bank hadn’t sold.  But it did sell, and it now is part of the Bank of the West.  At that point, I thought it was time for me to move on. 

AR:  What came up for you?

Peluso:  At the time of the transition, I was talking to the GE Auto Auction Group, along with some conversations with the Anglo-American Auction Group. 

AR:  You had been involved with auctions through the leasing company?

Peluso:  Yes.  Soon after I got there, we moved away from the wholesaling to selling our vehicles at auction.  I was very involved, from making arrangements to rep’ing the cars on the block.  We had cars in 13 different states so we used a number of different auctions.  I got to know some of the executives from different companies and I thought it was a great place to work.

For whatever reason, the talks with GE didn’t work out, but the day after the bank was sold I went to work for Anglo-American on the west coast.

AR:  What were your responsibilities?

Peluso:  I started out as a regional director of sales for the western United States.  It was May 21, 1989. 

AR:  That is a pretty major post.  Why do you think Anglo-American put you in charge of such a major position, especially since you had never actually worked with an auction?

Peluso:  Why?  I am not really sure.  As a customer, I was familiar with the process and of course I lived on the west coast where they needed someone.  It was probably a “right place, right time” situation. 

And, I knew some of the people and got along with them well.  Pierre Pons worked there at the time, along with Don Reig, Bob McDevitt; those were three of the key people who helped convince me to join the organization. 

AR:  How long did you stay on the west coast?

Peluso:  I did a couple of things while I was out there.  I did the regional sales, I got involved when they wanted to start up a repossession company, the recovery business, salvage auctions, and the mobile home business that I worked with for a while.  I came back to the sales side, and then later Mike Richardson asked me to move to Nashville as the director of sales.  I later took on a number of other responsibilities.

AR:  When you relocated to Anglo-American’s home office was that the first time you had lived on the east coast wasn’t it?

Peluso:  That’s true, but I had spent a lot of time in Nashville.  Interestingly, on one of the first trips I had to Nashville I remember thinking that this would not be a bad place to live.

Actually, one of the things I did when I was officially working in Nashville was that I commuted to the west coast often.  My son finished high school in the Bay-Area, and we didn’t officially move to Nashville until he had gone off to college.  That made it easier for him. 

AR:  How would you describe how the auction industry has changed over your years of involvement?

Peluso:  I think the first thing that comes to mind that back then the auctions were controlled more by the local owner…corporate programs didn’t exist.  The chains were relatively small, with both Anglo-American and Manheim having about the same number of auctions.

The auctions were smaller and less sophisticated, and I would even say that there was less trust.  One could compare it to the old Wild West.  There was a lot of autonomy, where the auction could pretty much do what they wanted to.  The open sales, especially, were a new experience each day. 

AR:  You had worked in a number of different industries.  When did the automotive industry become your career instead of just another job?

Peluso:  (Pause)  I would probably say about the third year of the leasing company’s job.  We talked about being driven, and I can remember back then making sure I was the first person in the office and usually near the last person to leave at night.  Maybe it was left over from when I was in the restaurant business…if eight (hours) is good, ten is better and twelve is even better yet.  It is something I continue to live with as most people can find me here at the office at 6:30 in the morning.  I refer to those early morning hours as my time…the time I can collect my thoughts and plan my activities.

AR:  Certainly Anglo-American did a lot of new things in the industry.  How did you feel to be a catalyst of change?

Peluso:  I think that both Mike (Richardson) and Tony (Moorby) did what they knew, which was they knew that the business over in the UK was much more commercial driven than dealer driven.  So, when they saw the market and the opportunity here, they realized the market here was more dealer-driven.  However, that left a void—or an opportunity—to expand the commercial side of the business.  They became very good at developing the commercial side of the business. 

Their competitors were doing a lot more business in the arena of open sales.  Manheim and the independents were highly focused on dealers, because they knew dealers.  Anglo-American, because they knew corporate accounts better than dealers, focused on their strengths. 

AR:  You came out of a corporate customer mentality as well. 

Peluso:  That’s right, and I understood that side of the business very well.  An interesting piece of it, however, was that I could also relate to the dealer.  You have to understand both sides of the equation—the dealer and the corporate customer—or you will get yourself in trouble. 

AR:  What would you say you learned the most from Mike Richardson and Tony Moorby?

Peluso:  I told someone this just the other day, and I can hear them saying it even now:  “The guys with the white hats win at the end of the day.”  What they meant was that you have to be honest with your customers, be honest with the dealers, and at the end of the day you will come out on top.  That was one of the biggest lessons, one of the biggest things that stuck with me.  Both of them were great visionaries. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some of the icons of the industry, some of the founding fathers so to speak.  I’ve worked with Mike Richardson, Darrell Ceccoli, Tony Moorby, Bob McDevitt, and others…people who are in the     NAAA Hall of Fame.  Another person who I worked with early in my career was Bob Rauschenberg.  Each one has taught me something a little different than the others. 

AR:  Anglo-American, which later became ADT, was on the auction block for quite a while.  How did that affect the way you did your job?

Peluso:  It had a positive impact on us.  As I mentioned, you look for the silver lining.  You knew that if the company was for sale, and if you were not the brightest puppy in the window, they were not going to keep you.  This meant that you were always trying to be innovative, better, more creative, to tell your star qualities better than the next person. 

Interestingly, from the home office perspective, the fear was that Manheim would buy us.  That was because we thought that if Manheim bought us they would not need any of us from the home office.  We knew the auction level people would be fine, but we worried about our futures.  That was simply self-preservation. 

I remember one time I was giving a presentation soon after I joined Manheim and I was following Darrell.  He told the story of how Manheim had purchased ADT.  I changed my presentation and started out by saying, “I’m going to tell you the same story, but from a different perspective.  I’m going to tell you how what I thought would be the worst day of my life actually turned out to be the best day of my life.” 

AR:  That limbo time, from when the impending sale was announced and when the sale was finally consummated, must have been a difficult emotional time for those in the home office.

Peluso:  It was.  No one anticipated that it would take as long as it did, and many people simply gave up and found other jobs.  You were in dead-man’s land; if the deal did go down what would you do, if it didn’t go down what would you do.  You found a whole host of people struggling to deal with the stress.

AR:  How did you handle it?

Peluso:  I think I handled it okay.  I tried to take the approach that I had to come to work and do my job day in and day out. 

The majority of the people did the same as I did, working every day.  Keep in mind that we could not even have conversations with Manheim to find out who would stay and who would go. 

AR:  Did you think about leaving?

Peluso:  No.  Never.  I was offered a couple of jobs in the between times, but I never thought seriously about taking one of them.  I was confident in my ability, and I felt that I was known throughout the industry.  I thought I was a marketable product.  I felt that I would be okay; I just didn’t know exactly what I would be doing. 

I had achieved much more than I ever thought I would, and there was a certain level of contentment with that.  I think that was where a lot of people had problems; they looked at the new company—whatever it would be—and try to protect what they thought they had at ADT.  I looked at it differently.  I thought of how this had been great, and if I had to move on to something else, it didn’t take anything away from the success I had accomplished. 

AR:  A lot of the people you worked shoulder-to-shoulder with at ADT are now your competitors.  How did everyone handle that situation?

Peluso:  It is interesting.  We still talk about that, even today.  Of course we don’t discuss trade secrets, but we still get together at conventions…I don’t think we treat each other any differently.  When we are in the heat of battle, we are in the heat of battle.  When we’re not, we are just as good friends as we were back then.

AR:  You became involved with Remarketing Solutions while it was still a part of ADT.  Can you trace a little of how it evolved during your tenure.

Peluso:  You’re right, it did start at ADT, and originally it was known Auction Managed Fleet Plan.  It went through a number of changes while at ADT and later at Manheim.  It was a group that was an outsource provider of services, and it the late ‘90s it started reporting in to me. 

After the acquisition (of ADT by Manheim), they wanted me to come down (to Atlanta) and take over the sales department.  For a whole host of reasons, it was not right for me at that time.  So, I got together with management, Dennis Berry and a few others, and we talked about growing Remarketing Solutions. 

There were a number of companies owned by Manheim scattered throughout the country doing different things, and we said that we ought to put all of these together and build a company that can do all of these things.  It (Remarketing Solutions) had six different companies at the start working on six different platforms.  We consolidated that down to a single platform, a single business, using the strategy that one call does it all. 

Remarketing Solutions was based in Nashville, and I stayed there for the first two years of the acquisition.  By then, when another opportunity came up here in Atlanta, it felt more right.  At the end of the day, I think spending those first two years in Nashville has worked out great for everyone.

AR:  You mentioned that it didn’t “feel right” when you were first offered a position in Atlanta, but later it did.   Isn’t that one of the things that drives you…your instinct.

Peluso:  It has to feel right to me.  I trust my feelings, my judgment.  I believe a lot in instinct.  When it (the move to Atlanta) did feel right, I didn’t hesitate.  I came down here one day, had a discussion that felt right, I said yes, and we were done with it. 

AR:  When you project out into the future, what do you see?

Peluso:  Another great question.  (Pause)  Nick is always looking for a challenge.  Nick doesn’t like status quo.  From a position within the company, I’m not sure there is any position that I have my eye on.  I really don’t know what is in store.  I would welcome any challenge Manheim would want to throw to me, big or small.  The drive will never stop. 

AR:  How do you spend your “off-duty” time?

Peluso:  There is not a lot of that because I work a lot.  (laughter)  I don’t travel a lot because I travel so much for work.  I do collect a little wine and do some motorcycle rides.  I enjoy work so much it is part of my recreation.  When I get a little time off, I just want to stay home and relax. 

One of the things that is so important to me is relationships, relationships I have developed throughout the years…both business and personal.  The people I have gotten to know, those who I continue to know, are relationships that are very special to me. 

AR:  Are you still having fun coming to work?

Peluso:  Oh, a blast.  The day I quit having fun is the day I quit coming to work at six o’clock in the morning. 

Nick Peluso is Manheim’s senior vice president of customer management.
 

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