Mark Sauder's reaction when Ken Shilson approached him about becoming the newest member of the NABD Hall of Fame might have come straight from a script you’ve heard on countless TV shows or movies as the police are interrogating someone. Sauder told Shilson, “You’ve got the wrong guy.”
While the exchange between the executive who helped DriveTime Automotive reach immense successes and the president of the National Alliance of Buy-Here, Pay-Here Dealers had nothing to do with law enforcement or illegal activity, the dialogue was the beginning of how Sauder became the latest addition to the NABD Hall of Fame, joining Ed Bass, Julian Codding, Jim DeVoe, Martin Ingram, Bruce Kennett and John Linnehan Jr.
“There is no question that Mark has been an integral part of the success and growth of DriveTime. Anybody you talk to, even the top people at DriveTime, say that Mark is certainly one of the smartest — if not the smartest — guy in the operation, and I’m not taking anything away from (chief executive officer) Ray Fidel and (owner) Ernie Garcia, who deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done,” Shilson said.
“Without a good financial guy in an operation like theirs, the success and growth would not have been possible,” Shilson continued.
“A top-flight chief financial officer is the difference between the best buy-here, pay-here operators and everybody else. I can point to every single buy-here, pay-here operator that has had the most long-term success, and they all had a top-flight CFO,” Shilson went on to say.
Sauder joined DriveTime in 1997 and became CFO five years later. During his time in that post, DriveTime grew to a nationwide network of stores that Sauder highlighted now make up the fourth-largest vehicle retailer nationwide. DriveTime also streamlined its payment collection processes and improved vehicle quality by incorporating pre-sale inspections along with warranties and vehicle service contracts.
Altogether, it’s been what Sauder described as “transforming of an ugly duckling into DriveTime.” Sauder insisted much of DriveTime’s success came because of Fidel and Garcia.
“Starting back in the 2002 timeframe through today, that whole revolution within what is considered the buy-here, pay-here industry and how we go about business, it’s allowed DriveTime to become the fourth largest vehicle retailer in the entire country,” Sauder said.
“It’s really been an entire revolution in auto retailing for credit-challenged individuals,” he continued.
Sauder also recollected what it was like being DriveTime’s CFO during the Great Recession, a time when many segments of the auto industry struggled and some didn’t make it through.
“In the 2007 and 2008 timeframe when the securitization market went away with the recession and bank lines were dramatically reduced, weathering that financial storm was great,” Sauder said. “The commitment of our owner Ernie Garcia to put money back into the company during that timeframe allowed us not only to survive through that period, but the changes we made through that period really set us up for success we’re enjoying today. That timeframe was definitely a memorable and challenging experience.”
Along with mentioning Fidel and Garcia often during a conversation with BHPH Report, Sauder also praised the entire workforce DriveTime has for the company’s accomplishments.
“I’ve worked with some of the brightest people I know. They have really great hearts and care for each other and for the company. There’s a focus placed on the company’s culture,” Sauder said.
“It truly is and has been a differentiator for DriveTime’s success,” he added.
Sauder hesitated when Shilson stated that NABD’s Hall of Fame committee wanted to induct him during this year’s National Conference for BHPH at the Wynn in Las Vegas.
“When Ken reached out to me, I was actually shocked that I had been nominated for the Hall of Fame,” Sauder said. “My first response was, ‘You’ve got the wrong guy. There are others who deserve it way more than me.’ He encouraged me to accept the nomination, stating the committee wanted to acknowledge the critical importance of a CFO and their role in the success of a buy-here, pay-here company related to finance, analytics, risk, accounting, integrity, controls, transparency, access to capital.
“A buy-here, pay-here or any independent dealer, for them to grow or succeed over the long term requires a strong CFO working in conjunction with the rest of the leadership team,” Sauder continued. “After he walked through all of that, I humbly accepted the honor on behalf of all of the other CFOs who have been instrumental in the success of their companies.
“It’s a very meaningful and humbling,” added Sauder, whose relationship with Shilson dates back nearly 20 years when NABD first started to hold national events to help BHPH operators.
Shilson reiterated why NABD chose Sauder after inducting operators such as Bass, Codding, DeVoe, Ingram, Kennett and Linnehan who spent nearly their entire careers in showrooms hammering out contracts with customers who had damaged credit for one reason or another.
“You have to have somebody in an organization come to you like they do every day in this business and say, ‘I’ve got a great idea. Here’s what we want to do.’ This happens every day in every operation in buy-here, pay-here,” Shilson said.
“You have to have somebody in the operation who will say, ‘OK, let’s look at the impact of what that’s going to do to us, what it’s going to cost, what the cause and effect are going to be and how that’s going to impact our future.’ That’s what a good chief financial officer like a Mark Sauder does. That’s what he is,” Shilson went on to say.
Sauder no longer is the CFO at DriveTime, but he is still with the family of companies owned by Garcia. Sauder recently became the president of SilverRock Holdings, which provides F&I products such as extended vehicle service contracts, global positioning system (GPS) theft recovery products, guaranteed asset protection products (GAP) and auto insurance solutions
“We’re leveraging all of our knowledge gained within DriveTime to offer proven products designed to help independent dealers,” Sauder said. “It’s all designed in such a way to help independent dealers succeed. Our goal is to become the No. 1 F&I provider for independent dealers. We’re committed to making that happen.”