Phil Smith Automotive Stops by the Smart Compliance Podcast (Interview)
“No one wants to pay attention to compliance,” says Cindy Dahoff, Associate Counsel at Phil Smith Automotive Group. “No one wants to see all the new federal laws, I get that. I do because I’m an attorney, and I nerd out about that kind of stuff. But if you’re a car salesman, you don’t care. But it makes me sleep better at night to know that the information is disseminated properly.” We sat down with Cindy to chat about how she keeps on top of compliance for her team of 700 spread across 11 dealerships.
Listen in on the interview with Cindy we recorded for our Smart Compliance Podcast.
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We’ve got a transcript of the conversation below:
So Cindy, tell me a little bit about Phil Smith Automotive Group. Give me a little bit of the history of the company.
Cindy: So, currently, we have 11 car dealerships, and we also have a country club. But, so far, the Automotive Group, it’s been around since before I was born. Mr. Smith, he worked for car dealers all, you know, growing up, and he eventually became a car dealer himself, and slowly he bought more car dealerships, and the company kind of came to be. And I would say sources automotive group like the formal entity itself has probably been around about 20 years, but it goes back further than that.
And how many employees now do you have?
Cindy: Oh gosh, depends on the day but probably, usually around 700 total. Between we have dealerships in Florida and North Carolina.
So, managing across state lines?
Cindy: Right, which is very helpful.
And tell me a little bit about your role there. You’re fairly new, correct?
Cindy: I am. I’ve been here about a year and a half, and I am…my technical title is associate counsel but I’m in the legal department, but I kind of do a lot of random things. Its’ more or less corporate HR, some legal. I’m also the 41K administrator, I do some accounting stuff, it just kind of depends on the day and where they need me.
That has a lot of HR and finance hats right there.
Cindy: It is, but hey, I’m kind of a jack-of-all-trades and I like that, never gets boring, that’s for sure.
Well, so I would imagine then Compli probably comes in handy and managing all those different hats, tell me how you use Compli.
Cindy: Oh gosh, in so many different ways. We use the policies and the guides, and forms all the time. It’s really useful because since we do have so many employees across different states at 11 different rooftops, it would be difficult to manage on a central basis if we didn’t have something like Compli.
Now, we do have an HR department at each store itself. But Janice, who I work with, she’s the corporate counsel, we kind of do the corporate HR, and we kind of make sure that things are updated and Compli, and make sure that people are using it, and the HR people at each store very good at actually implementing when a new person joins, the first thing they do is create a Compli log-in for that employee.
That’s very good, that’s thing number one?
Cindy: Oh, my gosh, so is. It’s so helpful because then we can see who the new employees are and all that good stuff. There’s so many useful reports that we can run to see who’s done what, how much the forms have been used, all that good stuff. And so, what we typically do is depending on the title and what the employee does, they get different policies and different guides, and different tests and stuff like that, that they kind of go through before they start work, kind of like, “You know, here’s a rundown. This is who we are, this is what we do, this is what you’re gonna be doing. These are the different compliance things that you need to abide by,” because there are so many car businesses, as you know.
So, it’s helpful, it really is to, it just kind of make sure that we have at least, you know, we have a place that all of these things are available for employees to go to. And they can go to the library and, you know, look up like, “Oh, I forgot what GLBA is,” and, you know…
Okay, help me. I don’t know what GLBA is. What is that, exactly?
Cindy: Oh, that’s Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. We have a policy about making sure that we protect consumers credit and all that good stuff, and privacy policies and stuff like that, so it’s just really helpful to have a place for them to go if they have a question or then they can go, and at the very least, they see who we are if they need to contact us because they have a question and it’s very helpful.
What kind of effect do you see it having on company culture?
Cindy: There’s a lot of pieces to try to wrangle when you’re trying make sure the whole company is in compliance, and that takes a lot of people trying to make sure they’re all doing the same things.
How do you find that the Compli tool helps you manage that throughout the culture?
Cindy: For me, personally, it’s a helpful tool to keep everyone informed. So, I get notification like, for example, when an employee is initiated a form of some sort, like say, it’s like a disciplinary action form. So, what then I do as I go in and I look at, “Okay, this is what the form says. So and so initiated it for this person,” and then what I’ll do is I will email the general manager of the store, the controller of the store, and the HR person of the store to kind of be like, “Hey, just so you know, this person has a disciplinary action form.” Just so they can kind of keep on top of what’s going on, because it’s so easy to, we have so many employees do not know some of the finer detail that’s going on, so it’s helpful in that regard to…for us to see kinda what’s going on a day-to-day basis and for the general managers to kind of keep informed through us, in a way.
Because the general managers, you don’t want them worrying about compliance, you want them worried about selling cars.
Cindy: Exactly, and they don’t wanna worry about compliance, they wanna worry about selling cars. So, it is a helpful tool, for sure.
Was Compli helpful as you kind of got to know all the people and all the different hats you’re gonna be wearing, get to know kind of the lay of the land and what was expected and help communicate with them?
Cindy: Oh, absolutely. It’s so helpful to even, you know, it with so many employees just to, you know, you don’t know everyone’s name necessarily but through Compli, I feel like I know at least a good chunk of names now because I get so and so had have this, or so and so, you know, so it’s nice to be able to go in and see names and at the very least, especially for me when I was new, it’s the…, “Okay, I need to email this person.” So, I go find them at Compli, and then add their email right there, and so that was helpful. It has their phone number, and it’s just really helpful to see the structure of everything, especially for new employees that might be kind of overwhelmed and not know like, “Okay, who should I contact?” It’s a useful tool in that regard.
As a lawyer, you probably know better than most of us average folks of what kind of dangers you can get into when you’re not in compliance. How does Compli help you make sure that all of your general managers and employees understand that, and how does that enable you to communicate that to them?
Cindy: I think for me, the best part is that, like it’s just so…it makes the communication and explanation so much more user-friendly, because it’s a way to see an email, right, that says, “Okay, there’s this new policy that’s, you know, federal law that’s come out.” And it’s like, “Okay, you know I saw that email, read it, but through Complete, you can set it up as a policy that they have to read and sign-off on, otherwise their compliance in Compli goes down. So then, if they don’t look at, they keep getting the email weekly, that’s like, “Okay, you need to look at this.”
So I think from a compliance perspective, it’s really good at just disseminating information and making sure that people pay attention to it, because no one wants to pay attention to compliance. No one wants to see all the new federal laws, I get that. I do because I’m an attorney, and that’s…you know, I nerd out about that kind of stuff but I get it, but if you’re a car salesman, you don’t wanna…you don’t care. I get that, but I think it makes me feel better, it makes me sleep better at night to know that they’re at least that the information is disseminated properly.
And if someone were going to buy Compli, and that hadn’t been using it, now that you’ve been using it for a year and a half or so, what suggestions would you offer in terms of kind of getting to know it, and rolling it out to your employees and your colleagues?
Cindy: Right. Honestly, just play with it, that’s kind of how I learned. When I was new, I was given every policy under the sun, you know, not every person is assigned everything, but for me, just to see everything, and I just kind of dug my hands into it, and I was like, “Oh, I don’t what…what does this button do?” And then I figured out that can run reports, and I think it’s really neat, and I think it’s really, really helpful.
Here’s a nerdy question for you. What is your favorite feature about it? What do you like to use most?
Cindy: Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. I like to do the reports, to see where the different form compliance is. For me to say kind of, “Okay. Well, I wonder why this one form only has like a 70% compliance whereas all the other forms have 90%. Like, was it too long? Was it too boring? Do I need to edit it? Do I need to, you know,” it was interesting to me to kind of see why some things get looked at more than others, you know what I mean? I think, that’s really cool.
That’s interesting, always questioning…
Cindy: Exactly, and I also like to look at the book that termination report, and all those kinds of, that just to kind of keep a pulse on what stores are…have a higher turnover rate, and you can delve into why if it’s like, “Okay. Well, this one store has like 150% turnover rate. Like, is there something we can be doing? Do we need to adjust our strategy in hiring? Do we need to adjust our strategy in training?” And it’s helpful to be able to see the patterns. It might not necessarily have the answers but you’ve gotta start somewhere, and a pattern is…
A pattern is a good place to start.