Episode 004 – Jeff Daniels talks about Leading Through Crisis with Mature Confidence

Jeff, the Car Guy, successfully built his life around the car business, working every job from washing cars to the corporate board room and every level between. A pinnacle of achievement in his career could be described as having the opportunity to move his entire family anywhere in the world…and he did just that! The family settled on a historic family in Iowa and while Jeff manages several luxury car dealerships in the big city. Jeff talks about his experiences in re-defining community engagement, leading through crisis and mature confidence. 

Show Notes:

Jeff Daniels is a seasoned automotive Industry veteran spanning from corporate headquarters to small business leadership, he’s seen all angles of the business. 

In this podcast you will learn about:

  • 1:32 The most surprising thing people learn about Jeff
  • 3:33 Balancing business and home life
  • 4:50 Jeff the Car Guy”…The backstory?
  • 7:34 Community engagement versus traditional marketing
  • 11:25 Investing in the community instead of media advertising
  • 14.50 Foundational leader experiences, successes, and failures
  • 20:21 Working through crisis
  • 25:15 Advice given every leader should know
  • 27:56 Legacy – for future generations
  • 29:57 Jeff’s Most Present Excitement
  • 32:21 Jeff shares His personal success belief
  • 33:07 Jeff’s current book he is reading and why
  • 34:33 Jeff suggests one book every leader should read


1:32 The most surprising thing people learn about Jeff

On my work side, I am not as serious as I seem to come off. When I do get around tight circles with professional people, I do like to have a lot of fun. I try to bring some levity to what we are working through and working with.

On a personal side, I live on a farm. About three and a half years ago, we had an opportunity come into our lives and we were able to choose anywhere we wanted to live. We called a family meeting and asked everyone where they wanted to move, and they all agreed on rural Iowa, basically because of family ties.


3:33 Balancing business and home life

Jeff is still trying to find his balance. He does claim he lives two lives. Because he gets his fill of the city surrounded by commerce and convenience, with a whole lot of traffic and loud noises and things like that. But then he also gets to escape back to the farm and within about ten minutes of being back on the farm, he changes into his holy jeans, and dirty boots jumps into a pickup and goes do that. He finds fulfillment in both of those lives, but recreationally, the farm life speaks to him a lot. It is what brings his blood pressure down and gives him relaxation. But the fulfillment of what he does professionally is also incredibly important to him. And at this stage in his life, with the wonderful support of my family at home, he is able to travel back and forth between locations. That part is not ideal, but he knows that if you are going to live in the middle of nowhere, and you still need a commerce hub to make a living, there is a little bit of sacrifice. And at their stage in their lives, that’s okay.


4:50 Jeff the Car Guy”…The backstory?

Cars have always been his passion. When other children were reading nursery rhymes and Golden Books, he was reading car brochures. From a very young age, he always loved cars. He had all the toy cars and matchbox cars, even farm toys which was an interesting premonition. But he always loved automobiles. As he grew older, it remained his passion at every level. When he was looking for colleges and even after when he transformed outside of college, it was a natural transition for him. And at a very young age, he received good advice about chasing his passions and doing what you love to do, and everything else will pretty much work out, within reason.

The first job he ever had in the car business was when he applied to wash cars at a Toyota Dealership in Indianapolis, where he grew up. He showed up at the dealership with a tie-on. He remembers the supervisor at the dealership told him that they hired him because he had a tie on. It had made him stand out from all other applicants.


7:34 Community engagement versus traditional marketing

There were stages of development in Jeff’s life and career. Jeff grew up in a home where his mom worked as a CEO for a community foundation. This introduced him to community involvement and outreach. He learned about familiarity. If people know you, they become familiar with you. They don’t always have to agree with you, but the familiarity does advance your professional endeavors. It connects you to other people in a very unique and genuine way.  

When he did get his first job with a major automotive company, he was put on a project to launch a new youth car brand. The entire corporate project was to rethink how cars were built and designed and sold in marketing. They were marketing to youth which at the time targeted gen X and early gen Y generations. What they learned from that was how to talk to the new generations. They could no longer broadcast to millions of people about a vehicle and its features. They had to find the people where their passions were, whether it be art, music, or certain leisure activities. They had to be there, be present, and be genuine in forming a bond with them to their brand.

From that job, he moved into a small community where he had never met a single soul and had to make a small dealership work. At that point, he had to go back to and draw from those earlier experiences to let people know they were for real. They didn’t just fly in by the seat of their pants, sell a bunch of cars, take advantage of people then get up and leave at dusk. With the help of his wife, they divided and conquered. Together they were on six or seven not-for-profit boards which were wonderful experiences. They spent many evenings at fundraising dinners and functions that may not have had anything to do with directly selling vehicles, but the relationships they cultivated throughout that experience came back to them in multiple business results. 

He says that the formula can change based on the locality, where you are at, or the town you are living in, but in general it works almost anywhere you go. It can even work in large metro areas where there are communities within communities. They built their business around the association not only of their own presence in the community but also with those that worked for them.


11:25 Investing in the community instead of media advertising

Very early on when they were a new business, they had to hold onto every bit of capital they could. Because they were investing in their facility, the people they hired, and they had to predict whether they were ready for growth. They couldn’t afford radio advertising. They understood that the main asset of their company was themselves. Their brand had to be built around their people. It had to be built around him and his wife doing community things, but it also had to be built around anyone who worked for them. They recognized that we belong to them. Their good, their good people, your good people. You’re all good people. Guilty by the association of being with good people. So, it wasn’t with making donations and writing big checks, because they couldn’t. Being present to a lot of local organizations and these causes, meant almost as much to them as the money that would have taken to run their cause. Jeff believes it is better to shake the hands of a hundred people than to broadcast to a hundred thousand. They as a company also offered their facility to not-for-profits to hold fundraising events. They closed the doors at 5:00 P.M. many evenings.  Then let thirty, fifty, or one thousand people in the building hold events. The community became familiar with them. They knew who they were and how to find them if and when they wanted to become a customer.


14.50 Foundational leader experiences, successes, and failures

In general, when times are good, as in economic conditions, and your business is growing, you are getting accolades that most would measure as traditional success. When things are going well, typically that is when people believe they are developing as leaders.  But Jeff disagrees one hundred percent with this theory.

Some of the most formative lessons he has learned in leadership have come from the worst of times, in the worst of situations. When you guide a business through a recession, with major recalls on all the products you sell; and through the pandemic with two years of strain on your business, not just economically, but your physical and mental health, all of these challenges are where you really begin to see not only your own leadership qualities but that of your people. He never felt closer to his associates or his partners, and the people would do business with every day, than in times of strife. That is when people have to immediately access what your value is to them.

During his career, one of the mistakes he made was he was too focused on some things, and I didn’t balance it

out enough. He may have spent too much time outside the business working to promote it with strangers, then cultivating relationships with his own employees. Those lessons are hard-learned because you may find out that they don’t respect you like you thought they did. You find that maybe you’re not as effective as you should be. Maybe the place isn’t as successful as it could be because of that. This path has been dotted with a lot of lessons that he would like to forget but won’ because it’s humbling. It gained him many levels of humility and accepted crisis when it happens, and rise above it. He will say to himself, “We will rise above this, we have been here before. Let’s figure this out.” He is rather a contrarian. The old adage is, “when the chips are down, you want to buy low and sell high.”  But for him, when the business is shaken up macro and micro economically in any number of ways, that is when you reinvent yourself.

The very best inventions and new companies and products we use every day were marveled at fifty years ago. They were created in some of the worst economic conditions ever, out of people’s garages or basements.

There is something cleansing but also very encouraging about tough economic times and tough conditions we operate in. Leadership is at the top of that list.  


20:21 Working through crisis

When you surround yourself with your people and you make them a part of the conversation, you don’t speak at them, you speak with them. You listen to them; you ask their opinion. Sometimes, you just have to bury your ego and pride and say, “You know, I like your idea, let’s go with that.” You give them the liberty and the sense to feel like they are contributing to it. Even if you suspect they might be a little bit wrong, that is a risk you will take. As leaders, we model a lot of the behavior that we should expect to see or want to see, in the leaders, we surround ourselves with. Jeff would like to train all of his people to take his job. He is far better off being surrounded by people who can do his job than being the only person that “can” do his job. He expresses that came with experience and wisdom later in his career.


25:15 Advice given every leader should know

Leadership advancement at some level is a little bit about perception, narratives, and relationships. Jeff networks cultivate relationships within and outside of his industry. It has delivered him far more success than anything his education has. He is not downplaying education, as you should always be in a state of learning, and the day you stop learning is probably the day before you should retire. But his personal and professional network has been one of his biggest accomplishments.  When you have that type of access with those folks, you want to stay in contact with them. LinkedIn is a great tool for that. He loves that he is one call away from a lot of different people who can do a lot of different things. And not just for him but for others.


27:56 Legacy – for Future generations

For Jeff, there is no greater legacy than being a parent. He thinks it is awesome watching his children develop world views that are going to serve them well. They are intelligent, in their own right, and they have different interests. They are going to go on and do great things in their life. And as long as they are comfortable and help other people, they are kind, ethical and honest, that’s his greatest legacy, and he’ll stand by that. Other than that, you want to inspire people. If you can inspire any kind of kindness in someone else or encourage them to make a decision that changes their life for the better, there is no greater contribution to society or to people you know or those you don’t know.


29:57 Jeff’s most present excitement

Jeff is at an age where he has mature confidence. It is because he has an I have been here and seen this recall. When you can go back into your experiences and say, “huh, this looks familiar” and you pull from four or five different experiences and create or manufacture a solution to a problem that you didn’t wake up with this morning, that gets him excited. Confidence can sometimes heavily be mistaken as the ego that makes people arrogant. Some people will categorize you that way even if you aren’t arrogant. You must be prepared for that too. You have to have a thick skin in that aspect.  Be humble, but don’t let someone change the trajectory of who you are and who you’re developing into.


32:21 Jeff shares his personal success belief

Jeff doesn’t define anything that is completely financial or possessions or status symbols. He believes those are fleeting. True success is to have the freedom to do what you want, be who you are, and live where you want, without regret. And to inspire others to do that. That is his belief of success.


33:07 Jeff’s current book he is reading and why

PappyLand – It is about the Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon family business that started many, many decades ago outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Their legacy of a family business and how it almost completely collapsed would have been gone forever. But another generation reinvented it and came up with the desired product called Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon where some bottles are worth several thousands of dollars. What moves him about the book is the theory behind a business momentum of a legacy and idea.


34:33 Jeff suggests one book every leader should read

Good to Great – Author: Jim Collins


35:22 Favorite Phone Apps and why

Facebook Marketplace: I like to look at things that I have no intention of buying. I look at the prices people are selling them for and then put them in another location to see if there is a difference in pricing.

Posh Mark: I am a perpetual shopper, and I can find some pretty good deals on this app.


37:25 If you were given the opportunity to manage a charitable trust of fifty million dollars, to help address any issue or cause, what would you focus on and why?

Helping the foster care system. There are depressing statistics concerning the foster care children, and how many are in the system. States do not have the recourses to adapt to all the unique situations. There is little care concern is actually for the child and how much more concern is about the parents who have repeatedly chosen to use drugs or abuse their kids or neglect them. I am a cynic at some level as I have witnessed the real effects that negligent management of foster care has had on our society. But I know there are so many wonderful people out there that would love to foster and open their homes to these kids and give them a safe place. And to cultivate these wonderful things in them, whether it is an education, nutrition, exercise or whatever. That would have an exponential multiplying effect on future generations. It might even help stop the generational poverty that exists and persists because no one has ever really been able to step in and stop it.


39:32 Final thoughts concerning Life, Leadership, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

Be genuine and be yourself. You are going to be challenged all the time to act, be a certain way, or have a certain opinion that you may not fully believe. But always get back to the center of who you are. Find a passion, stick with it, work hard, and cultivate relationships. Share your successes and failures with good people. Go out there and create for yourself your own board of directors. Go find, five, six, ten, twenty that has your back no matter what you do. And can give you unadulterated, very blunt candid honest feedback about who you are and what they think you are doing right and wrong and be humble enough to accept it when they do that.  I can’t imagine anyone failing with any of those things in place.


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