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The Weston way: the top small Best Company

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

2006 100 Best Companies The Weston way

It’s all in the family at Weston Dealerships, where employees say they are rountinely helped through life by the Westons, including CEO Jay.

By Oakley Brooks

It’s sometimes hard to tell who gets the best deal at the Weston family’s 31-year-old dealership in Gresham — the customers or the 125 employees.

The customers? Well, there are 38,000 of them out there and last year they bought $75 million worth of cars and service. The Westons don’t advertise their Pontiac-Buick-GMC lines anymore — word-of-mouth does the trick. The staff? They’re a collection of ebullient folks who take home a turkey at Thanksgiving, a fat bonus at Christmas and can often recount a time when a Weston — current CEO Jay, brother Jan or semi-retired dad Jim — bailed them out of life’s little jams. Current employees average 16 years at the company.

Chuck the management fads and the MBAs. Running a company like a family still works, and works well.
“They believe that if they take care of people, people will take care of them,” says Dan Schofield, Weston’s service manager, who’s going on 24 years with the family.

Schofield, 42, benefited from the Westons’ largesse. A decade and a half ago when he and his wife adopted a child on short notice, Jim called him into his office and handed him a check for several thousand dollars. Kids are expensive, Jim said. Later, looking to move from technician to management with a new bachelor’s degree under his belt, he figured he might have to change companies because Weston’s higher positions were sown up. But Jay appeared at his graduation and offered him a slot opening up because of a retirement.

“I can’t see working anywhere else,” Schofield says.

The Westons’ style springs from a strong and visible Christian faith.

“We operate from a moral compass,” says Jan, the CFO. “We believe in right and wrong and God is the source of that.”

The dealership closes on Sunday and church vans are often fixed for free by the service department.

The family also strives to differentiate its work environment from the stereotypical dealership. Smoking is discouraged, the shop is immaculate (they spent $100,000 on new lighting last year) and young technicians are sent to expenses-paid training courses in Seattle and Irvine, Calif., early in their careers.

In an industry where mechanics tend to move every three to five years, that’s a risky proposition. But the Westons figure it’s a strong signal to techs that they want the new hires to stay in the family.

Jay and Jan, both in their mid-40s, play humble leaders and tend to keep the inner workings of the company tight to their chest: no open-book, all-company meetings here.  They say they do it — as any upstanding father figures would — to keep employees from worrying. “There’s no sense putting an undue burden on someone if there’s nothing they can do about it,” Jan says. Late last year, after General Motors announced massive layoffs and chatter about GM’s uncertain future spread around the dealership floor, Jay called together the employees. He told them Weston would be around for another 30 or 40 years.

Longtime workers recalled a similar situation in the late 1980s when Weston’s lease was pulled out from under Jim on short notice and the dealership had to move. Technician Brad Huwe remembers when Jim, who had temporarily relocated the service department to a dark warehouse, huddled the mechanics and told them he’d take care of them if they stuck around. Standing in the new 57-bay shop today, Huwe says unequivocally: “He has.”

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