Home Back Issues July 2009 Lithia burns rubber – in reverse

Lithia burns rubber – in reverse

| Print |  Email
Archives - July 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
lithiaCEO Sid DeBoer
After racing into the top tier of the nation’s auto dealers and Oregon’s top public companies, Medford-based Lithia Motors has slammed it into reverse with rubber-burning decisiveness, selling off dealerships as ruthlessly as it once bought them to avoid driving off a cliff.

Lithia went public in 1996 and grew from five stores to more than 90 over one freewheeling decade. CEO Sid DeBoer had hoped to build the company into an $11 billion empire by 2011, but that was before his key suppliers, Chrysler and GM, fizzled into bankruptcy. Lithia struggled mightily in 2008, losing $252 million for the year.

But then a surprising thing happened in the first quarter of 2009: Lithia posted a profit. Its stock, which bottomed out at $2 per share in April, rebounded powerfully on news that Chrysler’s abrupt elimination of 789 underperforming stores would help rather than hurt Lithia. “We lost two stores, but we should be able to pick up nine additional franchises in five of our current locations,” says DeBoer.

Three Lithia stores are also at risk from the GM bankruptcy, but it could have been much worse. Lithia minimized its losses by deciding in the fourth quarter of 2007 to begin conserving cash and selling off unnecessary assets. The company sold 14 dealerships in 2008 and has lightened its debt load from $269 million to $45 million while slashing its workforce from about 6,000 to 4,300. “It was painful,” says DeBoer. “A lot of people lost their jobs and we lost some stores that we would like to have kept in good times.”

But it worked. According to DeBoer, sales in May exceeded Lithia’s projections. “All the stores we’ve sold or closed were losing money,” he says. “We will make more money without them.”

It won’t be a Sunday drive. Lithia still has 11 dealerships on the market as of press time, and gas prices are rising again. But DeBoer says he feels much better about Lithia’s position than he did a year ago, and he’s thankful he called for the radical shift in strategy sooner rather than later.

“Having lived in the car business since 1964,” he says, “I’ve learned that those who act the fastest get through these things in the best shape.”
BEN JACKLET
 

More Articles

Workplace benefits

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Health care and vacations rule. That’s the consensus from our reader poll on workplace benefits that help retain and recruit employees.


Read more...

Eking out a living

News
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
04.08.14 thumb ourtable-coopfarmsBY HANNAH WALLACE | OB BLOGGER

It may be obvious, but most farmers don’t make a lot of money. According to preliminary data from the 2012 Agriculture Census, 52% of America’s 2.1 million principal farm-operators don’t call farming their primary occupation. Farm cooperatives may offer a solution.


Read more...

Rapid ascent

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
IMG 4255-2BY AMY MILSHTEIN

Kelly Dachtler, president of The Clymb, redefines outdoor retail.


Read more...

Car ignition recalls and lean product design

Contributed Blogs
Friday, April 11, 2014
04.11.14 thumb gm-gettyTOM COX | OB BLOGGER

The auto industry is starting to share more costs across manufacturers for complex and challenging design work, like new transmission design, and certain new engine technologies. What we’re not yet seeing is wholesale outsourcing of “unavoidable waste” components to specialist companies.


Read more...

Powerlist: Meeting perspectives

March 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BY BRANDON SAWYER

A conversation about the event-planning industry with sales directors from McMenamins and the Portland Art Museum. 


Read more...

100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon [VIDEO]

News
Monday, March 03, 2014

Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 11.26.47 AM

Check out interviews with employees from some of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon winners and find out what makes their company a great place to work.


Read more...

The 2014 List: The Top 33 Large Companies to Work, For in Oregon

March 2014
Thursday, February 27, 2014

100best14logoWebOur 100 Best Companies project turned 21 this year, so pop open the Champagne. Our latest survey gives us plenty to cheer.

 


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS