Sponsored by Oregon Business

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

Live, Work, Play: Amen Teter

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Catching up with Amen Teter, Portland-based global director of action sports for Octagon Olympics & Action sports talent agency.


Read more...

Where do Portland demographics rank among the largest 50 cities in the US?

The Latest
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
thumbpdxinperspectiveBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The Portland in Perspective study, done by the City Budget Office, was released Tuesday.


Read more...

The 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon

March 2015
Thursday, February 26, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Employment in Oregon is almost back up to prerecession levels — and employers are having to work harder to entice talented staff to join their ranks. This year’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in Oregon project showcases the kind of quality workplaces that foster happy employees. 


Read more...

Help Wanted: Poached Jobs aids restaurateurs

March 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

“We thought there was room for something new.”


Read more...

LEED for weed

Linda Baker
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
012815-potcarbon-thumbBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

What is the impact of the legal pot industry on carbon emissions?


Read more...

Grassroots movement pursues carbon bills

News
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
eventthumbBY KIM MOORE | OB RESEARCH EDITOR

A partnership of a grassroots environmental organization and a youth group is striving to build community and business support for carbon price legislation.


Read more...

Downtime with the executive director of Greater Portland Inc.

April 2015
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Janet LaBar, Executive director, Greater Portland Inc.


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