A focus on workplace culture and company values yields bottom-line results

by Bob Helbig

OC Auto Team Celebrates Eight Consecutive Years as a Top Workplace

The first year John Patterson’s company participated in the Top Workplaces program, the survey results surprised him. He discovered that employees at his auto dealerships were not as engaged as he thought. “I place a real high priority on harmony,” said Patterson, who owns three auto dealerships in Orange County, California. “When everything is running in the same direction, it makes things a whole lot easier.”
Workplace CultureSince then, reviewing survey results—especially candid comments—has become essential to measuring employee engagement at the dealership. Do they want more tools? More training? Changes in the 401(K) plan?

A focus on workplace culture yields results

Fast forward, and Patterson’s OC Auto Team is now celebrating its eighth consecutive year as a Top Workplace. Getting there and staying there isn’t because of one thing but “a series of little things,” he says. Staff camaraderie. Clear goals. Community service. It’s all part of the deal.

When the company first appeared on the Top Workplaces list in 2008, Patterson had about 100 employees. It now has 150 among Tustin Mazda, Huntington Beach Mazda, and OC Hyundai. As the company grows, it works hard to maintain its culture. They’ve realized the benefits of this focus, including with employee retention. At just 3% per year, turnover is extremely low—particularly for a sales environment.

“When people join our organization, they understand they are going to be treated with respect and honesty,” said Patterson, who founded the business in 2004 after 11 years at Toyota corporate.

Six company values are the key to their success

According to Patterson, six core principles help guide the company’s success:

  • Integrity
  • Work that is enjoyable, accountable, and consistent
  • Engaged employees
  • Long-term customer loyalty
  • Making good, long-term decisions daily
  • Community service

That last point has earned Patterson special recognition. The Orange County Register honored the company with a social responsibility award this year. It noted the company gives employees two paid days per year to serve charitable causes, including school activities or their favorite community passion.

“We want to be the best servants of our community and of each other,” Patterson said.

It’s a formula that works because Patterson leads his employees by example and creates an environment where he “treats his customers as though they are guests in his home,” says Lynda Nelson, the company’s director of customer affairs.

She estimates that more than half of prospective employees learn about the company because they discover it ranks as a Top Workplace.

Patterson knows community involvement is good for business. After the 2008 recession, “our organization not only survived but thrived because our customers rallied behind us,” he said.

Charity works

Each year, the company gives in excess of $200,000 to charities such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and a local juvenile diabetes organization. It also gives plenty of smaller donations to bands, schools, and soccer teams.

In November, for example, the dealerships donated 700 pounds of food to the Second Harvest Food Bank and matched customer donations of pocket change to give $2,200 to the Orange County Rescue Mission. It sends a message not just to the community, but to the employees as well.

“They are part of something bigger than selling cars, servicing cars, or selling parts,” Patterson said.