Position: Dealer Principal
Been with the company: Since 1997
Succeeded: Stan Puklich, her father
Elyse Puklich moved to Bismarck from Jamestown after her father, Stan, purchased Tierney Chevrolet. “My mom stayed behind to pack up and sell our house, so my dad would drop me off and pick me up from school every day,” said Elyse. “Then I would come to the dealership and work the switchboard. I hated it. The salesmen were a little intimidating to me when I was fourteen.”
After she got her driver’s license she convinced Stan to let her work in the Service Department. “He said, ‘Fine, you’ll work one summer with John (the Service Manager) and I don’t want to hear any grumbling,’” she explained. “I drove the shuttle car. John was a hard core manager, and I don’t think Stan thought I would make it. The last day of the summer I walked into Stan’s office and convinced him I shouldn’t work in the Service Department anymore and that he should switch me to Parts. From that point on, that is where he let me work.”
She loved the Parts Department. She delivered parts and was the only female parts runner in town. But, she decided the car business was not for her. She went to college, received her elementary education degree, got married and taught at Anne Carlson for seven years.
Elyse and Stan talked every day. “He asked me the same list of questions every day, I would tell him everything was good and he would end each conversation with, ‘when are you going to come home and do what you’re supposed to be doing,’” she said. “I think he caught me at a weak moment one day. I was discouraged about the politics at work, and when he asked me that final question, I said, ‘I will’. I think he about fell over. I always assumed he was going to ask my older brother, but he never did.”
She moved back to Bismarck in 1997. GM has a process for succession and there are several items that Elyse needed to cross off the list before she was approved. She worked in the office, went to finance school, wrote up service orders, but never did sell a car. She really enjoyed the ‘back of the house’. GM approved her as a Dealer Successor and she became General Manager of the dealership.
She went to dealer school and came back excited to try some new things. “Stan said everything was fine,” said Elyse. “He was an old fashioned car dealer. We did things the way Stan wanted to do it. He had never had a general manager, so I don’t think he was very clear on what I needed to do. And, until I hired a general manager, my idea of what they should do and what Steve (current general manager) does are completely different. He is doing it way better than I ever thought it could be done.”
She talked about learning from and working with her dad:
“As much as I adored him, he was probably one of the worst teachers I had. He could not tell me what he did. But, I always knew what I could and could not do without asking him. To be honest, I probably can’t tell anyone what I do either. Every day is different, with a couple routine things. The most fun I have is when I get out of my office and talk with the customers.”
Stan thought he was going to live forever, so there was no specific date set for Elyse to take over the dealership. She and her husband were on a much-needed vacation when she got the call that Stan had died. “I met with all of the guys in the conference room. My mother was there and our accountant was there. I told them, ‘If you follow me, I will follow you. And if you hang in there with me, we’ll figure it out.’ A while later we found a large embezzlement, and there were some people doing things that just weren’t right. I had questioned some things, but Stan told me to move along and quit picking on people.”
For the record, Elyse has called her dad Stan since she was a little kid. “People ask me if he’s my real dad. Yes, he is,” she said.
After Stan died and they fixed what needed to be fixing, business exploded at the dealership. Her instructor from dealer school became a mentor and a consultant for the dealership. “We had all of these ideas we wanted to try, that we hadn’t been allowed to, and we grew really, really fast,” Elyse explained.
She has a great team of managers and when it comes to making decisions, they work together. “The guys usually ask my opinion, I tell them what I think should probably be done, they banter about it and come up with a solution,” she said. “I never shove it down their throats.”
Her husband works at the dealership. Her children spent their first months there, and will spend a lot of time there as they grow up. Since she gets to spend that time with her family, Elyse makes sure her employees stay close to their families, too. “I don’t ever let them miss a sporting event, a choir concert, orchestra concert,” she said. “As long as everything is covered, I want them to go, do and enjoy.” Good advice for everyone. Stan would be proud.
Her advice to others who may be going into the family business:
– Don’t give up who you are and don’t give up your integrity, ever.
– You can make all the money in the world, but it’s what you do with it and what you do with your time that makes the biggest difference.
– Balance – figure out what you can do well, and when you can’t suck it up and admitting you might need some help.
– Just because you do things differently doesn’t make them right or wrong, it’s just different. And, as long as things get done, who really cares? What works today may not work tomorrow.
– And don’t forget, along the way, to be nice to people.