BUILT FOR THE ROAD AHEAD
Sometimes misfortunes have a way of producing life-changing experiences for people.
Jason House, who took over as executive general manager of his family’s business, House Chevrolet Buick Cadillac in Owatonna, in December, found that out earlier last year.
House’s parents, Julie and Greg, purchased the GM dealership along Interstate 35 in Owatonna last February. The younger House had no intentions of joining the family business at this point in his life until misfortune came about with his wife last May.
House’s wife broke her foot. During her recovery time, House got a crash course in taking care of the house and his family, which includes five kids. And all the time he also kept up with his own full time job.
“It made me realize I wasn’t spending enough time with my wife and kids,” House said. “I wasn’t involved enough with the family.”
Keeping up with a full time corporate job with Hendrick Automotive Group, the largest privately held automotive company in the nation, on the east coast for 12 years proved to be quite demanding for House. He worked for nine years in North Carolina and the past three years in Virginia. He was working 70 plus hours a week. “This business has a big sacrifice when raising a family,” House said.
Realizing it was time to put family first, House decided to leave his corporate gig and come back to southern Minnesota to help his parents run the Owatonna dealership. His parents also operate a dealership in Stewartville.
“I wouldn’t be here if my wife hadn’t broken her foot,” House admits. “This will give me a more balanced life with my wife and kids. I’m so glad I figured it out at 36 versus 50,” he said.
His decision raised a few eyebrows at Hendrick Automotive Group when House announced he was leaving to come back to Minnesota. He also brought a service director along with him. “I shocked a lot of people. Very few people thought I would leave,” he said, adding he knew right away it was the right decision.
In Steele County, House hopes to shed the corporate image that he has grown accustomed to in recent years. “I want to have the personal touch with people and not be corporate,” he said. “I don’t want that corporate feel.”
One of House’s first priorities will be taking care of the 20 employees he has working for him. House said employees need to be treated as a person and not as a number because they are the number one asset of a business.
“I prided myself on having relationships with my people,” House said, adding he focused on taking care of his people.
House enjoys the automotive business, something that started at a young age for him. The Stewartville dealership is in its third generation of his family. His great grandpa started the dealership in 1923. His grandpa, who is 81 years old, still works every day at the Stewartville location.
House recalls helping his dad at 12 years old when he came in and washed a few cars. He also did a variety of other jobs, including clearing snow off cars, mowing grass and later automotive technician.
After graduating from high school, his father gave him one key piece of advice that House holds dearly today. He was told to go out and get experience on his own before even considering coming back home. He left home to attend automotive business school in Michigan and then headed out on the east coast.
“I have gained a lot more respect doing it on my own for 12 years,” House said, noting that never once did his family push him to come back home.
House loves the situation he’s walking into at the Owatonna location. “It’s beautiful. Very clean and a great location,” he said. “We have lots of space for growth,” he said, noting many dealerships often face space constraints.
The facility is surrounded by 10 acres. “There’s room for 300 more cars,” House said. “We have the space to grow expeditiously.”
And growth is definitely on House’s mind. “The level of performance we are at now will not be the level of performance we will be doing,” he said. “Everything is going to grow.”
He is extremely committed to building a solid reputation throughout the region. “It takes time to build a reputation, but it takes no time to destroy one,” House said. “I want to be up front, honest and transparent with people.”
House said the key to running a successful operation is “surrounding yourself with people as good as you or better.” He said it’s important to find the right staff, or else the business won’t grow and run smoothly. The current employees are already a great asset and foundation to the company, and they will be vital to the growth in the near future, he said.
“If you surround yourself with Super Bowl talent, you’re going to get Super Bowl results,” House said.
Some other advice he received over the years came from his grandfather. “He always told me you have to outwork people,” House said. “I just outworked people,” he added.
House said successful business people need street smarts and common sense. “You need a mix of everything,” he said. “You can not be afraid to fail.”
While House describes himself as “very intense, results driven and competitive,” he knows where to draw the line. “I never let it get in the way of customers and employees,” he said. “I only know one speed. That’s 100 mph.”
As for the corporate life he left behind, House quickly says that’s in the past.
“I will not miss the corporate world,” he said. “I’m looking forward to making this a big business.”