Cox aims for more cohesive brand

“It’s easy for us to just go across the aisle to work on products, to work on solutions, but why don’t we just get rid of the aisle?” Sandy Schwartz, president, Cox Automotive

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If a dealership’s parking lot has 10 visitor spots, on some days, Cox Automotive takes six of them.

That example may be an exaggeration, President Sandy Schwartz said, but the company wants to take up fewer spots in the future as it combines services under one cohesive Cox Automotive umbrella.

This month, amid news that Cox would launch a mobility division, the company also said it would combine its retail and media teams into a Retail Solutions Group. The reorganization will shift operations internally but the outside world will see little change, Schwartz said. The need to get products to market faster propelled the move.

Dealers already “look at us as one,” Schwartz said. “It’s easy for us to just go across the aisle to work on products, to work on solutions, but why don’t we just get rid of the aisle?”

So far, Schwartz grades the company’s integration of more than a dozen brands as a B-minus. The company must prioritize helping dealerships with combined solutions, he said. That has been part of Cox’s strategy for five years but became especially important after the $4.5 billion acquisition of Dealertrack three years ago, Schwartz told Automotive News at VinWorx, a conference here centered on Cox’s VinSolutions customer relationship management product.

“It’s still a struggle for us because different people at dealerships make different decisions,” Schwartz said. “It will be an ongoing way of us figuring out how do we work better?”

Bringing together companies with separate technology systems and office cultures, Schwartz said, has been among the most significant challenges of his career.

“I love the fact that we’re bigger; it allows us to do a lot of things,” he said. At the same time, he added, “I hate the fact that we’re bigger because a lot of days it’s hard to turn the ship, and that’s my job to turn the ship.”

First, Cox had to tackle knitting together legacy technology platforms, which Schwartz admits is taking a while, instead of designing the platforms from scratch to create a more effortless workflow.

“It’s been tough because the seamless integration is harder to get to than I thought it would be,” Schwartz said. “But we’ve made great strides.”

The core values of each Cox brand have always aligned, Schwartz said. But the company cultures have varied, so Schwartz and his team have been tasked with building a culture that’s consistent under the Cox name but also true to the original brand.

“It’s really important to respect culture and to respect what’s important to [employees]. We’ve tried to bring these companies together the right way and still respect and honor the past and the culture,” he said.

Last year, Cox laid off 950 employees — about 3 percent of its full-time staff — and 225 associates accepted early-retirement packages. After a rapid stream of acquisitions, the company had taken inventory of its assets and determined how they best connected. Because of that, Cox needed to rationalize its work force, Schwartz said last week.

Schwartz expects Cox to be in a constant state of change, with goals to streamline the business and bring products and services to the market faster. He envisions the work force evolving but said he can’t predict how employee head count will fluctuate.

As for when Cox will boost its integration grade, Schwartz said: “I’m hoping a year from now, we’re going to be much, much better. I don’t know if it’s going to be an A or if it’s going to be a B-plus, but we’re going to keep working at it.”

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