International Cars Limited (ICL) was a single failing dealership with 22 employees when Marshall Jespersen, a former military rocket scientist, took over running the business in 1989. It’s since grown into six locations in two states selling Honda, Chevrolet, Porsche, and Audi vehicles. In 2000, the company became part-owned by an ESOP.
The retail car industry is more than a century old, which makes making any kind of change difficult. But Jespersen immediately jumped in with a willingness to run his business differently with the goal of creating a world-class operation. But when he sold part of the company to his employees through an ESOP, he didn’t get the kind of engagement he thought he would. It was only later, after he learned about The Great Game of Business® (GGOB), that he saw a way to teach his people truly how to think and act like owners of the business.
After reading Jack Stack’s book and attending the GGOB conference in Dallas in 2017, Jespersen and his ICL leadership team decided to commit to implementing GGOB. They started in their Audi dealership with the help of their coach, Dave Scholten. “He rode us hard to keep moving the game forward,” says Jespersen.
“GGOB has had a profound impact on the culture of our company,” says Jespersen. After four years of playing The Game. “It has transformed us into a learning organization.” GGOB has also had a measurable impact on employee engagement and involvement. “Employees are really able to see how they affect the bottom line of the company and how they can help the company improve,” says Jespersen. “We’re democratizing the work experience by making it accessible and understandable to everyone. The beauty of GGOB is that it shows people that they are more intelligent and resourceful than they ever thought they could be.”
“Prior to GGOB we had a number of employees who were disengaged and had virtually no emotional connection to ICL. Now, even the smallest engagement by an employee is noticeable. They are present and can see their impact.”
~ Marsha Heiland, Finance Manager
Spotlight on the Pandemic
As Jespersen puts it: “We took a hell of a beating in the first half of 2020.” As bad as things were, he and his leadership team also made the commitment to not laying anyone off. They also made the decision to scrap their original bonus plan and reset it with reasonable expectations for the second half of the year. Managers also made the suggestion that the bonus pool be evenly divided across all full-time employees, with part-timers receiving a prorated amount. By keeping all their employees, ICL was able to ramp up quickly to meet surging consumer demand for vehicles—which led to a record year in terms of profitability. That resulted in more than $1 million given out in bonuses (about $4,500 for each employee). One skeptical employee, a lot attendant, asked his manager to prove he got the same amount of bonus. “When the manager showed him his check and it was the same, we knew we now had everyone’s attention,” says Jespersen.
Jespersen says that MiniGames have become a fixture at ICL. In 2020 alone, they played sixteen games and realized more than $1 million of profit as a result. “Games are updated weekly at the companywide huddle and from time to time a MiniGame is highlighted during the five minutes of a learning segment we have,” says Jespersen, adding that players are encouraged to copy each other’s ideas as a way to inspire more MiniGames throughout every location.
“We are more in tune with what's happening by having weekly companywide huddles. Everyone is more collaborative, and it has reduced the competitiveness between dealerships. I have also learned more about the financial documents and applied that knowledge in my personal life.”
~ Sandra Margolis, Manager, Center for Learning & Development
In January 2021, ICL created what they call the “Center for Learning & Development” with the intent to provide all of their employees with the knowledge and tools they need to become the best game players they can be. Monthly classes are designed to take a deeper dive into the financial statements and an overview of their business as a way to prepare the workforce to engage in High-Involvement Planning™—the next step in their GGOB journey they plan to kick off in 2022.
“GGOB brings the entire team together, working towards goals that are clear, well defined and attainable.”
~ Scott Arsenault, Parts Manager