“How That Happened” Episode 38: Jeff Williams – America’s Car-Mart – Catering to Your Customer

Interview Transcript

Jeff Williams:                But as the world has changed, as our company has changed, we really prefer the term integrated auto sales and finance, where you come to us to purchase the product and we also provide financing to go along with it. 

Robert Wagner:            From HoganTaylor CPAs and advisors, I’m Robert Wagner, and this is How That Happened, a business and innovation success podcast. Each episode of the show, we sit down with the business and community leaders behind thriving organizations to learn how business and innovation success actually happens. Our guest today is Jeff Williams. Jeff is the CEO of America’s Car-Mart, a publicly held company based in Bentonville, Arkansas.

                                    Car-Mart is focused exclusively on the integrated auto sales and finance segment of the used car market. We’re going to talk to Jeff about that. He started his career in the accounting field with initial stints at Arthur Andersen and Coopers & Lybrand in Tulsa and Dallas. Previous to joining America’s Car-Mart, Jeff was the CFO at Wynco LLC, a distributor of animal health products. And then Jeff joined Car-Mart in 2005 as their CFO. He became president in 2016 and then has been CEO since January of 2018. So Jeff, welcome to the How That Happened Podcast.

Jeff Williams:                Yeah. Thank you, Robert.

Robert Wagner:            Appreciate you being here. We’ve been chatting here for a few minutes reconnecting. I think we met each other originally, probably in our twenties. I was in my twenties, I think so.

Jeff Williams:                Yes. Yep.

Robert Wagner:            It’s great to reconnect with you and congratulations on this role. It’s a fantastic, fantastic role for you.

Jeff Williams:                Thank you.

Robert Wagner:            Jeff, I just wanted to talk about, just to set context for the conversation today, in your SCC filings, your company is described, Car-Mart’s described as an integrated auto sales and finance company. I’ve never even heard that term. So lay that out for us. What does that mean? 

Jeff Williams:                Well, some folks might refer to our industry as the buy here, pay here industry. Many years ago, that’s in fact what it was. But as the world has changed, as our company has changed, we really prefer the term integrated auto sales and finance, where you come to us to purchase the product and we also provide financing to go along with it. But as far as payments and pay here, that’s not really the case anymore.

                                    We’ve got ACH options, pay at Walmart, online, pay through text. You can, of course, pay at our dealerships, but the term buy here, pay here doesn’t really fit the model anymore. But we are integrated and we believe that we provide an offering that far exceeds what folks might think about in terms of buy here, pay here in the past. We really do compete with the financing options at the new car dealerships. So the term integrated auto and finance makes a lot more sense and represents what we’re about more than the term buy here, pay here.

Robert Wagner:            Got you. Got you. Well, that’s very helpful. Just to flash that out a little bit more, I mean, who’s the typical customer for you guys? 

Jeff Williams:                We are selling a customer that has some credit challenges. They may have no credit or they may have a bad credit. That is someone that has an average FICO score of 525. They’re living paycheck to paycheck. They need help with the down payment, the money upfront. They need help with the monthly payments. They’re going to require a lot of hand holding after the sale. And that’s really what we do, is provide these customers with a low cash down option, affordable payments, shorter terms, and service after the sale.

                                    Our customers, our very best customers, need two or three modifications during the loan term because of events that happened in their life with their financial situation, a medical bill, a job loss, a cut in hours, repair issues with the car after the service contract periods. There’s always something coming up that disrupts their cash flows in their financial lives. That’s really what we do, is provide a good solid car for a decent price, low down affordable payments that fit their income, and with a chance to succeed on the contract.

                                    That’s what we do, is really focus on getting that customer title of that car, keep the term short, and then provide an outstanding service after the sale to give them peace of mind with one stressful area of their life. That’s that local transportation. 

Robert Wagner:            Right. How do you get people to talk to you about those things? Like the things that happen after they sign on the dotted line, that a new financial issue is coming to their life. I mean, there’s a reluctance to do that, I think for everyone, right? How do you create the relationship where they’re going to call you and feel comfortable telling you, and then hopefully work it out?

Jeff Williams:                Well, that’s where the benefit of 39 years in these communities helps. We have a reputation, and folks that buy from us understand that if they’re open and honest with us and want to do right on their side, we’re going to do absolutely everything to help them out. And it’s going to be done in a respectful manner. Our values are respect, integrity, compassion, and excellence. Our folks at the dealerships who deal with customers in many cases were customers of our company at one time, so they can relate.

                                    It’s done at very high standards with the most respect and understanding that some of this is touchy. But we do a lot of education, a lot of efforts for our customers in terms of helping them with budgets, understanding cash flows, keeping their word while we keep ours. We believe we add a lot of benefit just to the communities we serve by holding folks accountable and holding ourselves accountable top.

                                    But to your point, that’s just what we do. Customers that deal with us, deal with us because they know that when things happen, we’re going to help them through this situation and we’re going to be open and honest both ways in that relationship.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah, that’s really good. You touched on this a second ago, like one of the things that could come up is something goes wrong with the car. This is a fresh issue with me because I had this happen with my kids in their cars. You buy a used car. Everyone buys a used car as is. I think the dealer hopes they’re selling a good car and you certainly hope you’re buying a good car. But things happen. You buy a $5,000 car and then 60 days later, you’ve got a $3,000 repair facing you. How do you guys deal with something like that? 

Jeff Williams:                Well, we do offer service contracts with the purchase. Not all, but most of our sales are the sale of the car and then a nice service contract to go with it. So if something happens early in the term, then that service contract is meant to address that. But we oftentimes look beyond what’s legally required in the service contract. If we have sold a bad car and just simply didn’t know about it, which would be the case in respect to our business, then we’re going to make it right with that customer.

                                    We know that they’re paycheck to paycheck. There’s not a pot of money sitting there to fund a repair. If something does happen early that we didn’t know about, then we’re going to stand behind that and make it right and make sure that customer’s not put in a bad situation with a car repair. 

Robert Wagner:            Right. In your SCC filings, it says that you guys sell 50,000 cars a year, which is just an amazing number. Are you the largest dealer of your kind in the nation? 

Jeff Williams:                We are, yes. We’re the largest integrated auto sales and finance company in the nation, and we’re actually closer to 60,000 cars sold now.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. If you sell 60,000 cars, you’ve got to buy 60,000 cars. How do you do that? 

Jeff Williams:                It’s a combination. We buy from local wholesalers, and these are folks that go to auctions and then perform some repair work after the auction before we get it. We actually buy from auctions. We buy from new car stores. We buy from the general public. We’ve got a We Buys Car program like CarMax has. We have a program like that. And then we’re also recently getting into some recon efforts on our own. For trade-ins, repossessed cars that we have, we’re starting to do some reconditioning efforts on those cars, because that’s a steady flow of cars, maybe at the lower price points.

                                    Used car prices have gone through the roof, and for us to maintain affordability for our customer base, we’re having to get creative on a steady flow of the lower price points. 

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah. You touched on something there that I wanted to get into, so we can jump into it now. Again, I’ve seen this with helping my kids buy cars, their first car, second car. I’m old, so I’ve been doing it for 20 years with my kids now. It feels like that the price of cars is going up faster than working families wages are. I’m wondering where is that going to go? I mean, it’s just getting harder and harder to afford a car now. 

Jeff Williams:                Yeah. It really started with the great recession in 2008, 2009, when new car production went from 18 million a year down to less than 10 for a couple of years. So that really squeezed the used car supply, especially for a 10-year-old car, which is what we sell. And then, consumer demand after the recession exceeded the supply of cars even as they kicked up production. So we’ve really been in a used car shortage for over a decade now.

                                    This pandemic, when it hit, I think initially we thought that there’d be some relief on used car pricing. Well, it went just the opposite way. Because of government stimulus, it went straight to consumer pocketbooks that really jumped the demand for used cars, especially that car at the low end. So you’re right. The answer the industry’s had to that situation has been stretching the term out longer.

Robert Wagner:            Correct.

Jeff Williams:                And we’ve had to participate in some of that. But we realized that to put that term out too long is not a good business model, although folks are doing that to a large extent now and we’ve had to participate to keep our payments affordable. But we’re still able to find a good mechanically sound car that’s affordable to our customer. And we can put it in a term that makes sense to us to offset that rising cost of a used car.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Your terms are still averaging out in the thirties-

Jeff Williams:                34.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Yeah. Well, you hit exactly the issue I’m seeing out there on new cars where you’re going to 72 months, 84 months, 96. I mean, that’s unsustainable to me.

Jeff Williams:                Yeah. Yeah. I agree. At some point, there has to be a reckoning on that term, but it has to start with the cost of the car coming down a little bit. So the demand is exceeding the supply of cars right now. 

Robert Wagner:            Yeah, yeah. Okay. Jeff, you mentioned dealers and you said something interesting about you have some dealers that were former customers, I think you said. But just in general, what makes… I guess you might describe what a dealer is in your business. But who thrives at being a dealer in your business?

Jeff Williams:                A general manager?

Robert Wagner:            Yeah.

Jeff Williams:                One of our managers?

Robert Wagner:            Yeah.

Jeff Williams:                Yes. It’s going to be somebody that can juggle a lot of things at the same time, a multi-tasker. It’s going to be somebody that cares about other people, has a heart for the consumer and the associates, who has a sense of urgency to get things done. This is a business where you can’t let things accumulate. You’ve got to keep things moving. And so, a sense of urgency, a team player, a good leader, somebody that’s had some experience in a multi-unit management often does well in our business, and just a good greediness, determination.

                                    Somebody that really likes to work and really have purpose in their work. This is an industry that you get a lot of satisfaction out of if you enjoy helping folks succeed. Folks that are struggling financially or personally, you’ve got a ton of opportunities each and every day to help somebody and help their life be just a little bit better. The folks that are successful as GMs have those character traits that focus on and highlight relationships and helping people through difficult times. The skills a sense of urgency, quick thinkers, quick on their feet to multitask, and like to get things done. 

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Is there anything to where those folks are coming from? I mean, are there experiences with previous selling cars? Is that helpful or maybe not?

Jeff Williams:                No. Oddly that’s generally been a negative because when you go to the normal used car dealer, whether that’s the division of the new car dealership or a standalone used car dealer, those are generally high-pressure transaction-focused people. We’re a low pressure, education, long-term relationship. It’s a three or four-year character loan for us. It’s not a quick, transaction that’s just over with the sale of the car.

                                    So generally folks that have come from the used car business don’t work out so well with us just because of the difference in approach in the long term versus the short term nature of what we do. But as far as what we do and who we look for, we’ve got, at this point, I think the other day we looked at it and 42% of our general managers started in an hourly position with our company.

Robert Wagner:            That’s awesome.

Jeff Williams:                So the first place we look is folks in internal who have been with us a while, that we know very well, that have demonstrated the skills to move up. That’s been our best source of general managers. And then, other than that, folks that have been in the restaurant industry, the used car parts industries, AutoZone, O’Reilly’s, companies like that. Generally, those folks make good employees for us. 

Robert Wagner:            Okay, interesting. Let’s tag onto some of those folks that are maybe also in your organization. A part of your work is collections. I have a feeling that’s a big part of the work. Now, if you grab any list of most hated jobs, collections is on the list. What about that job and finding the right kind of folks to do that job? That seems like a challenge.

Jeff Williams:                Yeah, it is. We call those folks in our company account representatives and not collectors. But their function is to stay in contact with, and to understand what’s going on with a customer who’s fallen behind on payments. It’s not to repossess a car or to cause any disruption. It’s to simply figure out, “What’s going on here? Why have you not made that payment? What can we do to help? Can you come in and see us?”

                                    Again, we’re a small town character lender. So come on in, let’s sit down and talk about your situation, see what we can do to help. It’s not a hard collector activity, which means that the job satisfaction and the longevity of folks in that position are much longer than you’d see in a standard collection position, because they do help people stay in the cars. Now, we do have to make some hard decisions. We do have to repossess cars. There are deals that just aren’t going to work out for whatever reason, and they do have to be the handy.

                                    But at the same time, there’s a lot of rewards in keeping folks in cars, keeping them on the road, giving them peace of mind that we’re going to work with them. And so, we’ve got a good solid group of account reps. The turnover in that position is extremely good by industry standards.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. And that’s a local role, right?

Jeff Williams:                It is.

Robert Wagner:            It’s done at the dealer locally, somewhat face-to-face. It’s relationship building. 

Jeff Williams:                Now, we have centralized some pieces, bankrupt accounts or small claims accounts. There are certain categories of accounts that are done centrally. But to your point, most of those positions are out in the field, out in the communities where we know the customers. We know the customers’ families, we see them at the grocery store, and there’s a good, solid relationship there.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. That brings me to a question around… This maybe would relate maybe to your role as CEO and dealing with different stakeholder groups, including maybe the public or even the media. It seems to me there’s a tension here, potential tension around what you do has a nobility to it. So you’re helping working class Americans have the transportation they need for the job that they need to put food on their table, have shelter, all of that.

                                    You’ve talked a lot about the relationship and the goal of keeping that relationship in place, keeping not just the payments coming in, but the transportation happening. So a lot of nobility to that. Then on the other side, could be just an outsider looking in and just coming to the raw numbers and saying, “Look,” and this is in your SCC filings, so you charge working class folks 16%, sometimes more, on the interest. How do you deal with that as a leader?

Jeff Williams:                Yeah, I would start by saying that we always are looking at what the competitive offerings are in the markets we serve. Even though the 16 and a half percent sounds high, and it is high, the average rate that our deep subprime or subprime consumers pays is closer to 20% or more. So that rate for a credit challenge customer is very, very good compared to the alternatives.

                                    Now, for folks that have credit, good credit, it is high and it seems high. But in the market we serve, it’s actually a pretty good rate for a consumer that is credit-challenged. But we try to set that rate a little lower than the market so that customers who do care about owning that asset and want to get that contract paid in full can see progress during the term of the loan. But the interest, the term, the markup we have on the car, we’re going to earn a 40% gross profit on the sale of the car and then 16 and a half percent interest rate on that over a 34-month term.

                                    When you look at the total cost of ownership for a car, in many cases, the total cost of ownership for our customer is going to be half of what they might get down down the road at the used car division of a new car dealership when you factor in a 20% interest rate for 72 or 84 months, and then some add-on products that they’re going to get that really don’t add much value to the transaction.

                                    So part of our job, and a big part of our job, is to educate the consumer about some misconceptions that aren’t real when you really get down and look at what we do and what we charge for it, and the transparency of what we’re putting out there, and compare it to the total or the cost of ownership that they might get down the road, where the payment might be a little bit lower, the car might be a little newer. But you’ve got to watch out for all those other components of that transaction.

                                    We try to get it all out front, “Here’s what you’re getting. Here’s what we’re going to do for it. You may be paying a premium for this, but for that premium, we’re going to provide you outstanding service and really give you peace of mind for one area of your life that can be very stressful. And that’s that car.”

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. That’s very good. Jeff, let’s turn our attention a little bit to the industry. Wondering how technology is impacting your industry. Things are happening that we… And not just COVID related, but things are happening related to technology, that I think a lot of us never dreamed would. People used to say no one would buy clothes online, because you want to try them on. You want to touch them and feel them. No one would buy a house just looking at pictures online.

                                    Well, we’re doing that now. Same is happening in cars. You’ve got Carvana, you’ve got Vroom. You’ve got these things happening where the car may be a half a country away and they’re going to deliver it to you. There’s a seven-day test period, I think, usually, but people were basically buying cars off of pictures. Is that part of the industry affecting you at all or are you guys just so much more local that… 

Jeff Williams:                Well, the used car financing industry is about $500 billion a year, so it’s highly fragmented. Even CarMax and Carvana are tiny pieces of the entire market. But what Carvana is doing, and Vroom, is telling all of us, and we all know this, how much consumers hate the car-buying experience. Nobody enjoys that. So these companies are saying, “We’ve got an alternative to that. Come with us. It’s stress-free. It’s an enjoyable experience. There’s none of the negatives you get by dealing with the used car salesman.”

                                    We as a company have recognized that we need to get to a point quickly where we can deliver a car to someone’s home, where we can’t have curbside service at our dealerships. We have to make the online and physical transfer seamless. We’ve got to make our processes better and quicker and more consumer friendly. But at the end of the day, our customers are very credit challenged. So there’s a lot of decisions and a lot of meeting of the minds that has to happen with our consumer.

                                    They’re in a negative equity position in their current deal. They’ve had a couple of repos that we’ve got to talk about. They’ve had some job changes that we’ve got to talk about in person. So we feel like our job is to squeeze as much of the inefficiencies and the dislike out of the process and leave the good stuff in there and leave that stuff that’s going to be important to the consumer, leave that on a local basis.

                                    We believe that there’s a place in the world for us long term even if Carvana, and Vroom, and these folks really get up and start selling a high percentage of the market online. We believe that we can compete. Now, we’re not going to have a fancy vending machine like Carvana, but there’s no reason we can’t deliver cars to homes, do transactions totally online, and provide all that additional service that we provide after that [inaudible]. But there is a place for us.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. That’s good. I love the point of view of what about that can you use to help make your thing better, with the understanding you still have things to do. You’ve got an education process to go through with most of your customers. So that’s very good. What about FinTech? I mean, you’re a finance company, to a large degree. Is FinTech impacting the car business?

Jeff Williams:                Again, not directly. We are aware of the efforts with FinTech. We have to be good and we have to get better on the financing side of our business. But we have some real advantages in the fact that for some of our dealerships that have been around a long time, up to 60% of their customer base is repeat customers. So we know and can manage our risk a lot better, even with some folks that might have some fancy algorithms and other AI tools. We have all that in our system and we can manage risk effectively.

                                    The main thing that we can do by being local is really cut out all the middlemen that generally exist in our industry, from repair shops, to service contract providers, to oil change companies, to collection companies, repo agencies, tow charges. The fact that we have all of that in-house, we do all that ourselves, allows us to operate on a much lower expense basis than somebody that might finance a car from three states away, and then have to outsource everything after that if something goes wrong with that transaction, and in many cases it will. 

                                    We’re aware of the need to continue to get better on the financing side, the data side of things, and we will, and we are, but with our business and our industry and our customers and what they need, it’s not just math. It’s a lot more than just good math. But that’s a piece of it.

Robert Wagner:            Very good. Very interesting. Just turning a little bit to yourself and your role and your leadership, how have you developed yourself into a public company CEO? You started out in accounting and you’ve been around, came up the finance side of the business. What have you had to learn, I guess?

Jeff Williams:                Well, starting in accounting, I think the first half of anybody’s career that starts in accounting, is to try to be really good technically. Nothing really matters more than just being proficient and good technically. But as you grow and your roles change, and especially my new role, I’ve realized that the people side of things and the non-technical aspects of the job are, of course, becoming more and more important. And that’s not a natural transition for me.

                                    I’m still mainly focused on the technical and the numbers, and “Let’s get out there and drive and win and get these numbers where they need to be.” But I am moving into that position, and luckily we have a lot of people at our company that are highly motivated. They’ve been in the industry a long time.  They understand and appreciate numbers and efficiencies and cost controls and pushing for more. So it’s just been a nice personality fit with me and the existing folks.

                                    We’ve really slayed some dragons in recent times and we’re all excited about where we’re going to go. But for me, personally, I’m going to have to continue to mature as a leader and develop the softer skills, and communication is a big issue. I don’t need a lot of communication myself, but I’m finding that others do, and I have to be conscious and deliberate about clarity, and consistency, and frequency of communication.

                                    I guess that would be my biggest challenge, and the things I’m working on the most is realizing that most people, especially when they’re growing like we are, and things are changing. We’re creating positions that didn’t exist three months ago. So the clarity, consistency, and frequency of what I say and how I say it and who I say it to is, more and more important and something that I’m going to have to get better at.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. That’s a great just self realization, and leads into a question. If I’ve got this right, I mean, you followed an iconic leader, a guy who was the pitch man for the company. Did commercials and as the drivees, and he coined that phrase and everything. You’re not that guy. I’ve read things that you’re not going to be that guy. How’s the company transitioned from two very different kind of leaders? 

Jeff Williams:                Well, yeah. I mean, Hank was the guy for decades. Great guy, great leader. But our styles are a lot different, as you said. I’m not going to be the pitch guy and I’m going to be more of a behind the scenes person that’s really focused on just a couple of things at a time. I can only process one or two things at a time, and I’ve got to make sure those are the most important things, and that we’re all charging that direction until we’ve just beaten it down to nothing. I guess that might be the biggest difference between myself and Hank, is he was more of a big picture who had grown up in the company, and the industry is changing over the years.

                                    While we’re still all about helping that consumer, and always will be, which is what Hank always preached, is how is that decision going to affect our consumer? We’ve had to start running at a faster pace. We recognized a few years ago that you can’t really open, in today’s environment, open a dealership, and then gradually grow that business over time. The pace of the industry, the pace of the world, is really speeding up.

                                    So if we’re going to have a place, then we’ve got to create an infrastructure and processes that can handle a whole lot more volume than we were historically. I guess that’s been my main focus with the role changes, is how do we build this thing for speed and not lose any of the good stuff we’ve had for all these decades? 

Robert Wagner:            Yeah, that’s great. Well, I wanted to draw that out because I think a lot of people look in their career, whether they’re looking to the person in the top job, or just the person in the job above them and say, “I’m not that person,” Well, you don’t have to be that person. You’ve got to be you, and you can be successful at being you, and whoever’s making the decisions choosing you for that job. In your case, the board chose you knowing that you’re very different. So that’s a great insight, I think.

                                    One more question along these lines, I guess. I think I’ve got this right. That BlackRock owns like 15% of a Car-Mart, right? Maybe the world’s largest money manager. They’re certainly one of the world’s largest. What is that relationship look like? Do you have to spend a lot of time nurturing and feeding that and working with those guys?

Jeff Williams:                Surprisingly, no. I mean, those bigger investment funds and companies, our entire market cap’s 650 million, so that’s not even a… If they owned all of us, it’s not really even a rounding difference for some of those folks. We do speak to them periodically, and it’s good solid conversations when we do talk, but there’s not a consistent cadence or schedule or any consistent questions or anything that they’re particularly looking at. But we do speak to investors and we do attend investor conferences that our analysts put on and get a chance to see our investors during those conferences too.

                                    But all in all, as a company, as a whole, we don’t spend a lot of time or effort or money really on the IR side of our business. That may change as we get closer to a billion-dollar market cap, and hopefully beyond. Then we’re probably going to have to reassess how we do all that, how we communicate with investors and analysts in the public. But to this point, our IR department is just myself and Vickie, our CFO.

Robert Wagner:            Maybe we didn’t look far enough back, but have you ever accessed the market, in terms of great growth? You’ve never really gone to Wall Street to do another offering or anything, right?

Jeff Williams:                No. I’ll give you a little history. Our company was founded by a guy named Bill Fleeman and Rogers back in 1981. He actually, got sick with cancer in the late ’90s and sold the company to a public company in Dallas in 1999. Car-Mart today is the surviving company of that transaction. Okay. The only reason we’re public is public holding company bought the private Car-Mart from Bill Fleeman back in the late ’90s. So we’re accidentally public and we’ve never needed to access any capital or anything from the markets.

Robert Wagner:            Got you. Got you. All right. Jeff, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation here. We’re heading to the end of our time. But I find the industry fascinating and really appreciate what you do. I think the explanations that you’ve given us about the customers and how you educate the customers, I think it’s just very, very valuable and again insights into your own career as well. We do have five questions that we ask every guest. So you ready?

Jeff Williams:                I’m ready?

Robert Wagner:            All right. What was the first way you made money? 

Jeff Williams:                The first way I made money. Well, I got a job in a restaurant washing dishes when I was 14. I had just felt like I wanted my own money. If I wanted to buy a pair of shoes or something, I didn’t want to go ask for it. I wanted to have my own money. And so, my first job was washing dishes.

Robert Wagner:            Okay. This was in the spring time?

Jeff Williams:                Yeah.

Robert Wagner:            Okay. All right. So Jeff, if you were not running America’s Car-Mart, what do you think you would be doing? 

Jeff Williams:                I think I would be coaching junior high football. 

Robert Wagner:            All right. If it just paid better, right?

Jeff Williams:                Yeah. Well, even if it didn’t. Yeah. At some point in my life, I might go do that. I don’t know. 

Robert Wagner:            Right. Okay. What about that turns you on?

Jeff Williams:                I think that part of my life was so meaningful and so impactful, and the coaches and what they did and how they did it. My dad was a coach too, so I’ve got some of that in my blood. I just think that I can relate to how those kids are thinking and the excitement of seeing them grow and have some success there, is something that… That age group, it’s a tough age group.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah, it’s a tough spot.

Jeff Williams:                I can tell you-

Robert Wagner:            Potential for high growth as well.

Jeff Williams:                Yes, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Okay. So, Jeff, what would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Jeff Williams:                Boy, that’s tough. Don’t be in such a hurry. Take a deep breath, slow down. Be patient with others. And don’t try to force things so much. Let things happen on their own a little bit more than I have.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Interesting. Okay. Fourth question is what will the title of your book be?

Jeff Williams:                I never thought of that. Maybe it’s Lessons Learned.

Robert Wagner:            Okay.

Jeff Williams:                I make a lot of mistakes, but I try to get something very important and concrete, and all the mistakes I hope are leading me down the right path. So Lessons Learned. 

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. I think it’s really good for this time. We’re recording during the COVID season as it continues here. We’ve talked about, with folks in our firm, that this the opportunities, is when people grow, when times are hard, when every step’s up hill, whether that’s failure or just a tough environment. So I think that’s great, learning from those lessons. Okay. So last question is, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Jeff Williams:                Well, I guess, my uncle and college. I was drifting around two years of college. My grade point was horrible. I had no idea at all what I wanted to do, and he said the most successful people that he knew in life had an accounting or a finance degree. Even if you don’t use it, and I’ve never liked accounting. I don’t like accounting now, but it’s so nice to have that skillset and that knowledge of how that side of things works.

                                    I would say that that piece of advice and my follow-through in that area has allowed me to be in my current position as a finance company. It would be tough to be a CEO here and not have that hard technical finance and accounting background.

Robert Wagner:            Yeah. Okay. I’ve got to follow up this because I know this, but maybe listeners won’t if they’re not from the accounting background. Somehow you turned that around because you have to have a strong grade point to get hired by Arthur-

Jeff Williams:                Arthur Andersen so.

Robert Wagner:            So you must have really turned things around for yourself there.

Jeff Williams:                I did have a better second two years than the first two years. Yes. My grades did come up, but I snuck in the back door at Arthur Andersen. Didn’t have great grade point. Test scores weren’t very good. But I happened to stumble in there in December one year, mid-year hires, and somebody liked me. I got the job and I knew when I got it. I said, “I’ve got to take advantage of this opportunity because I snuck in the back door.”

Robert Wagner:            Okay. All right. That’s a great spot to end a great story. So Jeff, thanks so much for being with us. Again, really appreciate the conversation and your time.

Jeff Williams:                Thank you, Robert.

Robert Wagner:            Thanks. That’s all for this episode of How That Happened. Thank you for listening. Be sure to visit howthathappened.com for show notes and additional episodes. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. Thanks for listening. This content is for informational purposes only and does not constitute professional advice. Copyright 2020, HoganTaylor LLP, all rights reserved. To view the HoganTaylor terms and conditions, visit www.hogantaylor.com.

Jeff Williams is the CEO of America’s Car-Mart, a publicly-held company based in Bentonville, Arkansas. Car-Mart is focused exclusively on the integrated auto-sales and finance segment of the used car market. He started his career in the accounting field with initial stints at Arthur Andersen in Tulsa and Coopers & Lybrand in Dallas.

Prior to joining America’s Car-Mart, Jeff was the CFO at WinCo, LLC, a distributor of animal health products. Jeff joined Car-Mart in 2005 as their CFO. He became President in 2016 and has been CEO since January of 2018.

In this episode, Jeff shares how America’s Car-Mart caters to the credit-challenged customer, why employees with working experience in a traditional dealership tend to struggle when working at Car-Mart, how certain trends and disruptions over the years have affected Car-Mart’s “small-town” approach to business, and his experience as CEO thus far.

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