Hendrick stresses value of employees

One of North Carolina’s most successful businessmen gave away a few prized trade secrets Tuesday evening.

Rick Hendrick, chairman of the Hendrick Automotive Group and owner of Hendrick Motorsports, stressed the importance of taking care of his employees in order to maximize their effectiveness and improve business in a discussion at the Fuqua School of Business.

“You don’t have to be ruthless [as a company] to be successful,” Hendrick said to a standing-room-only crowd. “It’s the human capital inside the company that’s so important. The companies that don’t believe human capital is important don’t last.”

Hendrick’s team-first business philosophy allowed him to transform what was originally a struggling car dealership in South Carolina into a multi-billion dollar private company that, in 2011, features 90 dealerships across 11 states. After becoming the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the country in 1976, Hendrick revitalized a “broken dealership” and quickly rose to the top of the industry.

Hendrick’s pursuits in the motorsports arena have also been successful. Breaking into the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing’s top flight—then called the Winston Cup Series—as a car owner in 1984, Hendrick began with a single car and just five full-time employees. Twenty-seven years later, his industry-leading Hendrick Motorsports team has won 195 races and 10 drivers’ championships at NASCAR’s highest level.

Hendrick noted, however, that none of it would be possible without the continued loyalty of his team.

“I have a great respect for people. I never lose sight of the fact that I didn’t get here by myself. There’s a lot of people that have dedicated their life [to the success of the organizations], and they all believe that we win together,” Hendrick said. “Most companies say they take care of their customers first. We take care of our employees first.”

The emphasis on employee satisfaction has generated a devoted corps of reliable employees, Hendrick said, which protects the company in times of crisis. Due to the lack of employee turnover, the Hendrick Automotive Group has suffered only minimal losses during the current recession.

“If it comes down to a dollar or a person, I’m going to pick the person,” he said. “Then, when you go through tough times, people are going to stick with you.”

Hendrick’s devotion to his employees came as a surprise to some students in attendance given the enormity of his role as chairman and owner of two lucrative companies.

“He seems to value his people, and he takes the time out of his busy schedule to know his staff,” Fuqua student Jay Lapham said. “You just don’t see that in big businesses and firms.”

Those familiar with Hendrick, however, are not surprised by his success. Junior Paul Harraka, a NASCAR prospect who competed last year in the K&N Pro Series West, said Hendrick’s gracious manner and professionalism makes him a revered individual in the racing community.

“Mr. Hendrick is undoubtedly looked up to in our sport in so many ways, not just for the fact that his race teams have won the [Sprint Cup Series] the last five years, but for the way that the man runs his organization,” Harraka said. “There is not a person in our sport who would not love to go work at Hendrick Motorsports.”


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