Robert K. Varga is president of WALKAWAY Canada Inc. WALKAWAY develops, markets and administers innovative, web-enabled, credit-related products for automotive dealers, dealer groups, OEM’s and lenders.

orgAnizAtionAl develoPment

Lessons from a Dragon
What does it take to make your company successful?


recently had the pleasure of attending an auto industry event featuring Bruce Croxon of CBC’s popular Dragon’s Den as keynote speaker. A little known fact is that he comes from a car business family. His father, Noel, arrived from the United Kingdom in the 1960’s with less than $100 in his pocket. He learned the car business with Alex Irvine Motors and eventually became dealer principal of North York Chevrolet Oldsmobile in Thornhill, Ontario. His brother, Michael, expanded the business by acquiring more dealerships and later formed New Roads Automotive Group, currently operating in Newmarket, Ontario. As one might expect, in his keynote address Bruce Croxon shared key life and business lessons, leading up to the monumental sale of his online dating company Lava Life, for $180M in 2004. He also talked about what he has been up to since, with his investment firm, Round13 Capital. His talk was straight, authentic, with a good dose of humour. Admittedly, he didn’t have a great deal of formal business experience in the early years, so I was particularly intrigued to hear how he and his three partners ground it out in the trenches, trail-blazing a new business vertical and building a business whose name would eventually be recognized by 95% of the Canadian population. He called it a “fifteen year overnight success.” This guy is the real deal with a “work hard, play hard” approach, and with a belief that entrepreneurs are made, not born. Br uce hig hlig hted what he thought made both him and Lava Life successful, and his highlights encompassed the notion of Organizational Development or “OD,” as it is often called. Kurt Lewin, the founding father of The Research Centre for Group Dynamics at MIT, and widely recognized as the creator of Organizational Development defined it as, “A deliberately planned effort to increase an organization’s relevance and viability, future readiness to meet change, a systemic learning and development strategy intended to change the basics of beliefs, attitudes and relevance of values…”

landing on the moon. Then, they were asked to work in teams and do the same test again. In all his years at Lava Life, Croxon stated that he never once saw an individual outscore a team. How does your business rate on the teamwork scale? Do your actions encourage or discourage it?

One of Lava Life’s core cultural values was open-mindedness. Due to the nature of the online dating business, being open-minded was a must. If someone was homophobic or opposed to interracial marriage for example, they were simply not a fit for the culture. I would suggest this same characteristic is a natural requirement for the car business with multiple brands, multi-culturalism (both internally and externally), and a business that moves at the speed of light in terms of incoming and diverse information. Is your culture evident and does it have a clear identity? What kind of values and attributes best fit your culture?

Compensation Discipline
I have left this one to the end so you remember it best because Croxon stated it was by far the most significant contributor to the success of Lava Life. Tying one’s compensation to specific, measurable performance goals is an absolute must versus an arbitrary bonus, for example. He tells a story about tree planting in his early 20’s and how he was compensated. The more trees he planted, the more money he made – very simple and a direct correlation. People need to know what the ultimate objective is and then how they can specifically contribute to reaching that objective in the simplest, most direct format possible. And, it becomes even more real when they participate in helping set the targets. Are your compensation plans motivating the desired behavior? Do your team members understand the “what,” “why” and “how” of your overall objectives? Bruce Croxon is in his second year on Dragon’s Den, on Wednesdays at 8pm on CBC Television. 19

Bruce Croxon of CBC’s Dragon’s Den

Below are the key areas emphasized by Croxon:

It’s imperative to have a clear vision and an idea as to what you and/or your business are striving to achieve. It keeps you focused and driven, and helps form your decision-making process along the way, keeping you on track. For example, WALKAWAY’s vision is: “Making buying a vehicle with WALKAWAY, available to every consumer, across every brand of car, in every market.” This has actually helped us decide in which direction to take our company and what projects to invest in, or abort altogether. Most importantly, vision should have substance, passion, value to others, relevancy and it should incorporate core values along the way

– not just empty words to fill the walls of a boardroom. Does your business have a vision? Is it relevant, realistic, serving or self-serving?

At its peak, Lava Life employed 600 people. So they had to get really good, really fast at finding the right people because their growth was explosive at times. Being a team player was an absolute must, and one key way they measured someone’s “team player propensity” was by using the “NASA Man on the Moon Test.” If they had five candidates for a job, at one point during the hiring process, they were all invited into a room and each given the test, which consisted of rating a list of things they would need to survive a crash

July 2012 • AutoJournal

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful