September 26, 2016 Emily Lierle

Steve Hall Podcast Interview – Founder & CEO of driversselect

steve hall

Today we’re interviewing Steve Hall, Founder & CEO of driversselect.

The quantity and quality of leadership lessons Steve Hall shares on this podcast is incredible. Let’s cut to the chase—driversselect is in the business of buying and selling used cars. So why is the founder and CEO of a used car business joining me to talk about purpose? Well, it just so happens that the success of driversselect is a direct result of 4 things:

  1. Having a crystal clear purpose, which, by the way, has nothing to do with the product they sell.

  2. Having a set of Core Values that they will not compromise, no matter how detrimental it could be to the financial aspects of the business.

  3. Driving toward increased simplicity in the business strategy.

  4. Steve Hall recognizing that, as the CEO, the company will only develop as little or as much as he invests in his own personal and professional development.

If you are in a leadership role today, or aspire to be in one at some point in your career, this episode with Steve Hall is full of powerful leadership lessons relevant to every industry.

Listen to this podcast interview and more episodes from the Built On Purpose Podcast at http://yscouts.com/podcast.

Show Highlights

  • 3:28 – How Steve Hall got into the automotive business
  • 5:17 – The missing component: cash flow
  • 6:40 – Going it alone again
  • 9:00 – Recognizing a shift in beliefs since his youth
  • 11:15 – How purpose & culture relates to acorns
  • 12:40 – The driversselect purpose
  • 16:31 – Being the person you are at home—at work
  • 19:26 – Creating simplicity
  • 24:21 – The core value of “Learn To Earn”
  • 34:03 – Full transparency
  • 38:51 – The stunning track record of driversselect (and Steve Hall) on Glassdoor
  • 47:02 – A custody battle and cancer – example of caring from team members
  • 50:33 – Visiting the driversselect office
  • 56:55 – Charity donations of $10 go a long way

Show Links

Who Is Steve Hall?

The auto business may not always be seen as purpose-driven. Share with us your background & how you got into the automotive business in the first place. Talk about driversselect—what you’ve been operating for the last 12+ years.

How I got into the business is probably not all that entertaining. I had to save up some money to go to school, go to college. When I graduated, minimum wage was just over $3 an hour. When you have about 12 or 13 weeks over the summer to save, you either don’t have much of a summer and work all the time, or you don’t save any money.

A friend of mine had gotten a job at a local Ford store selling cars, and he had told me not to go down to the mall and work there for minimum wage. “Come here, and you can make more in a month selling cars than you can in an entire year working at the mall.” So I went ahead, took the job, and it turned out that over the summer I’d saved about $12,000 or $13,000. I thought, “I have found my career.” I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to college with that kind of success early on. I was reminded by my folks that I didn’t have much of a choice, and off to college I went.

Through that college experience, I stayed in touch with the folks I worked with at the Ford store, and when I graduated, I had bought cars for the Ford store and sold cars, and thought I really knew the business. I said, if I know how to buy and how to sell, I can go out and start my own business. I was highly encouraged by my dad and a few other mentors to actually go learn the business.

Within about two years, I’d blown through all the money I had saved up going to business for myself, because even though I understood how to buy cars and how to sell cars, there was one missing component—that was called “cash flow.”

I didn’t realize how much growth sucks cash. I had to take a step back and really learn this business from people who have been around a lot longer and been a lot more successful.

So I got an opportunity up in the Washington, D.C. market to be trained by some of the most successful operators. I just fell in love with the energy of the business. But I was always torn between the excitement of the business and the values it represented. I thought, there’s got to be a better way to merge these two so you can build a high-quality brand and culture while maintaining the type of exciting fun and energy the business has. I think that kept me on the course with driversselect.

Back in 2004, I had the opportunity to go back out on my own after working for several years with some big organizations at the general manager level and even president. I decided to give it a chance and took the learning that I had developed. It’s probably the best decision I have made in my professional career.

It sounds like this career chose you, as much as you chose it—due to the early success you had that particular summer. What was it about the business—this energy, this excitement, this adrenaline rush—what really captured you?

I wish I could say I knew who I was at 17 years old as much as I do today—but that certainly wasn’t the case. I look back on that and realize, like a lot of teenagers, you have a heavy influence from the environment you grew up in, and even schooling. It teaches you to listen to others, as opposed to listening to yourself.

What I tended to do back then was listen to others. Thus, financial income was very important, being able to win, being able to achieve certain levels of competency, getting recognized and having a certain status in an organization. People tend to make those very important, so I followed those. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized I didn’t hold those beliefs. What others think is important starts to conflict with your values. The standards and measurements and values that they have are just different. I realized I’m not probably living true to the standards that I hold. Things had to really change for me to find meaning and fulfillment in the work I’m doing.

In 2004, did you start driversselect with the clarity of purpose that you have today?

There are certain things in the beginning that had kind of the DNA of it. But I wish it didn’t take me so long to find out how valuable things like higher purpose and culture are to an organization. What I learned in business school: you had to have a good strategy. So I always tended to look around how to build that into a company. I started to look at new processes, new opportunities, breakthrough ideas. These would really drive the business. But I never realized how a purpose and a great culture allows those things to really come alive in an organization.

steve hall

Something I learned in a recent leadership class: Not all acorns become oak trees. For an acorn to become an oak tree, it needs the proper amount of sunshine, soil, and good fortune to avoid trampling. A lot of that is what culture does. You can have that great acorn—that great idea, great process, great opportunity. But unless you create the culture that lets it get the sunshine, soil and protective environment it needs to come alive, that great idea won’t amount to a whole lot.

The driversselect purpose: To infect the world with highly contagious care. You sell cars. Make the connection for our audience.

For us, sometimes we try to find the purpose based on the product or the industry that we’re in. But it’s not really about the vocation that you have—it’s really about the values that you have. For me—being raised by a mother who was a nurse—this love and care was always embedded in the family. I started to realize people come to work with a certain amount of energy that they can deploy. We can express that energy mainly through emotions, either positive or negative. If that energy comes in with positive emotions, usually you have higher levels of engagement and productivity. But if you express it through negative emotions, people feel threatened or that they don’t belong. You end up fighting a lot of internal battles with very little focus on the outside marketplace.

So if we can create an environment similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we can first create a sense of security. Then, people just know that it’s safe to be yourself here. That I’m going to at least have enough income to sustain my current lifestyle. I have a sense of belonging, where people really support me and care about my success. I’m provided the tools and opportunities to achieve and have some success. The fourth layer is, I’m doing something meaningful that adds value to not just myself but to others. The fifth level is, I’ve also got financial upsides to really grow a career.

So the way we build this is through the concept of caring for each other. Caring is an acronym for Caring Acts Randomly Expressed. When people start to care about each other, then they express their energy through positive emotions and engage in ways that drive the revenues of the company.

Listen to this Steve Hall podcast interview and more episodes from the Built On Purpose Podcast at http://yscouts.com/podcast


Y Scouts is a leadership search firm that finds purpose-aligned and performance-proven leaders to help organizations achieve their missions faster. Ready to supercharge your leadership search and get the right person in your organization? Contact Y Scouts.