Mike Yusko’s promotion to general manager at Ocean Honda of Port Richey, Fla., in 2012 was a challenging transition – but the move set him on course for an even brighter future.
Two years into that post, in 2014, the Florida native was promoted to national director of operations at the Honda store’s parent company, Victory Automotive Group, where he was tasked with overseeing all acquisitions and ensuring smooth ownership transitions.
“It was tough because I still had to be the controller, so I did both, and I was working six days a week [and] 13 hours a day to try to keep my arms around both positions,” Yusko said. “Learning the variable side in a sink-or-swim situation really forced me to learn to swim quickly.”
Based in suburban Detroit, Victory Automotive ranks No. 15 on Automotive News‘ list of the top 150 dealership groups in the U.S., with retail sales of 35,915 new vehicles in 2017. It has 41 stores in the U.S. and is scheduled to close on a 42nd this week. Within the past six years, the group has acquired 24 stores, Yusko said, most of which were in dire straits at the time of purchase.
“That’s kind of our formula,” he said. “We buy stores that are really struggling and then we rehabilitate them, restaff them – sometimes, if needed – and turn them around and get them to sell.”
The tricky part about that rehab task is changing the mindset, Yusko said.
“We go into stores that need a lot of work, and we try to make it work with existing staff,” Yusko said. “The biggest challenge we face is getting them to believe that the store can do better than it’s been doing just by working harder.”
Yusko got into auto retail in late 2002 when, armed with a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Florida, he worked as an advertising intern at AutoNation’s corporate office for minimum wage. The relationships forged during his six-month internship greased the wheels for him to become a controller at AutoNation at the age of 24.
In 2011, Victory purchased Ocean Honda, where Yusko worked at the time. He spent the next nine months working closely with Victory CEO Jeff Cappo, who would promote him to general manager.
“I didn’t have training or somebody there to walk me through how to do the job,” Yusko said. “I basically got thrown in and was told, ‘You need to find a way to be successful if you want to keep your job’ – so I found a way to be successful.”