Years of sustained success by many Northwood graduates have established the University as one of the best places to begin a career in automotive marketing. Now, that reputation is being reinforced by a new generation of young leaders. • When Automotive News released its latest list of 40 outstanding industry leaders below the age of 40, three Northwood grads were among them. • All three – Mark Foster (’04), Jesse Peterson (’02), and Larry Zinn (’08) – were advised by friends to attend Northwood. And all three say it was great advice.
“Going to Northwood was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Zinn said. “Northwood had a profound impact on me. I don’t think I would be where I am today or have the success I have been fortunate enough to have in my young career if I hadn’t gone to Northwood.”
At 32, Zinn is general manager of the Warren Henry Auto Group in Florida, overseeing nine dealerships at six different locations around the state. He grew up in Miami, spending much of his free time hanging out at his father’s dealership. But when it was time to pick a college, Zinn wasn’t sure he wanted to go into the family business, so he headed off to a big East Coast research university.
“The classes at my previous college were very large, and I did not get to spend time with my professors. I never felt connected to anything,” Zinn recalled. “My father and uncle were both Northwood grads. I was a little reluctant because transferring to Northwood would be such a stark change, but the classes were smaller, and I got a lot more personal attention. I felt like I was part of a community.”
Zinn thrived in Midland, graduating just as the 2008 recession was impacting the auto retailing industry. He stepped into a role in his father’s business and immediately got creative. With most automakers and banks unable to provide financing to buyers, Zinn led a drive to convert customers from all the businesses’ dealerships into buyers of the one nameplate that was still able to offer loans. Sales soared, providing a jump-start to Zinn’s career.
Jesse Peterson also credits Northwood for getting his career off to a good start.
“The curriculum at Northwood is great, but the connections are what really make the difference,” said Peterson, 38, who is now president of three dealerships centered in Bismarck, North Dakota. “I loved the four years I spent there.”
Though his grandfather and father both owned dealerships, Peterson’s first job after graduating was with American Honda, allowing him to gain insight from the manufacturer’s side. Eventually, he went to work at his grandfather’s dealership in 2005, and he’s been there ever since.
“Bismarck is a beautiful, beautiful area. It’s a city of about 120,000 people, a lot like Midland in many ways. I love it here,” Peterson said. “My business partners and I would like to acquire some more stores. We’re always looking for opportunities.”
Unlike the other two honorees, Mark Foster, 36, didn’t have a relative in the business, but he did have a strong interest in cars. Two days after his high school graduation, Foster started working for his hometown dealership in Carrollton, Georgia, an hour west of Atlanta. The dealership’s general manager suggested Northwood, and Foster is glad he did. As domestic chair and vice chair of the Northwood Auto Show, Foster learned leadership skills that still serve him well.
“Learning how to convince your classmates to respect you enough to work for you and create a product that the locals enjoyed when they came to the NU Auto Show, that was valuable,” Foster said.
Foster also understands how to serve customers, and has been quick to adapt to their desire to do business online.
“The American culture has embraced a new thought process. Who has what I want, is it priced competitively, do they answer my phone call or email when I call them? And if you can answer yes to all three, you just sold them a car,” Foster explained. “It’s been very interesting to see how that thought process has changed every aspect of daily operations, from scheduling service visits to ordering parts to buying vehicles.”
The hometown dealership where Foster started has seen its sales double with him as executive manager. He’s been so successful that he and a partner bought the dealership this fall.