Chris Saraceno has paved his way through the auto industry for 31 years. Today, he is a Vice President and partner of Kelly Automotive Group in Pennsylvania and Florida but his drive and skills make him much more than that.
Saraceno works with approximately 300 team members spread throughout five locations in Pennsylvania: Buick GMC; Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram; Mitsubishi and Nissan. He also works with Kelly Risk Free (pre-owned vehicle sales) and their Ford Dealership in Melbourne, Florida. He meets daily with the dealer, managers, directors and more, oversees operations training and ultimately works to make sure that the dealerships are staying aligned with the overall vision of the company.
“We focus on the people, the process and the procedures,” he says. “The growth of the company depends on that.”
Saraceno graduated from Kutztown University in 1984 with a degree in marketing and communication. Within months of graduating, Saraceno was offered a marketing job in Philadelphia, but decided not to take it.
“I was telling someone about the offer, but that I didn’t want to drive or move,” he says. “They suggested I try selling cars. I didn’t know a lot about cars technically, but he said, ‘You know people, Chris. You know people and you care about people.’”
That genuine care for the customer landed him a job in the auto industry immediately. Though Saraceno thought it was temporary at first, it’s become his life’s work.
“I looked at it like a competition,” Saraceno says. His background in wrestling, karate, power-lifting and competitive body-building throughout his sports career translate into his competitive spirit, something that defines how he leads his team. “I would look at someone and say, ‘If he can do it – why can’t we do it better?’”
Saraceno put his competitive spirit to work and learned from those around him. He befriended higher-ups in the company and prodded them for advice.
“It’s amazing how people will share knowledge when you ask them for help,” Saraceno says. “When leaders know you care and that you want to grow – most will help you.”
In 1997 Saraceno became Vice President and worked to develop consistent processes and procedures as well as a mission and value statement for the company. He also employs his own set of values each day.
“Iron sharpens iron,” he says. “You should surround yourself with great leaders – inside and outside of your industry. I have five mentors who guide me in business, financial management, spirituality, being a great father and being an exceptional husband. It’s been my philosophy since I was 22 and these are people I can go to in different parts of my life. Every successful leader has people on the outside coaching them to grow.”
In addition to leaders who help inspire and challenge, Saraceno relies on devoting time and effort to self-improvement.
“Never stop investing in yourself,” he says. “That doesn’t mean money, it means investing in knowledge and education. I believe you have to be semi-paranoid if you want to be great. You need to always think that someone else is out there working harder than you. You have to think, ‘What are the best doing right now?’ Are they leaving work early or laying in bed? No, they’re getting up at 5:30 and staying late. If you’ve got to work for 12 months straight without taking a break – you don’t feel sorry for yourself. What are the best of the best doing out there right now and how would they handle the situation?”
Saraceno also believes in the importance of managers giving those who work for them the tools they need to succeed. “The biggest challenge in the business is to hold people accountable,” he says. “But if you don’t give them the knowledge, tools or resources to get things done…my main job is to eliminate any legitimate excuse for them not to be successful. You don’t want an excuse for them not to be a standout.”
In addition to being VP of Kelly Auto Groups, Saraceno also speaks at events once or twice a year, is on several advisory boards and has been featured in publications and blogs including Dealer Elite and Auto Success, Dealer Magazine.
Saraceno’s words of advice apply to much more than just the auto industry. “You have to love what you do,” he says. “Never compare yourself or your team to average – always compare yourself to the best. If you perform, have a good attitude and are helpful to others – you will grow in most companies. The difference between an average life and a great life is this much (he motions with his fingers a quarter inch) – in everything you do. Get up earlier than the other person. Read that extra book, give that extra smile, say that extra hello. The little things people do create a different life. You have to be this much better in everything you do. It’s not one thing and there is no silver bullet. If everything you do is this much better – you go from being average to being a standout. In any area of life, if you want to be excellent – as a father, mother, brother, sister, athlete, business leader – do this much better in everything you do.”
Though not everyone believes the auto industry has the best reputation, Saraceno wouldn’t trade it for anything. “It’s a wonderful industry and I’d recommend it to anyone,” he says. “If you love competition and love to be pushed, love excitement every day – it’s the right business for you and Kelly is a great company.”