A selection of books read by Cardinale employees.
At Cardinale Group of Cos., more than 800 employees participate in a book-study program aimed at inspiring them, both professionally and personally.
“It’s really more of a mentoring program than a book club,” said Erich Gail, CEO of Cardinale Automotive Group, part of Cardinale Group, of Seaside, Calif.
“It’s a call to action that fulfills our brand promise to develop outstanding relationships where everybody wins. We want to inspire our associates to be better men, women, employees, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters,” he said, “and books touch the full gamut of everything that is possible.”
Management initiated the program in 2010 as the company was emerging from near bankruptcy in the wake of the Great Recession. Gail said members of the senior management team are voracious readers but realized employees weren’t benefiting from what management learned. “We all love to read, but we weren’t sharing all the gold we were finding,” he said.
Since then, everyone in the company is required to read the same book, one every three months. Employees take notes about what they read every week — an important step because writing down concepts greatly improves comprehension and retention, Gail said.
Cardinale employees meet weekly to discuss what they’ve read.
Employees then meet once a week in small groups for one hour to share what they’ve learned. A different person leads each meeting. “We do a couple chapters a week — break it down into digestible bites,” Gail said.
The books are nonfiction and generally inspirational in nature: The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon, The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn, The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber, The Mulligan by Ken Blanchard and Outrageous, Contagious Joy by Ed Young, to name a few. “Our criteria is that the book must electrify your life,” Gail told Automotive News.
The company — which owns 16 new-car dealerships and sold 18,437 new and used vehicles in 2016 — spends about $40,000 a year on books in audio, digital, hardcover and paperback formats. Sometimes the company orders books straight from authors and publishers because local bookstores or distributors can’t always fill an order for 800-some books, Gail said.
Why is attendance at book meetings mandatory? Gail said if it wasn’t, participation would dwindle eventually. As he puts it, “What’s easy to do also is easy not to do. If we let up on it, sooner or later, life would get in the way.”
What transpires during book-study meetings often is emotional and deeply personal. Gail said many employees read the books with a spouse, which improves their relationships and brings them closer to their families. They also say the books make them feel more impassioned about their co-workers.
“We want to inspire our associates to be better … and books touch the full gamut of everything that is possible.”
Erich Gail, Cardinale Automotive Group
“These kinds of things happen every week,” he said. “It’s amazingly gratifying. There’s a lot of hugging and a lot of crying — in a good way. Some people find themselves holding back tears because they’re in a place that’s exciting and scary at the same time. To touch someone’s life like that is a gift so amazing that you can’t even fathom it.”
Moreover, the books give employees a common language that transcends job titles and departments. When a general manager walks into a service department, for instance, a mechanic who runs computer diagnostics all day might not know what to say. But the books give them a rapport that otherwise might not exist, Gail noted.
Most employees embrace the book-study program, but not all. Gail said some employees have left the company because they don’t like being required to read a book, write a short weekly report and attend meetings. “Some people are just in CAVE mode: Constantly Averse to Virtually Everything,” he said.
But the benefits outweigh losing a small number of employees, he said. While it’s difficult to quantify how the book-centric approach impacts the company’s bottom line, Gail pointed out that sales associate turnover is half the national average of 67 percent. In addition, the average number of vehicles sold per associate per month is 10, which is higher than the national average of seven.
While Gail conceded he can’t say for certain that the book program alone accounts for those statistics, senior management believes it adds intrinsic value. For example, Gail said, there’s no question that it helps employees align more easily with new corporate initiatives because everyone is in the same frame of mind, week after week.
But in the end, it’s less about business and more about enhancing employees’ lives. “An organization whose sole purpose is to line the owners’ pockets is a lifeless, soulless place to work,” Gail said. “We want to be a wonderfully inspiring place to work. This program isn’t a magic pill or a magic bean. It’s just a heart-centered thing that we do to touch as many lives as we can. And it has taken on a life far beyond what we ever expected.”