By: Gregory Archibald
I have the great honor to introduce you to Greg Sutliff, our January, 2019 featured entrepreneur. “Sutliff” is a name familiar to most individuals living in Pennsylvania. Many drivers across the state have purchased their vehicles from one of the Sutliff car dealerships or at the very least heard their catchy jingles over their radios as they cruise down the highway. Greg Sutliff, is just as well-known in the entrepreneurial community. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview him and gain insight into his views on the entrepreneurial mind and how to raise a successful business.
Greg Sutliff began working for his family’s business, Sutliff Chevrolet, in 1947. However, he did not move straight into the working world after graduating from high school. Mr. Sutliff graduated from Brown University in 1953 with his BA in Economics, and soon after served in the U.S. Navy until 1956. After his departure from the Navy, Mr. Sutliff attended Dickinson Law School and obtained his Juris Doctorate in 1959. By 1962, Greg Sutliff returned to Sutliff Chevrolet as the general manager of the company.
Entrepreneurs and law students who would like to represent entrepreneurs can learn from Mr. Sutliff. “…the law student needs to be able to fill in the blanks for the entrepreneur.” Click here to hear Mr. Sutliff elaborate.
A Valuable Lesson
“The first thing you need to know about is who you are.”
Throughout our interview, it became clear that Greg Sutliff was truly a man of “firsts,” and was not one to shy away from new ideas or advancements in the industry. In fact, he credits most of his success to being open-minded and adaptive. In the 1960s, Sutliff Chevrolet became one of the first car dealerships to have a computer for keeping track of payroll and inventory. As it was one of the earliest IBM models, no one had developed a program to complete such tasks. To solve this problem, Mr. Sutliff self-learned computer programming and programmed Sutliff Chevrolet’s computer.
In the 1970s, Mr. Sutliff brought an idea he had learned in law school to the automotive business. The “Last in First Out” (LIFO) accounting method, at that time, was not commonly used to organize automotive inventory. However, Mr. Sutliff felt that switching to the LIFO accounting method, though novel, may help his business. When he saw its success, he was quick to bring the new method to accounting firms and other dealerships in the area to allow them to share in the usefulness of his idea.
Hear it (and more) from Mr. Sutliff here.
The Entrepreneurial Mind
“The entrepreneurial mind is a sailing mind. You don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what the wind is going to be, but you figure it out as you go. You have a destination in mind, but the way you go today is not the way you go tomorrow.”
One key element to success that Mr. Sutliff shared was the importance of knowing not only your own skill sets, but also the skill sets of those around you. He was quick to admit that although he knew he was a strong manager, he was aware that he did not have the skills to work effectively in sales. As such, he knew from an early stage that it was important for him to find employees who possessed this skill set to not only sell cars, but to also teach other employees how to properly sell a car.
Early in his role as general manager of Sutliff Chevrolet, Mr. Sutliff came into contact with an organization that administered a type of workplace personality test that would indicate an individual’s work ethic, as well as the area of the company in which they would be most effective. Mr. Sutliff credits this test with a large portion of the company’s success. When he placed an employee in a position with the test results to back it up, he was confident that the employee would be a productive member of the company.
Watch Mr. Sutliff’s explanation here.
The Element for Success
What is most important? Honesty. “An honest man will not work for a dishonest man.”
When I asked Mr. Sutliff what separated successful entrepreneurs from the rest of the pack, his answer was simple: successful people make themselves different. New ideas happen every day in the business world, but it is the ideas that make a company truly stand out from their competition that provide the foundation for success. For example, Mr. Sutliff and Sutliff Chevrolet offered extended warranties on their vehicles, despite the fact that these same warranties were completely unprofitable for their competition. The idea was a simple one, but Sutliff Chevrolet stood out from the crowd because they made it work. Mr. Sutliff developed a system that allowed customers to prove that they had given their cars the proper routine maintenance. If the cars were properly taken care of, the warranty would be honored, and an inconvenienced customer would be transformed into a loyal client.
Watch the interview here.
“You need to have dedication. You need to have vision. You need to have a persona that will attract quality people to work for you.”
In addition to the original Sutliff Chevrolet location, Greg Sutliff has operated a Volkswagen store, a Buick GMC Cadillac store, a Cadillac Hummer Saab store, a Ford Store, a national car rental franchise, and helped to develop the Saturn brand. At its peak, Mr. Sutliff had five Saturn stores throughout central Pennsylvania, and sold more Saturn vehicles than all other franchises put together: approximately 48,000 total.
Mr. Sutliff has received the GM Dealer of the Year Award twice, and has presided as president of the National Chevrolet Dealer Council. Mr. Sutliff is a community philanthropist, and has consistently provided generous donations to United Way. Throughout his life, he learned how to sail and became an experienced pilot, all while raising a family.
Videos containing Mr. Sutliff’s great insights can be viewed through links in the above article.
This post was authored on January 5, 2019.
Greg Archibald, at the time of this post, is a second-year law student at Penn State Dickinson Law. He is from Central Pennsylvania and is interested in civil litigation. Greg is a founding member of the Business Law Society and is currently an Associate Editor of the Dickinson Law Review