Member Spotlight on Wagner Martins: Brazil, Balance Sheets and Breakaways

To say that Brazilian native Wagner Martins likes soccer is an extreme understatement.

After all, Seleção Brasileira, the country’s national football team has won the FIFA World Cup championship a record-breaking five times and is regularly ranked among the world’s best. So of course, he’s a proud fan and supporter.

But his respect for the game transcends mere fandom. As a volunteer coach for two youth teams at the FC Fusion soccer academy, he sees the game as a great training ground for handling life’s challenges with fairness, fellowship and cooperation.

“If I’m not at work or at church, I’m at the soccer field,” he says. “Both our kids are on separate teams (Eric, 15 and Esther, 13), and I coach both. I’m mindful that competing successfully is about more than just running breakaways and winning. It’s about getting to know them and dealing with them as a person, not just a player. If they’re not performing as usual, I try to help them figure out what might be bothering them, what’s affecting their mood and mindset. I see my role as being a mentor as well as a coach.”

His passion for people comes from his deep and abiding faith.

After a four-year stint as an MP (Military Police) in the Brazilian Air Force, he packed his rucksack and moved to Texas to attend the Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, where he earned his ministry license and master’s degree in theology. His subsequent missionary work over the past 15 years has taken him all over the world. “Spain, Portugal, Mexico, all over Europe and many African countries  – wherever there was need, that’s where I was.”

He also spent a decade in the food-service industry with Ohio-based international restaurant chain Wendy’s. “I started in 2001 flipping burgers and rose to store manager,” he smiles. “It was a lot of hard work but a lot of fun, too.” But in 2009, Wagner was one of many caught up in a company-wide series of layoffs.

So, on the advice of his wife Ana, (17 years of wedded bliss!), he had a long chat with his father-in-law, Miguel Gonzalez, who has worked at Park Place for 18 years as of this writing. Impressed by what he heard, Wagner applied for a valet position at Lexus Plano, scored an interview and was hired the very next day.  He rose through the ranks quickly, working in areas of increasing responsibility such as the loaner car department, cashier, lead generation and inventory.

Thanks to his Wendy’s managerial experience and familiarity with accounting functions (along with his natural facility with numbers), he moved into an accounting role. In 2015, he was tapped to bring his expertise to the corporate office and he now works as manager in the Accounts Receivable and Payable department.

In this current role, his team keeps an eye on more than 400 AR accounts to ensure correct and timely payments, as well as posting all transactions from the dealerships on a daily basis, assisting with invoices and repair orders, wire transactions, and many other functions.

“Every day is a fun challenge,” he says. “I might field 15 to 20 calls a day. It might be a client, or a parts vendor and every one of them is important. Sometimes reaching a resolution might take just 2 or 3 minutes, or maybe a half-hour. Sometimes I look up at its already 2 p.m. I love that. It makes for a busy day but a rewarding one, too. I like solving problems.”

What he likes most, though, is the Park Place culture.

“You feel like you’re part of a family,” he says. “Everybody helps everybody. The spirit here is really special and not found at other companies.”

In his rare spare time, he takes comfort in reading the Bible and listening to gospel music, especially Hillsong Worship, an Australian Christian music group.

He also professes an abiding fondness for any of the Brazilian steakhouses in and around town. “The meals are always a terrific celebration,” he says. “I really enjoy taking the family. It’s where I feel most close to home. And the food’s great!”

Member Spotlight on Becky Ashcraft: Imagination and Expertise Galore

“I’m a nerd,” admits Becky Ashcraft, Financial Business Partner for Park Place Motorcars Fort Worth. “I build Legos, love anime, can’t sit still and obsess about details.”

You mean like Sheldon Cooper, the fictional Caltech physicist and ardent comic-book fan on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory”?

“Exactly!” she exclaims gleefully, picking up and waving one of the dozen or so plastic grinning skulls decorating her desk. “See what I mean? I like weird stuff! Any questions?”

Actually, yes, we’re fairly bubbling over with curiosity. But first, a point – while nerds generally lack social skills, this Fort Worth native and West Academy graduate is lively, outgoing, animated, direct and generally a super-fun person to hang out with. Consider her email signature: “Have an Awesome-Tastic Day!”

Given her joie de vivre, it’s easy to see why she was hired the same day she interviewed with Park Place. “Back in 2006, a friend of a friend called and suggested I apply online for a valet gig, which I did, and I got a call two hours later for a same-day interview,” she recalls. “I still had chlorine in my hair from the pool, but I showed up and got the job. It’s my husband’s birthday, so not a date I’m likely to forget.”

She moved quickly into a loan car coordinator position, then was promoted to an accounting inventory specialist role, then a title specialist, then a billing specialist, then a Business Coordinator. She just recently accepted her current role as a Financial Business Partner.

Her eye for detail is positively Holmesian, which is a very good thing in her line of work. “We’re a two-person team and we double-check every little thing to complete the sale. It’s like a puzzle, putting together all the pieces correctly to get the final result,” she says.

Sort of like … a Lego puzzle?

“Yes, but not nearly so complex,” she says with a grin. “I got into Legos with my son, but he was a bit too young. However, I got hooked. Just recently, I finished the Lego Disney Castle, which took a year, believe it or not.” (We believe it – even expert modelers quail at the set’s 4,000 pieces that, when completed, stands 30 inches tall and features a stone bridge, ornate balconies, a four-story main building and a five-story, golden-spired main tower.) “It’s in our home’s entryway for all to see! I’ve built about 50 different sets so far.”

Next up – a 13-inch-tall Yoda. At a mere 1,771 pieces, it should be a breeze.

Her fascination with complex puzzles extends to her taste for fantasy in literature and popular entertainment. She favors Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” book series and Marvel Studio movies. Recently, she found herself caught up with “Bleach,” a Japanese anime TV series and was bereft when the 366-episode series concluded.  

“I love immersive supernatural stories, especially in anime format,” she says. “Fighting dragons, magic, mythology, all that stuff. The skulls, too. I started collecting them about ten years ago. They’re all over my office. For holidays at home, we put little seasonal caps on them. What else do you call that but nerdy?”

How about imaginative? Or eclectic? Or a wildly funny sense of humor? Or maybe, just maybe, she’s one of the millions of people worldwide who admire brilliant storytelling?

“Yeah, let’s go with that,” she laughs.

In fact, “creative” might be Becky’s best descriptor. Few know this – and you read it here first! – but she’s also a championship dancer. Ballet pointe, jazz, tap – you name it, she can twirl, kick, shimmy, shake and glide like a pro. Because she is.

“I was part of the Bruce Lea Dance Factory competition team,” she says. “We performed at Miss Texas pageants, Las Vegas shows, conventions all over the country. That was my life every weekend for 14 years. I don’t do it anymore, but it’s like riding a bike, it never goes away. Every now and then, you might even catch me doing a few steps here in the hallways.”

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about Becky might be her food preferences. “I’m a picky eater,” she says. “I eat less than my child. My tastes are simple – meat, cheese, potatoes. I like tacos with beef and cheese only. Pizza with no sauce. My husband makes the best hamburgers in the world. And I’ll stand in line at Joe T.’s for their cheese quesadillas. Very simple, really.”

But there’s no puzzle about why Park Place is her perfect fit. “It’s my home away from home,” she says. “I love this place. Everybody knows my family, my husband, my 13-year-old son, even my parents. It’s trite to say, but it’s a family. And since I only live three miles from here, I can’t complain about the commute. What’s not to like?”

Member Spotlight on Monroe Sims: The Power of Kindness

 

It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. If that’s so (and it is), then Monroe Sims is easily its most accomplished and natural practitioner. There’s not a phony bone in his body.  

In his role as valet and team lead with Park Place Motorcars Arlington, it’s Monroe’s beaming face many clients are likely to see when dropping or picking up their vehicle on the service drive. Well, maybe not his face, since everyone’s masked nowadays. But the smile that crinkles his eyes is unmistakable.  

“I just try to be personable,” he says. “I want every person to know that I’m here to help and do whatever I can to take care of them.” 

Monroe hails from Monroe, Louisiana, but no, he’s not named for the place. Nor was his father, also Monroe, nor was his uncle Monroe. “Sure would’ve been convenient though,” he chuckles.  

A student at Northeast Louisiana University (now University of Louisiana Monroe) with a major in personnel management, he served in the U.S. Air Force for four years in communications, which saw him travelling regularly between Shreveport, La., Phoenix, AZ and the country of Taiwan. He was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant, and immediately stepped into a global reservations role with American Airlines, later Sabre Holdings Corporation, a subsidiary of American Airlines.  

“I applied with American in Phoenix and the Air Force allowed me to train for six months while I was still on active military duty, which was rewarding, wonderful and an honor to serve,” he says. “I really enjoyed my time in the Air Force, even if I didn’t get to fly anything!” 

A Corporate Life

The American Airlines gig started his 39-year career in corporate life. After a year in Phoenix, he was transferred to Los Angeles as a reservations instructor, which then led to a gig training travel agents on the Sabre system up and down the west coast. Within a few years, he was managing the Northern California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii regions. His efficiency got him noticed by leadership and he moved to Sabre’s headquarters in DFW, then Tulsa, then back to DFW, for roles with increasing management responsibility and high-level project management. 

“We negotiated with the phone companies to get our circuits into different locations so that customers could run the system,” he recalls. “We worked with companies that wanted to get on our platform, which meant running down all the technical requirements and interfacing with our engineers to make sure we could build the system correctly from concept to test to implementation. We spent time testing with more than 250 people with Miller Coors (now Molson Coors) and implemented in just two weeks. It was really intense but we had a great time.” 

He’s a tad less upbeat when he reflects on all the international travel he had to do. “I don’t miss those callouses from briefcases, or the blur of hotels and meetings. But my wife Anita and I love to travel now for pleasure.”

He rode the corporate merger-and-acquisition phase in the early 21st century, such as when AMR sold its share of Sabre Holdings to Plano-based EDS in 2001. Six years later, EDS bought more than 90 percent of Sabre’s remaining assets. Two years after that, EDS itself was acquired by HP.  

Through it all, Monroe stood tall, making it through one restructuring after another. But by 2014, the handwriting was on the wall and he took a retirement package. “Twenty-five years with AMR and another 14 with HP,” he says. “Not a bad run!” 

New Beginnings

For a year, Monroe and Anita, focused on family. Their daughter, an Air Force sergeant, was deployed to Afghanistan. Her husband, also in the military, was sent to Europe. Caring for their one-year-old son fell to Monroe and Anita. “Most fulfilling work I’ve ever done,” he reflects. “And it wasn’t work, it was pure joy.” In all, they have seven grandchildren and feel obliged to spoil them all. 

But he still yearned for something to do (and cheerfully admits that Anita wanted him out of the house). In 2015, he noticed that Park Place was building a new facility in Arlington just three miles from his home. He applied for, and got, a job.  

And he almost revels in the next question: “You went from being a big-time corporate hotshot to … a car dealership valet?” 

“I love it!” he roars with laughter. “It’s customer service, which is a natural fit for me, I’m in my element. I did the corporate world and didn’t want that anymore. I’m outside all the time, no meetings, no reports, no travel, no late hours, and I’m working with a younger generation of people, which is good for me. I enjoy our camaraderie here, love helping create exceptional client experiences and being an advocate for the company. What can I say? It works well for me!” 

It most certainly does. In early February 2021, he was part of a select group of only 324 store management and front-line team members (out of 8,000 team members nationwide) to be named a 2020 winner of Asbury Automotive Group’s stock equity awards.  

“To be seen as a contributor to our success is just astonishing and humbling,” he says.  

In his spare time, he and Anita usually try to make a major trip somewhere cool. They loved their Greek island cruise and he calls their trip to the Holy Land the “most rewarding of our lives.” But he admits that the most fun was, of all places, Montana. 

“I’d always wanted to go, so Anita booked it as a gift to get it out of my system,” he recalls. “She didn’t really want to go but after our three days was up, she couldn’t bear to leave! We also took a quick to Utah which was great. South Dakota is next, once it’s okay to travel again.”  

“The most important thing that lends to the success of any business is relationship-building, and Monroe has a Master’s degree in making others feel special in our dealership,” says Park Place Motorcars Arlington General Manager Malcolm Gage. “The first day I met Monroe when I came over to Motorcars Arlington, I was treated as if I were a longtime friend that he hadn’t seen in a few weeks, and his attitude exuded positive energy that is just infectious. Our clients love Monroe and he’s well respected by his team members, and we all need someone like him in our lives right now. We are very fortunate to have him on our team!”

Member Spotlight on Sydney Archer: Mobility is in Her Genes

“Even though I pretty much grew up around cars, being in the business wasn’t part of my plan,” confesses Sydney Archer, Sales Experience Manager (SEM) at Park Place Jaguar Land Rover Grapevine. “My dad owned Nebraska’s number one Hyundai dealership. When I was little, I was always underfoot somewhere and once I was old enough, he put me to work!”

Given that Archer is what’s commonly referred to as a “go-getter,” it was a wise move on her dad’s part. She jumped right in, creating and then nurturing the dealership’s online presence, as well as managing their DealerRater page (to those in the industry who know, that’s a really big deal). She also pitched in with driving customer engagement numbers across a variety of communication channels and liaised across departments, gaining a broad understanding of what makes the business tick.

And that, in a word, is communication. Good thing, then, that her B.S. degree from Fort Worth’s TCU (Go, Horned Frogs!) is in Communication Sciences.

“I’ve always been interested in literature and the theory of communications,” she says. “I like knowing how to communicate with people, why we communicate the way we do and creating a feeling of hospitality to help make a person comfortable.”

After graduation, she did a few gigs unrelated to the automotive industry – banking and travel – but her dad suggested that, given her wealth of industry experience, she look for something she had an affinity for. A stint at a local North Texas dealership confirmed his (once again) sage advice and prompted her to seek a company that “was as committed to exceptional experiences as I was.”

Given the ubiquity of Park Place locations throughout the DFW area, she didn’t have to look far. She joined in June 2019, initially serving with the internet sales group and then transitioning to the sales floor this past March – just in time for the pandemic.

That’s when that “go-getter” thing kicked in yet again. Quarantine or no, she says she’s having a “great year, with lots of referrals,” and credits the brand strength of the two venerable British marques she represents.

Does she have any favorites?

“Jaguar’s done an outstanding job of carrying through their racing and luxury heritage with the F-Pace,” she says. “It’s not at all typical of an SUV in that it handles more like a cool, sporty vehicle. But my personal favorite is Land Rover’s Range Rover Sport. It handles unbelievably well and really turns heads. They’ve also just released the Defender, which looks really tough and is completely different than anything out there. It’s rugged off-road but also extremely well-equipped and frankly, one of the smoothest vehicles I’ve ever driven.”

As fun as the vehicles are, though, she admits that the best part of her job is the people – clients as well as her fellow team members.

“I enjoy meeting new people and creating lifelong relationships,” she says. “Our brands are very aspirational, and it’s really cool to help someone get their dream car and share how they feel when they see their hard work pay off.”

“Any dealership can say they put the customer first, but Park Place really carries through,” she continues. “We don’t have to get permission to do the right thing. Today’s buyers want a personal approach and they’re not looking at me to sell them. We’re all here to help clients make the right choice, with no pressure whatsoever. It’s a great feeling.”

She recalls one particularly memorable sale. “Remember, I’m just a kid from Omaha at heart. An internet buyer from California was looking for a very exclusive Range Rover model. At first, I wasn’t really sure if this person was legit, but they’d been looking for this exact vehicle and we were the only ones in the country with it. We did the whole deal via text and phone, then sent paperwork to Ibiza where the client was vacationing, then shipped the vehicle to San Francisco. It was wild!”

Speaking of destinations, Archer is a dedicated traveler and looks forward to getting back out there. “I’m sort of a type A personality, but anywhere with a beach, red wine, a nice patio and a fire pit is my kind of place,” she laughs.

Chief among her travel delights – cuisine.

“We had to cancel a trip to Cabo San Lucas, which has a great food scene that nobody knows about if you get away from the tourist areas. Believe it or not, there’s a great Swiss fondue place there. And the Italian food! My boyfriend of six years makes fun of me because I say you can get the best Italian food ever right there. Lemon cream pasta is my favorite.”

Pasta? How do you stay so skinny?

“Pilates!”

Member Spotlight on Germaine Ambres: Practicing What He Preaches

Given that Germaine Ambres serves as New Car Sales Director for Park Place Volvo, you’d expect that his home driveway might display the Swedish brand’s latest and greatest.

You’d be partly right.

“My wife Sekolia and I are really true to the brand in that we tend to hold onto our cars. We like paying them off. She’s got a 2013 S60. We’re all like that at our store. Besides,” he adds, “it’s a Volvo, it’s barely broken in!”

Ambres certainly puts Volvo’s much-vaunted reputation for durability and reliability to the test: he drives his company-provided XC90 about 80 miles roundtrip to work every day. His solution for not going bonkers – hands-free phone calls, audiobooks, and music (he likes WRR, where fellow Volvo team member Kurt Rongey once served as Operations and Programming Manager).

Or he just muses.

“In fact, just yesterday I was noticing all the other dealerships I pass by on my drive and thinking how fortunate I am to be with Park Place,” he says. “Leadership’s commitment to creating exceptional client experiences is real. And Donny (Lambrecht, Park Place Volvo General Manager) fosters a genuinely warm family feeling at our store. We all have a great time. It’s fun coming to work.”

Fun? At work? Well, sure, if you define fun as frequent, boisterous outbursts of laughter. “We’re all professionals but perhaps, every once in a while, we might be slightly guilty of acting like a bunch of over-sugared fifth-graders,” Ambres admits with a grin. “But we’re highly responsible fifth-graders!”

The Houston-born Ambres knows a thing or two about responsibility. While at Lamar High School, he was extremely active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization, and then attended Houston Baptist University, graduating with a degree in biblical counseling.

He joined a Toyota dealership for a year, serving as part of their internet team. “I really enjoyed it,” he says. But several clients told him that he “really should take a look at Park Place, it’s more your kind of place.” So in 2007 he took a good long look, and it was most definitely his kind of place.

“The people and the brand sold me and it’s been home ever since,” he smiles. “The best part of my job is connecting with clients. Just last week, one of my very first clients came in and seeing the same faces is just awesome. We bring out the best in each other. It’s really a case of the right people in the right place for the right motives. Neat chemistry!”

In his rare spare time, he loves to cook. “I’m Cajun by ancestry, so I like making creole and gumbo, real southern comfort foods. But I also love Italian! I make a mean lasagna. In fact, I just spent $70 on ingredients – only the best meats, cheeses, a good cabernet in the sauce, and oh boy, it’s really worth the investment.”

He’s also active in his church, and finds that his degree is helpful in his volunteer couples counseling services.

So yeah, he’s a busy, cheerful and involved guy. But what many of his clients, and even some of his team members may not know, is that after college graduation and before entering his chosen profession, he leveraged his degree into several tours of missionary work.

“To say it was eye-opening is an understatement,” he says. “We visited St. Petersburg in Russia and various villages throughout India, and those experiences changed my life. We ran pioneer camps where we’d feed Russian kids who had nothing. They literally relied on us for meals. And then to view the opulence of the czars, who put gold on top of their castles while their people starved, was intense. In India, we helped desperately poor people and to look into their eyes …” His voice trails off at the memory.

“The point is that people are people everywhere, and it’s both humbling and an honor to be of service,” he says. “And you can serve others anywhere, through all your routine daily interactions. Serving with honesty and true humility is the highest calling of all.”

Member Spotlight on Van Patthana: A Client Becomes a Member & Untangles Tech’s Mysteries

We’ve all been there – you’re driving along, minding your own business, when your reverie is disturbed by a sudden beep or a flashing dash light. Or maybe your nav system starts giving you the silent treatment. Or you’re enveloped in a shimmering light and beamed onto an alien spacecraft.

Okay, so maybe not that last one. But for the other stuff, Van Patthana’s your go-to guy to sort out the mysteries of today’s sophisticated automotive technology, no appointment required.

“All the advanced electronic features can be a bit overwhelming for clients, so we’re here to help,” says Patthana, one of two Lexus Technology Specialists at Park Place Lexus Grapevine. Clients can call, email, text or simply drop in at any time, no appointment necessary.

Patthana says that about 75 percent of client questions are fairly straightforward – “Why is my smartphone not pairing?” “How do I navigate the nav system?” “Why is my alarm yelling at me?” The other 25 percent might require a little more research, but those are the questions he loves. “Half the time, we can resolve the issues right on the service drive without sending the vehicle to the shop, which saves everybody time,” he notes.

Patthana’s knowledge is the result of certification in a variety of learning modules taught at the Lexus Training Center, Southern Division, conveniently located in nearby Coppell, Texas. “It’s a hidden gem,” he says. “We get trained on vehicles before they’re released to the public, which is pretty cool.”

The North Texas native (Watauga) came by his automotive inclination at an early age. “I’ve loved cars for as long as I can remember. Built them from Legos, always had Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars underfoot, and I guess I never grew out of it,” he says with a grin. His family vehicles were always Toyotas, and his aunt and uncle drove the Lexus brand, which caught his attention and, he admits, never let go.

He joined Park Place Lexus Grapevine as a valet in 2014 because he was familiar with Park Place from a client perspective. “I bought my first car, a pre-owned 2006 IS 350, from Walter Onubogu, and compared to what I saw elsewhere at other dealerships, it was the best experience ever. Park Place sets the standard. Seeing how they did things inspired me to ask for a job.”

Last year, he was inspired to ask for something equally momentous – the hand of his lady, Fern, in marriage. “She and her parents are from Laos and were visiting her aunt and uncle and other acquaintances here,” he recalls. “We met, started hanging out as friends and one thing led to another. When you know, you know.”

The newlyweds recently took a quick getaway spin to Austin – in their Lexus LS 460, natch – to indulge their shared passion for cuisine. A quick summary of their two-day itinerary:

    • New Fortune Chinese Seafood Restaurant
    • Tumble22 Nashville – “Twice because it was so good!”
    • 68 Degrees Kitchen Italian Cuisine
    • Fleming’s Steakhouse and Wine Bar
    • Red Ash Italian Restaurant

And of course, Buc-ee’s in Temple, because, well, it’s Buc-ee’s and requires no explanation.

They’re also fans of dance music, specifically as mixed by rising superstar DJ Gareth Emery. “He’s coming out with a book funded on Kickstarter titled ‘My Life In Lasers: A Dance Music Memoir.’ Can’t wait,” Patthana enthuses.

Other interests? “Cars, dance music and food, that’s about it. I’m a simple guy,” he shrugs, then adds with a chuckle, “My wife says that about me all the time.”

One final work question – What’s the best part of your job?

“Without sounding silly, the best part is helping clients,” he says. “Some have said ‘you’ve made my day,’ or ‘we’d be lost without you.’ It’s a good feeling.”

Member Spotlight on Kirsten Jackson: An Extroverted Introvert or an Introverted Extrovert?

Kirsten Jackson – Extroverted Introvert? Introverted Extrovert? Both? Neither?

It’s a dilemma. Is Kirsten a live-wire loner or a shy social butterfly? She seems to think she’s a little of both. “Sometimes at meetings or social events, I’m extremely quiet at first,” she says. “But then some comment gets me going and you’ll wish I shut up.”

Then she lets out one of her rollicking laughs – a Jackson trademark – and you pretty much realize that she’s the only one who thinks she’s a shrinking violet.

“Kirsten bashful?” snorts a co-worker, his face breaking into a giant grin. “She’s about as bashful as a hand grenade. Don’t say I said that, we all love her, really,” he adds hastily. 

Too late.

In fact, when she first interviewed with Park Place, the perky Dallas native was the essence of bubbly enthusiasm – just what the hiring manager was looking for. But for the first few initial meetings, she defaulted to demure mode.

“My boss asked me if I’d faked my interview, but I was new, you know?” Kirsten says. “I just started laughing and said okay, you’ll be sorry. But I always remember what my high school history teacher at Franklin D. Roosevelt High said: ‘It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.’”

If she’s quiet now and then, it’s because she’s naturally calm. Given her job as a payroll specialist, that’s a good thing. “In my job, I put out fires, because people tend to get hot when it comes to their check,” she says. “And I get it, it’s perfectly understandable. So I just say, ‘Let’s calm down, everything is fixable, I promise I’ll fix it.’”

She credits her calm demeanor to being raised an only child. “I never had to deal with all that ‘he took my stuff or open the bathroom’ nonsense. I’m the calm one in the room. Even if sometimes my body language might say what I’m not verbalizing!”

When she’s not verbalizing, she’s planning. “A personality test said I fell into the planner category and that’s so true,” she says. “Honestly, I have more fun planning a party or an event and buying all the stuff to make it a success, than I do at the actual event.”

If you were a personality on a TV show, who would you be? “All the characters on the ‘Golden Girls’ TV show,” she enthuses. “It’s my favorite show of all time, I watch it every day!”

She joined Park Place in 2012, after six-year stints in HR at both the Mervyn’s department store chain and Dallas-based Truco Industries, a national marketing and distribution company representing On The Border® brand products. She got caught up in a layoff and, as she cast about for a new gig, Park Place hit her radar.

“All I really knew about Park Place was that my mom got her car there,” she says. “But once I was on board, I found the behind-the-scenes dealership dynamic fascinating. And the people! It’s hard to describe the culture but it just feels so right and comfortable.”

To say the feeling is mutual is an understatement. In a recent email exchange, Cam Mayfield, Service Director at Park Place Motorcars Dallas, wrote to her and said, “I just want to take a second to recognize you, Kirsten, for the incredible job you’ve been doing! You have really done an amazing job teaching all of us the new payroll process. We are fortunate to have you are on our team. Thank you!”

Malcolm Gage​, General Manager, Park Place Motorcars Arlington, added to the love-fest: “I agree 1000%! You have been a superstar for our members during this transition and the challenges that we’ve faced. You are truly a VIP for Park Place and the epitome of our core values. Thank you for all you do!”

Elisa Waugh, HR Director, Park Place Dealerships, also weighed in. “I second that. Thank you, Kirsten, for all you do.”

And that pretty much sums things up right there.

The Road to Excellence: Park Place Dealerships

Over the past three decades, Park Place Dealerships has become a well-known automotive choice for clients to purchase, service or repair a vehicle in Texas.  Established in 1987 with a single Mercedes-Benz dealership in Dallas, Park Place added a Lexus dealership in 1991, along with Porsche in 1995. Distinguishing their employees as “members,” the company developed a reputation for a world-class client experience. Creating events that gave guests an inside look at new vehicles while supporting causes important to the community, Park Place established itself as a company with a big heart.

“Park Place is grounded on the principle that we are looking to cultivate a relationship, not just sell someone a car,” explains Tony Carimi, Park Place Dealerships Managing Director. “We strive to develop a relationships where we truly understand a client’s automotive needs. In fact, we’ve provided vehicles for multiple generations within a family because we developed that trust with the initial client.”

Park Place’s success has been built on a continuing commitment to their members and delivering exceptional client service. Many of the Park Place members have been with the company for more than 10 years because they love where they work, and they genuinely care for their clients and fellow members.

“I started with Park Place in 2002 as Service Director at the original Mercedes-Benz store,” said Carimi. “No matter a member’s title or position, they are the Park Place experience for our clients. That cannot be duplicated by any other company. We can never forget that our clients have a choice where they buy and service their vehicles.”

The luxury automotive group credits their core values as helping to build the company’s brand:

Unwavering integrity

In its most simplistic form, Park Place members do the right thing because it is the right thing to do… no matter what. A technician found a pouch full of cash while servicing a car. He immediately contacted his supervisor, and the pouch was put in a safe. The next morning the client called frantically looking for a “package” he’d left in his car. The pouch contained $50,000, and not a single dollar was missing.

People Passion

Park Place members passionately care about their clients, communities and fellow members. Frequently, clients report that a member has gone above and beyond to take care of them. It runs throughout the company from the moment someone walks into a dealership. Personalized interactions with the sales, service and collision centers, create an unparalleled experience.

Owning It

Park Place empowers members to make decisions to take care of their clients. There’s no handing someone off to a supervisor because the member has the authority to make a situation right.

Grit

Members have the strength and character to remain optimistic and provide resolutions to challenging situations. That has never been tested more than over the past year as the dealerships were defined as “essential services” during the pandemic. Members take care of clients based on their individual needs and circumstances.

“It all comes back to our people,” emphasized Carimi. “We don’t just hire people with automotive experience. We hire people for their passion and servant’s heart, then we train them for success. And that means ongoing training throughout the year for every member to ensure their personal and professional success.”

Park Place Women in Automotive *Disclaimer: image was taken pre-covid*

Many of the company’s leadership development classes are led by senior executives, with 90% of its managers being promoted from within. Park Place established a Women in Automotive Council to mentor and encourage their female members.  Women hold positions at the highest levels, including parts directors and service directors, as well as sales, F&I and human resources managers.  The company has been named to the Dallas Morning News “100 Best Places to Work” list for 10 consecutive years.

Over the past 33 years, Park Place has supported hundreds of non-profits through grants, in-kind donations, event sponsorships, and unique experiences. Park Place Cares supports philanthropic efforts in the arts, medical research, children’s advocacy, and education.

Park Place employs more than 1,400 members and operates eight full-service dealerships, representing nine luxury brands including Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volvo, Jaguar, and Land Rover. Park Place BodyWerks Collision Centers in Fort Worth and Dallas, and the Park Place Auto Auction, round out the company’s offerings.

Member Spotlight on Mark Kelley: A Technoid of All Things Mercedes

 

“I’ve been obsessed with Mercedes practically my whole life,” says Mark Kelley. “And I never imagined as a kid that I’d be doing this for a living.”

“This” is his gig as a Product Specialist with Park Place Motorcars Dallas. In a nutshell, his job is to familiarize himself with all the ins and outs of every Mercedes product – no small task, given the company’s expansive portfolio – then share that knowledge with clients who might have questions about their model’s advanced technology and performance.

He also shares his expertise with team members to help them understand a particular vehicle’s features and functions. In some cases, that might mean diagnosing and explaining an electronic application – a nav system or alarm feature, perhaps – that eliminates the need for a service drop-off.

“Sometimes we can solve an issue right in the service driveway without having to take the vehicle in,” he says. “Saves a lot of time.”

He joined the dealership just a year ago as part of the concierge team. But his infatuation with learning all things Mercedes quickly led to his current role, which also includes actively posting (along with his buddy Joni Tsosie) for the store on social media.

“She’s everything a good co-worker is supposed to be,” he says. “Super-kind, always has new and original ideas. We complement each other well and I think we’re a really good team.”

He recalls his first days at the store with unbridled enthusiasm. “On my first day, I was handed the keys to an AMG GT 63 S for a client delivery and was thunderstruck. This environment is just a dream for a car nut like me. It’ll never, ever get old.”

Recounting his fascination with cars, the southeast Kentucky native admits that when he was younger, Corvettes and the Italian breeds were his thing. But even then, he always admired the style, power, luxury and storied history of Mercedes.

Then he got to ride in the legendary SLK55 AMG, with its hand-built 5.5-liter V-8 cranking an impressive 415 hp, mated with the silky-smooth seven-speed automatic transmission.

And that, as they say, was that. “To say that my impression was lasting is a huge understatement,” he laughs. “It’s been Mercedes, Mercedes, Mercedes, ever since.”

As to the thorny issue (for car nuts, at least) of what his favorite Mercedes product is, Kelley pauses, then whistles. “That’s really difficult, but I’d have to say the Maybach. The execution, the tech, the luxury, the performance – it has no flaws. It’s perfection.”

In his spare time, Kelley’s a fancier of anything outdoor-sports related, such as hiking and playing disc golf, a game that involves Frisbees instead of the traditional clubs and little white ball. The degree of difficulty, however, is similarly frustrating. “I try,” he says with a sigh.

One thing he misses from Kentucky – homestyle chicken and dumplings. “I’ll get a hankering, but nobody knows how to do it in Texas. I’m still looking, though.”

He also says he’s into all kinds of music. “Country, pop, and a lot of the stuff from the early 2000s, like Britney, NSYNC, Destiny’s Child, TLC and Backstreet Boys. “Kind of weird, but I like it,” he grins. At the moment, he’s into “Midnight Sky,” the latest single from Miley Cyrus’ upcoming album. 

Hey, bet she sounds really good coming through the 26 speakers of the Maybach’s Burmester® High-End 3D Surround Sound system.

“I’ll let you know,” he chuckles.

Member Spotlight on Kara Connor: The Epitome of Exceptional

Kara Connor can be forgiven if, every once in a while, she sounds a bit out of breath. “I just got asked to run downstairs and help someone with …”  (Fill in the blank with any of the hundreds of business activities at bustling Park Place Motorcars Arlington.)

She’s what’s known as a “multipotentialite,” which is a multisyllabic mouthful that describes someone with particularly strong intellectual or artistic curiosity who displays aptitudes across multiple disciplines.

To her credit, she cracks up at the lofty description, then dismisses it with an always-ready smile. “We’re a team, and we all pitch in when we can,” she says. “It’s just the way we’re wired.”

The Mansfield, Texas, native seems to pop up all over the place – greeting clients at the welcome desk, running down a service question, fielding calls and emails from local media, as well as other sundry and myriad daily activities. All that’s in addition to her official duties as General Manager Malcolm Gage’s Administrative Assistant and Mercedes Benz Certification Program Coordinator.

“Kara is truly an asset and an integral part of the Motorcars Arlington team,” says Gage. “Her positivity and accommodating attitude toward our members, and her dedication to the dealership’s community marketing and presence, proves that she is truly the epitome of Park Place core values.”

The gregarious Connor graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in (not surprising) Public Relations, and remains a staunch Red Raider fan. After graduation and a brief stint with the marketing team at a commercial construction company, she got wind of an opportunity at Park Place, wangled an interview and (also not surprising) was hired immediately.

“That was 13 years ago,” she marvels. “I served as a marketing coordinator for eight years, mainly handling community relations and dealer events but also anything that sailed over the transom. It’s a great team. In fact, the person who now heads up Park Place marketing, Anam Ali, was my intern! We talk all the time! It’s cool to see how far she’s come and deservedly so.”  

Five years ago, her growing family (she and her husband Tim have two equally super-active kids, 10-year-old Cade and six-year-old Quinn) prompted her to reassess her schedule, which often included late-night promotional events. Aware that the then-new Arlington location would be seeking qualified people, she was emboldened to request a lateral transfer in order to take advantage of the location’s proximity to home and hearth.

“That’s yet another great thing about Park Place,” she says. “The family-first concept is a paramount priority. So when the opportunity arose to make a change, everyone was encouraging, positive and happy to help.”

The switch allowed her to direct more energy to her family’s life – she’s president of her school’s PTA – while still doing the work she loves for Park Place.

As an example, she worked with the Park Place marketing team to create a “Summer Road Trip” video series with Gage as host. Her behind-the-scenes energy is apparent.

In her rare spare time, she’s a big reader and admits to liking “chick flicks” as well as thrillers. She’s also a fan of social media but tries to limit its use at home. “It’s really easy to go down that rabbit hole for hours,” she says. “But it’s important to show kids that you don’t need to be on a device all the time. Even in these times, personal interaction is paramount.”

The same is true of how she approaches her job. “The people and the relationships I’ve made throughout the years gives me a real sense of satisfaction and fulfillment,” she says. “Our standards of integrity, a passion for people, owning it and grit aren’t just words on a poster,” she says. “I agree with them and try to live by them, because I think they’ll take you far. The sense of team, family priority, belonging and contributing – they’re all here and it’s just wonderful. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”