The Human Basketball
Robby Ellis is so valuable and multi-talented, employers have “bounced” him around from department to department to take advantage of his diverse skills.
ROBBY ELLIS DECIDED VERY EARLY IN HIS CAREER that to be an indispensable, treasured and invaluable employee, he had to know everything and be able to do everything – flawlessly.
He has carried that philosophy to every employer for whom he has worked. At times, it hurt him because he sometimes wanted to settle into a permanent position. But to take advantage of his diverse talents and skills, employers “bounced” him around from department to department.
In the long run, he’s benefited greatly from it. At the age of 31, Ellis is considered by seasoned automobile industry veterans as a gifted manager who can do everything at a dealership from selling new and pre-owned cars to structuring deals and handling finance.
Ellis is a lot like a football player who can play quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and even kick field goals. Or the basketball player who can play the point, shoot from the outside or blast past defenders off the dribble. Or the baseball player who can play infield, outfield and even jump behind the plate if necessary.
He’s the guy everyone wants on their team.
If The Shoe Fits?
While attending college, Ellis worked at a department store and developed a close friendship with a co-worker who was always driving into work in sleek European cars.
“I figured, ‘I can do this this too,'” Ellis recalls. “‘I should also be doing this.'”
At the time, Ellis was breaking sales records – in, of all places, women’s shoes.
Once, a recruiter from a competing store observed Ellis juggling a few female customers. She was highly impressed with his patience, tolerance, knowledge of the product, and his kind, helpful demeanor. She waited for him and told him that she wanted to recruit him.
But Ellis had already made up his mind – he was going full-time into the automobile business.
“My buddy told me, ‘If you can break these kinds of records selling women’s shoes, you can sell BMWs and Mercedes easily.'”
Later that day, Ellis drove to nearby Cerritos Auto Mall and checked out the different car manufacturers. He wanted to work for BMW or Mercedes, but he decided to take it slow out of the gates and work with Toyota.
He was quickly hired and his success was immediate. He did so well, in fact, that in a short while he was able to purchase the car he wanted – a Mercedes Benz.
When he was buying his new vehicle at House of Imports in Buena Park, Calif., he dealt directly with the store’s General Manager, Steve Kwak.
“I was really impressed with Robby right off the bat,” Kwak says. “I told him, ‘If you can buy a Mercedes by working at the Toyota store, you’d do very well here.'”
Surprisingly, Kwak presented Ellis with a verbal offer: if he left Toyota, Kwak would hire him.
Ellis was speechless.
As he drove to work in his new Mercedes to show his friends and colleagues, Ellis was excited.
“I was not only driving a new Mercedes but I had just been offered a job to work there too,” he says.
When he arrived at the dealership, his first stop was to see the General Manager.
“I’d like to go and sell Mercedes,” Ellis told him.
The GM burst out laughing. “You don’t have the experience to sell Mercedes,” he said.
Ellis paused for a moment – “then I dropped the bomb on him,” he says with a shy smile. “I already have a verbal offer.”
His GM was red-faced.
His new GM was elated.
“As a General Manager, part of my job is to spot talented people, and Robby is exactly that,” Kwak says. “He blew me away with his personality, knowledge, maturity and experience.”
Ellis was only 21 years old at the time. “Yet, he has the sales ability, professionalism and humble personality of someone much older,” Kwak says.
“I had never before offered someone a job like that when they were actually buying a car from us,” Kwak says with a laugh. “That’s the first and only time. That tells you what a special talent Robby is.”
Ellis joined the dealership in November 2004 – the pre-holiday time of year that is traditionally somewhat weak for car sales.
Not for Ellis.
“He came out of the gates swinging,” Kwak says.
The last two weeks of that rainy November, Ellis sold 12 vehicles.
“My friends at Toyota didn’t believe me,” Ellis says with a smile. “They were complaining that no one was coming in to buy, that the rain was keeping them away. I told them, ‘Well, I’m doing pretty well here.'”
The next month, Ellis did even better – doubling his sales and income.
“I was on top of the world,” he says, glowing. “It was more money than I knew what to do with. It was crazy.”
What was even crazier was Ellis’ work schedule and work ethic. He was working a ridiculous number of hours.
But that’s the penalty he had to pay for being so motivated, talented and diverse.
He was originally hired in sales, yet rapidly learned and mastered other important areas like finance.
“I was doing a little bit of everything ? they began calling me the ‘human basketball,'” he says with a laugh.
“One day I was on the floor selling, the next day I was in finance, the next day I was structuring a deal or overseeing the pre-owned car division.”
It’s no different now at Jaguar Land Rover Anaheim Hills, his current employer – and it was no different at South Bay Mercedes or Land Rover Encino, where Ellis worked prior to coming to Orange County.
At House of Imports, Ellis worked his regular shift in the morning and afternoon, and then stayed in the evening to work in finance. Sometimes he’d be there as late as 10 or 11 p.m. – and sometimes midnight. Once, he was there until 3:30 a.m.
“He might as well have just stayed there and welcomed in the service department employees at 6 a.m. with coffee and donuts,” Kwak says with a laugh. “He was basically working two jobs at once, sometimes three at once. And he did it all on his own. No one asked him to.”
During one ungodly stretch, Ellis worked 90 consecutive days – three consecutive months – without a day off.
“What can you say about someone who works that hard?” Kwak says. “His work ethic is incomparable. He has the right mentality. Unfortunately, that’s a rare characteristic in most people. Luckily for Robby, he has it.”
Ellis’ work ethic comes from his father and brother – “they are super hard workers who make things happen for themselves,” Ellis says. “They don’t wait around for something to be handed to them.”
Even as a teenager, when he’d go out with friends on a Friday night, Ellis would be up and ready to go to work at sunrise on Saturday morning.
“First in, last out,” he says. “I’ve always prided myself on that.”
Ultimately, Ellis got tired of “bouncing” around from department to department. He wanted to settle into one position. His No. 1 choice was finance.
He asked Kwak to assign him to one full-time position in finance or he’d have to consider looking at other opportunities.
“I couldn’t lose him,” Kwak says.
So Ellis became one of the country’s youngest Finance Managers for one of the largest Mercedes dealerships in the country.
He had reached the summit.
“It was a very special moment in my life,” he says.
He spent several years as Finance Manager and still being very young he decided he wanted to explore opportunities outside Orange County. He wanted to go back to LA, where he grew up.
He didn’t plan to leave the luxury vehicle line. But where would be land next?
Ellis heard about an opportunity with Land Rover Encino.
Land Rover? Ellis hadn’t worked with the brand before, yet he knew it well.
“It is one of those unique cars that stands out,” he says. “I liked that.”
He hadn’t been in a Land Rover in years. When he was doing his research on the vehicle in preparation for his interview at Encino, he climbed into a new Land Rover and was surprisingly amazed.
“I loved it,” he says. “It was ultimate luxury in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. I felt it was the best car I’d ever been in.”
He learned everything he could about the vehicle and brand – and it showed during his interview with General Manager Linda Terashita.
“He blew me away with his knowledge, experience with high-end vehicles, his professionalism and his overall presence,” she says. “I couldn’t believe he was that young and so mature compared to other managers I had previously hired. I was a little hesitant to hire him for such a high position because of his age, but in the interview he sold me.”
Ellis’ experience with Mercedes was key for Terashita.
“He knew both the Mercedes and Land Rover brands extremely well,” Terashita says. “I liked the fact that he could tell a customer why a Range Rover can do so much more than a Mercedes even though the cost of the vehicles are about the same.”
What a great strategy. “It is,” she says, “but I didn’t think about it at the time. It turned out to be a great plus. Robby knows all the high-end car lines, so any time someone is shopping Mercedes, Audi or BMW, he knows everything about them. He’s a real car geek. He knows them all and he loves the Land Rover brand the most, so he can easily convert them.”
Terashita conducts weekly Knowledge Training exercises, where members of the sales staff walk around a Land Rover and talk about its qualities, capabilities and style. Basically, it helps perfect their sales pitch to customers, increase their knowledge of the product and improve their ability to speak publically.
“This shows you a lot about Robby: numerous times a sales person would struggle during the walk around yet instead of embarrassing them, which some Sales Managers have done in the past, Robby would slowly walk over and basically take over the walk around without hurting their feelings or embarrassing them,” Terashita says. “Every time he did that, the sales person responded by learning the product better – and it’s all because Robby knew the product so well and handled the situation so professionally and thoughtfully.”
Terashita was distraught when Ellis informed her he was leaving.
“I tried to talk him out of it, but considering what our store was going through at the time and what he was offered, it was the right move,” Terashita says.
Both Kwak and Terashita want Ellis back, but it’s highly unlikely he’ll be going anywhere.
“I’ll be hiring him back one day,” Kwak says confidently. “It’s only a matter of time.”
To which Anaheim Hills General Manager Sven Larson replies with a smile: “That time will never come. Robby is here to stay.” – By Rick Weinberg, Editor, California Business Journal.