Dallas Clement | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Growth and Momentum in the Automotive Industry
By Karen Rosen
Tom Hanks uttered the famous line, “There’s no crying in baseball,” but Dallas Clement takes it a few steps further with his family motto: “No Crying. Be Helpful. Go Fast.”
Clement, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Cox Automotive, was in a league of his own while growing up with three younger sisters – and no brothers – plus four cousins who were all girls. He and his wife, Anna, are now raising four daughters ages 19, 17, 14 and 12.
Clement plans to put his observations about life in such female-centric households into a book, with the family motto as the title.
For now, it’s printed on 16-ounce plastic tumblers and put into practice every day.
“I’m looking for momentum wherever I can,” Clement says. “No crying, no whining, no complaining – just get up and go.”
That may sound tough, but Clement clarifies that it’s just shorthand for championing action, intention and mindfulness, a philosophy he also follows in his work life.
Clement has spent almost his entire career as man of action at Cox Enterprises. After 21 years on the cable side of the business with Cox Communications, Clement transitioned to the automotive side about four years ago.
Cox Automotive, the corporate home of such well-known brands as Manheim, AutoTrader and Kelley Blue Book, is the industry leader in marketing and remarketing automobiles. The largest automotive marketplace and leading provider of software solutions to auto dealers and consumers, Cox Automotive unites more than 20 brands in providing an end-to-end solution that is transforming the way people buy and sell cars.
Clement’s responsibilities span the enterprise, including heading the finance, legal, real estate, technology, strategy and corporate development functions. About 24,000 people work under the Cox Automotive umbrella in 150 locations worldwide, generating $5 billion in revenue.
“We’re the leader and it’s a very dynamic industry, so we’re fortunate in that we get to chart the path for many of these areas,” Clement says. “I feel very comfortable that we have a variety of growth paths available in front of us and it’s up to us to go out and execute.”
Clement says Cox Automotive’s largest revenue business is Manheim, which registers nearly 7 million used vehicles annually, facilitating nearly $46 billion in transactions.
“It’s the most mature,” Clement says. “The smallest right now is software and pretty close to that is financial services. Both of those are very high growth. And then media, which has a much bigger footprint, is somewhere in between.”
Clement says that in the retail car buying process, there is a shopping phase, a negotiation phase, a transaction or contracting phase and finally a delivery phase.
“For the last many years, what has happened on the Internet is largely the shopping phase,” he says.
To enable future growth, Clement says, “We’re looking at what elements of the negotiation or what elements of the transaction phase can be brought online with the goal of providing more transparency to the consumer. At the same time, we’re bringing more automation to the dealer, trying to take costs out of the dealer’s process so the dealer can be more successful.
“Dealers are our biggest customers and if consumers can be smarter in terms of what they want and be more precise, they waste less of the dealer’s time in order to transact a deal.”
Cox Automotive partners with more than 40,000 dealers, as well as most major automobile manufacturers, and touches more than 67 percent of all car buyers in the U.S.
Clement isn’t a “car guy,” even though he’s now immersed in the industry. Born and raised in Sarasota, Florida, he swam competitively for eight years, stopping at age 14 to focus on racquetball. Clement achieved a Top 20-ranking in the U.S. in the 18-and-under division.
He graduated from Harvard, where he initially majored in mechanical engineering.
“Before I went to college I thought college was all about getting a job,” Clement says. “Therefore I thought it was more about getting a vocational degree of some sort. Engineering was a practical major.
“After two years at Harvard, I realized that college was more about learning how to think, problem solve and communicate and less about the vocation.”
Following his sophomore year, Clement took a year off, much to the consternation of his parents and high school friends.
“They were saying, ‘Are you stupid? Graduate from Harvard, get a good job. What are you doing?’”
He began his year off with a summer job with Burroughs Corporation programming computers in southern California, then attended the London School of Economics in the fall, taking classes in philosophy and economics.
Clement went on to become a ski bum in Aspen, paying his expenses by waiting tables in one restaurant and working as a bar-back in another.
He took a summer job at Florida Power & Light in the planning division before returning to Harvard for his junior year.
“My parents bragged more about my year off than the fact that I graduated from Harvard,” Clement says. “They liked the variety and it was learning and real life.”
Clement changed his major to applied math and economics, which utilized the math classes he had taken already. He also played on the squash team, learning a new sport since racquetball wasn’t popular up north.
After graduation, Clement cut his teeth on finance in New York. “I followed everyone down to Wall Street,” he says, “and worked for Merrill Lynch in investment banking and hated it.”
Clement returned to school, pursuing a master’s degree in engineering-economic systems at Stanford.
He plotted his next move by reading the paper and noting which articles interested him: business and media communications.
Clement had a job offer from Viacom when he was approached by a company he’d never heard of: Cox Communications.
He interviewed on May 18, 1990, got an offer in two days and accepted on May 22. Four days later Clement was riding his bike back from classes – determined to finish his degree before starting work – when he was hit by a car.
“I flew over the handlebars into the windshield,” Clement says. “My head got slammed down into my body.”
With a compression fracture and two broken vertebrae, Clement was in traction for a week. He took his finals while wearing a halo vest. He still has a little numbness in two fingers, as well as some weakness in his right triceps, but can play squash and ski.
All three of his sisters flew out and helped him move.
Clement says he chose Cox because the job was more interesting than working in Viacom’s treasury department and he preferred Atlanta to New York.
“At the time, I hadn’t done anything for more than a year, and so I fully expected I’d come here, I’d do it for a year or two, three years max, and then I’d go to my next thing,” he says.
Clement thought he might go to law school at Florida and become an attorney in Sarasota.
Instead, he never left.
Clement’s first job title was policy analyst in the cable division, but he had no day-to-day responsibilities. He was the go-to guy in corporate development and business development.
He worked on re-regulation issues in the cable industry, interfaced with the Blockbuster unit on budgets (Cox was the third largest franchisee at the time) and was the cable division liaison to McKinsey, which conducted a review of Cox Enterprises.
“Cable was my business,” Clement says. “It was interesting because it was sort of media, it had the technology piece to it and it was growing. It had some complexity to it because of the regulation. It was entrepreneurial and it was fairly small back then.”
After an agreement to merge with Southwestern Bell fell through, Cox, which had been interested in buying Times Mirror’s cable access, made an offer that hinged on going public – and won.
“From Memorial Day 1994 to Feb. 1, 1995, there were 100 things to do to close that deal and become a public company,” Clement says. “My boss, the CFO, did the 20 most important items and I did the remaining 80.”
After going public, Clement was director of finance and investor relations. He was briefly assistant treasurer of Cox Enterprises and then treasurer of Cox Communications. From 1995 to 2000, Cox Communications did about $10 billion worth of transactions, including big investments in wireless and Sprint PCS, Discovery and high speed internet with At Home.
“We probably invested $1.5 billion into these businesses that at one point were worth anywhere from $18 billion to $19 billion,” says Clement.
At that time, the cable business was launching three high-speed platforms: digital video, digital voice, and high speed internet, with each spawning a raft of new products. Clement was asked to take over strategy and development, which became product development and then product management.
“We were sort of making it up as we went along,” said Clement, who held the role for 11 years and led Cox’s early wireless strategy.
In 2004, Clement received the National Cable Television Association Vanguard Award for Young Leadership.
That same year, Cox Communications went private and Clement’s mentor, CEO Jim Robbins, retired in 2005.
“The business was starting to slow down, my mentor was gone and it was a little less fun,” Clement says.
He was so focused on his job that he hadn’t paid much attention to what was happening elsewhere at Cox.
In the summer of 2010, Cox sold 25 percent of AutoTrader.com to Providence Equity, and the two companies made a number of acquisitions. After a national search, they knocked on Clement’s door to become CFO and executive VP of AutoTrader Group, the business that would ultimately become Cox Automotive.
While navigating his new industry, Clement may not use the applied math he learned a Harvard, but he does use the problem-solving.
“I’m dyslexic, and so in school I found that the way I learn was to approach problems five different ways,” Clement says.
He does the same in business. “It also helps me to appreciate that I may have to explain things differently to people who come to the problem from different vantage points,” Clement says.
In meetings, he’s typically the one asking all the questions, which Clement claims is one aspect of being a geek.
Far from avoiding the label, Clement and four friends from Sarasota called themselves The Geeks growing up and still get together once a year on “Geek Weekend.”
Another aspect of being a geek, Clement says, is that he finds technology fascinating. “Ten years ago I never would have thought about a 3-D printer, but now you can actually own a 3-D printer and I own one. Today you can own a drone, and I own a drone.”
But he says they’re just fun toys and he doesn’t have much time to play with them.
A 2006 graduate of Leadership Atlanta, Clement serves on several boards, including the Atlanta Beltline Partnership and the Technology Association of Georgia.
He and Anna live in Buckhead with daughters, Courtney, Abby, Lauren and Dallas, who is not a “junior” because she has a different middle name. The girls played Tophat soccer and Clement coached them “up until the point in time they said, ‘Dad, we want a real coach, rather than you,’” he says.
But no crying, he’s still helpful, attending their games and taking mental notes for his future book.
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