Learn more about ATD Truck Dealer of the Year Nominee Bill Reilley, Jr.

ATD logoLate last year, the American Truck Dealers (ATD) announced the nominees for its 2024 Truck Dealer of the Year Award. Sponsored by Procede Software and Trucks, Parts, Service, ATD's Truck Dealer award honors dealer executives for their for business and industry leadership, business success and involvement leading in their communities. 

Since early January, TPS has shared in-depth conversations with this year's seven nominees, detailing how they found their way to the truck dealer business, how they've navigated the industry, their efforts to lead their businesses and more. These conversations are leading up to the announcement of the 2024 ATD Truck Dealer of the Year Award, which will be announced Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, at the ATD Show in Las Vegas by Procede Software CEO Larry Kettler and TPS Editor Lucas Deal.

Our next dealer to be featured is Bill Reilley, Jr., president and CEO at Lakeside International Trucks.

Bill Reilley, Jr., ATD Truck Dealer of the Year nomineeBill Reilley, Jr., Lakeside International Trucks; ATD Truck Dealer of the Year nominee

How did you get into the truck dealer industry? 

My exposure to commercial trucks and the transportation industry began when I was 18 years old. In 1984, after 22 years with the manufacturer, then known as International Harvester, my father marked a pivotal point in his career by acquiring an International dealership in Milwaukee, Wis. From that first point of exposure forward, International trucks and the world of transportation have been embedded in my life.

During my college years, I supported my father in the dealership, embracing a multitude of roles that started humbly with building maintenance/janitorial duties and detailing used trucks, further advancing through positions in shipping/receiving and parts delivery. As time progressed, I began expanding my exposure within the dealership operations, interfacing with customers as a parts counter sales representative, outside parts sales representative and creating and executing marketing strategies aimed at increasing parts and service sales. These roles helped develop my knowledge of the business and industry from the ground up. But also helped shape my appreciation for the value of each position within the dealership and how each comes together to ultimately serve the customer. 

I pursued my own path separate from Lakeside after acquiring my bachelor’s degree in 1989. I embarked on a career with the manufacturer, Navistar International, starting with a management training program and then being assigned as a dealer development manager covering Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa, and then later the Chicago market, while my father continued to expand his business with Lakeside International Trucks. As he began to build the business and establish a market presence, in 1994, the opportunity arose for him to acquire an underperforming market in southern Wisconsin. It was at this time my father recruited me to join his business, taking the lead role in starting Lakeside’s second location in Racine, Wis.

How have you risen in the industry and your company to reach where you are today?

After graduating college, I started my professional career with the manufacturer, Navistar International, starting with a management training program and then being assigned as a dealer development manager covering Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, and then later the Chicago market, as my father continued to expand his business with Lakeside International Trucks. As he began to build the business and establish a market presence, in 1994, the opportunity arose for him to acquire an underperforming market in southern Wisconsin. It was at this time my father recruited me to join his business, taking the leading role in starting Lakeside’s second location in Racine, Wis.

The Racine market acquisition was a ground-up effort as we didn’t have a dealership facility, employees, or a customer base to build from. Taking charge of the role, I assembled a lean, yet effective team. We implemented a strategic plan that culminated in the creation of a dealership. This location, continuing today as a successful cornerstone of Lakeside International Trucks, stands as a testament to our collective efforts, marking not only the success of this business, but also serving as just the initial chapter in my journey in a leadership role at the dealership. 

After establishing the business in Racine, I assumed additional responsibilities as the overall needs of Lakeside International Trucks evolved over the years. I functioned as a versatile "journeyman manager," seamlessly adapting to various roles and addressing emerging business needs as they unfolded. As we advanced in our dealership acquisitions, I took on leadership roles across diverse facets of the business, serving as the used truck manager, parts manager and general manager for recently acquired underperforming International dealerships in West Bend and Random Lake, Wis. I later became general manager of the largest dealership in the largest market in the state of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. 

During my early tenure at the dealership, in 1996 my father took the formal initiative to approach Navistar, seeking approval to designate me as his successor. The request was granted, paving the way for the formulation of a comprehensive and strategic long-term succession plan. In 2010, I assumed the role of president, and during that pivotal year, our company experienced additional growth acquiring the Madison, Wis., market — the second largest market in the state — and establishing our first out-of-state dealership in Rockford, Ill.

Beginning in 1996, in alignment with the company's succession strategy, I increasingly acquired an equity position in the business through a blend of corporate and personal achievements. This strategic journey culminated in 2021, as I purchased the remaining equity interest in Lakeside from my father, assuming full ownership of the enterprise and assuming the roles of chairman, CEO and president.

[RELATED: Learn more about ATD Truck Dealer of the Year Nominee Brian O'Donnell]

What do you like most about being a truck dealer? 

One of the motivating and most appealing aspects of our business is that it is constantly changing. If you ever think you have everything “figured out,” you quickly realize you don’t, as the world of medium- and heavy-duty truck dealers is always changing. 

The most recent three years, and the next three years have been and are sure to continue to be among the most dynamic in recent history â€” navigating through the post-COVID environment, including supply chain challenges, manufacturer allocation, the emerging world of electric and alternative fuel vehicles, declining used truck values, the impact of CARB and EPA regulations, challenging labor pool and staffing shortages, interest rates, understanding AI and how it can impact our business, just to cite a few. 

It can be exciting, at times stressful, and often exceptionally rewarding to work through the process of identifying challenges and opportunities, setting strategic direction, building and implementing plans ultimately focused on improving our business. Candidly, it’s not for everyone, but the life of a truck dealer is dynamic and full of constant challenges which makes every day interesting and exciting. 

Describe your leadership style. How do you pilot your business? 

I find the ever-evolving nature of our industry to be one of the most compelling aspects of being a truck dealer. In this dynamic world of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, change is constant. No matter how adept you may become, there's always more to learn. Over the last three years, and projecting into the next, we've navigated significant shifts — the post-COVID landscape, supply chain challenges and related manufacturer allocation, the rise of electric and alternative fuel vehicles, fluctuating used truck values, regulatory impacts, labor shortages, rising interest rates, evolving technological advancements like AI and more. 

This environment may at times seem discouraging, but I thrive on these challenges. It's a blend of excitement, occasional stress and immense satisfaction in tackling these dynamics. Identifying opportunities amidst challenges, setting strategic courses and executing plans that enhance our business. This is what drives me. Admittedly, this path isn't for everyone, but the challenge and energy of a truck dealer's life keeps each day interesting and invigorating. 

My approach to â€śpiloting” our business is rooted in structured discipline, refined over the years. We establish a comprehensive financial business plan constructed â€śbottom-up,” by individual departments and locations. Once approved, these plans cascade down to personalized goal-setting throughout the organization. Everyone understands our company's objectives, their role within it and how their contributions shape our success. We constantly revisit our progress, identifying hurdles and adjusting course regularly, at minimum on a monthly basis. In this, my role is to guide this process, ensuring we have the right people in the right roles and equipped with the necessary resources. 

Moreover, my active engagement with employees, customers, and vendors is fundamental. To illustrate, in 2023, I engaged directly with over 60% of our truck customers, fostering relationships and collaborating with our sales team in the field. I firmly believe in leading by example and understand the pivotal role a strong market and employee presence plays in our success. 

What do you believe is the most important skill for a truck dealer? How have you cultivated that skill?

The most crucial skill for a truck dealer is undeniably leadership. It's often considered cliché, but it simply captures the critical traits such as leading by example, staying engaged and accessible to employees, customers, and vendors and empowering my team to succeed by providing resources, guidance, and autonomy.Leadership isn't just about one aspect; it's a combination of many vital qualities. I firmly believe in self-motivation, setting clear goals, fostering a positive mindset and encouraging work/life balance. This, in turn, sets the tone for my team to push boundaries and achieve our objectives.

Organization plays a pivotal role; I strive to structure clear guidelines and leverage technology to streamline processes, enhance efficiency and ensure everyone understands their roles.

Delegation is essential. By empowering my team with responsibilities based on their strengths, I foster a sense of trust and ownership among them.

Communication is at the core. I build relationships, share visions and actively listen to my team, encouraging their input and resolving issues effectively. Integrity and responsibility guide my actions; I hold myself accountable and uphold ethical standards transparently, fostering a culture of excellence.

Effective goal-setting drives my team towards milestones and continuous improvement. I encourage calculated risk-taking, fostering an environment where innovative ideas are valued. Curiosity stimulates innovation; I constantly seek new information, asking questions to uncover opportunities and drive creativity.

Interpersonal skills are paramount. Active listening, empathy and clear communication foster trust and respect within the team.

[RELATED: Lakeside International Trucks celebrates 35 years; announces charitable program]

Lastly, self-awareness helps me understand my strengths, weaknesses and motivations, ensuring grounded decisions aligned with our values and goals.

Over the years, I actively sought various developmental opportunities to enhance my skills, including participation in the ATD Dealer Academy from 1997 to 1998, the Navistar-sponsored "Executive Development Leadership Program" at UCLA's Anderson School of Management from 2007 to 2009, and the "Leadership at the Peak" executive program at the Center for Creative Leadership in 2014.

How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?

We are in an environment where all truck manufacturers offer reasonably, competitive products today. Some have areas where they may have a perceived slight advantage. But essentially, it’s a pretty level playing field with equipment.

What I believe separates manufacturers and dealers alike is what happens after the truck is delivered to the customer and their experience. As in any relationship, challenges will arise. And to me, what really defines and distinguishes meaningful and valuable business relationships is when there are challenges and how we respond to them. Lakeside is committed to and has regularly demonstrated our commitment to customer satisfaction. We very intentionally approach relationships with customers, and I would extend that to employees and vendor relationships alike based on trust, responsiveness and bringing mutual benefit. I believe we are structured to be nimble, with a capable staff who is empowered to make timely decisions and, ultimately, are driven very simply to do the right thing.

Lakeside International further differentiates itself from its competitors by having advantages of scale while simultaneously maintaining a relationship-driven, family business environment. Operating eight dealerships throughout Wisconsin and Illinois, Lakeside is large enough to invest in infrastructure to support market-leading customer service.

Throughout Lakeside’s growth, Lakeside has maintained focus on what has always driven its success — relationships with both customers and employees. Lakeside’s staff is comprised of nearly 40% of our employee workforce with over a decade of tenure. This is the result of significant efforts to be the employer of choice in the market, and Lakeside’s focus on supporting the growth and success of its employees. This tenure-driven continuity is also one of Lakeside’s most significant assets; Lakeside’s customers know that Lakeside is a place of stability and that their relationships with Lakeside and its employees have value. Lakeside’s team knows its customers and is focused on honoring these relationships with urgency and responsiveness.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

The most challenging aspect of my role isn't any singular issue; rather, it's navigating a business environment filled with countless demands and opportunities. Distractions in the form of potential growth opportunities often surface, requiring a discipline to always remain focused on our core business.

It's imperative to uphold the best interests of both our customers and dedicated employees while remaining aligned with the company's long-term objectives. We're constantly faced with investment demands, requiring diligence to identify areas that promise the highest return on investment, ensuring our resources are channeled appropriately.

One of the dynamic aspects of business is its perpetual evolution. The appeal lies in its constant state of transformation. This ever-changing landscape requires adaptability, a willingness to pivot, and the recognition that having everything “figured out” is an illusion. The challenge, and at the same time excitement, stems from this perpetual change, where adaptation is the key to sustained growth and success.

How does ATD help you run your business?

ATD plays a pivotal role in providing resources to help shape and guide our business rather than aiding its day-to-day operations.

Through the annual ATD Performance Measurements Guide and ATD Workforce Study, we leverage comprehensive data to assess our business performance, market positioning and the alignment of our workforce compensation and benefits. These tools are integral in evaluating our standing and charting our strategic course.

Personally graduating from the ATD Dealer Academy, I've experienced firsthand the value gained from the program's in-depth knowledge and practical application across various facets of our business. By sending key team members, including current participants and planning for future attendees, we ensure a continuous influx of expertise and strategic insight.

The ATD Dealer Attitude Surveys, particularly with manufacturers and suppliers, are instrumental in identifying areas for enhancing relationships and aligning strategies. My involvement in the International dealer council has highlighted how seriously manufacturers take these survey results, driving collaborative improvements in our interactions.

Finally, whether it be lobby efforts for the repeal of the outdated Federal Excise Tax, the aggressive EPA/CARB emissions and electric vehicle adoption mandates before us, ATD’s efforts regarding the legislative and regulatory affairs currently facing our industry serve to both promote and protect the interests and vital importance of truck dealerships across the country.

Why do you believe you were nominated for the ATD Truck Dealer of the Year Award?

I attribute the nomination for the ATD Truck Dealer of the Year Award to our persistent commitment to excellence across various dimensions of performance. Our financial performance stands out notably within our industry, consistently surpassing benchmarks and achieving positive results compared to our peers.

Lakeside’s distinction in representing the International brand, reflected in our recognition by Navistar as one of their perennial, top-performing dealers in North America in terms of customer service, market share, and commitment to ongoing investment and growth, acknowledges our credibility and commitment to continual growth and investment in serving our customers.

Beyond business metrics, I also believe people in the industry and our local communities recognize and acknowledge Lakeside’s focus on being leaders and active participants to help improve the world we operate in. We’re very involved in the local communities we operate in, dedicating our time and talents and financial resources to local charities. Me, along with several key staff members, are continually involved in the industry, serving on many of our manufacturer's advisory boards, committees, pilot dealer programs, along with broader industry-related engagement at the state, local and even national level including examples such as trade associations, technical schools and elected representative engagements.

Equally significant is our dedication to fostering a positive work environment, as evidenced by our high staff retention rates and best-in-class scores in employee satisfaction surveys. We prioritize engagement and empowerment within our team, reflecting a culture that values and supports its members.

Moreover, our reputation as an organization built on integrity resonates strongly with our employees, customers, and partners. Integrity isn't just a value we promote but a principle woven into the fabric of our operations, guiding our actions and interactions consistently.

The combination of our financial performance, brand recognition, commitment to our team and community, and our unwavering integrity collectively positioned Lakeside for consideration for this prestigious recognition.

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