Scott Krenz, Asbury Automotive Group’s CFO, leads with a fondness for academia, studies and mentorship.
By Nancy Flagg
While majoring in history at Northwestern University, Scott Krenz had every intention of continuing on to a PhD degree in history and becoming an academic. Along the way, he was advised that there was “absolutely no demand” for history majors in the job market.
That advice planted a seed in Krenz’s mind, and before long he made a sharp U-turn into an MBA program at Tulane University. Perhaps it was not quite a full U-turn away from history, though, because while at Tulane he worked for a professor who studied history—that of accounting.
Focusing on People Over Numbers
Through Krenz’s association with this professor, a kernel of interest in accounting was sown; upon graduation, Krenz landed a job with the Ernst & Ernst public accounting firm. Krenz soon realized, however, that numbers in and of themselves were not that personally intriguing. Rather, “people are what make business infinitely fascinating,” he said.
There are “not many business problems which are intellectually challenging,” Krenz said, chalking his great challenges and thus interest to team dynamics and getting people working and communicating together. “If it wasn’t for them, it would otherwise be pretty boring.”
After a short stint in public accounting, Krenz entered the business realm and came to work for Electronic Data Systems Corp. as Treasurer. During his nearly 20 years there, he refined his knack for understanding people and for creating great teams.
“No matter how smart you think you are or how hard you work, you will fail if you don’t have the right people in the right places supporting you,” Krenz said, noting that 95 percent of building a great team “is in the assembling.”
His two key ingredients for amassing a successful group: selecting doers and fixing wrong people choices immediately.
Krenz says that he knows a lot of really smart people who never seem to get much done. When he picks someone for his team, he looks for doers—the people who make things happen. “Doers are rare,” said Krenz, and when he finds them, he snatches them up.
The second ingredient is being able to admit when he has made a mistake in member selection and taking swift action to correct it. Most managers, according to Krenz, neglect to deal with their mistakes, resulting in long-term team performance issues.
Moving from Middle to Senior Management
Over the course of his career, Krenz found that moving from middle management to senior management was one of the toughest transitions he faced. “The nature of the job changes radically,” he said, because “everything you do is done through other people.”
A senior manager’s role involves advising on company strategic decisions and managing the people who will bring company oals to fruition. Krenz says that once he became a senior manager, he would go home and tell his wife, “I was darn busy today, but I have no idea what I accomplished.”
Oftentimes middle managers fail when they shift into a senior management role, Krenz explained, because they do not understand the mindset adjustment needed. A senior manager must be attentive to a multitude of issues, but he or she can only spend a fraction of time on each. Too often, though, new managers become what he calls “serial managers” who get deeply involved in one topic and then another. By focusing on only a few things, “everything else goes to hell in a handcart,” Krenz said.
Engaging in Career Management
Middle managers and staff who want to move up in the ranks should know that “career management is a full-contact sport,” Krenz said. It is not enough just to do a job well and hope that opportunities will come: A person has to actively manage his or her career, starting with deciding what he or she wants to be. Krenz is “amazed at how many people don’t really sit down and consider what they want in life.” People tell him they want to be Chief Executive Officer (CEO) or Chief Financial Officer (CFO), but he finds that they do not really understand what those jobs entail and whether the jobs match their values.
Career management takes time effort, and according to Krenz, “you can’t be lazy about it.” He enjoys coaching individuals toward goal clarity and advising them to plant
seeds to reach their goals. “Tell everyone in your network about your passions and desires, because you never know which seeds will turn into plants.”
As an example, Krenz often mentioned his interest in working internationally to his associates. Eventually someone referred him to job openings in Tokyo and London. Krenz ended up working 12 rewarding years abroad because he had told everyone about his interest.
Grooming a New Crop of Managers
In 2011, Krenz had been in the workforce for 35 years and was CFO at Heidrick & Struggles, a multinational executive search firm. He was contemplating retirement and seriously considering a return to school for his long-awaited PhD and career in academia. At this time, another search firm contacted him about a CFO position at Asbury Automotive Group, a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta and one of the largest automobile retailers in the country.
Asbury needed a CFO to replace an individual promoted to CEO. The company prefers promoting from within, but no one from the strong finance team was quite seasoned enough to step into the open role. Krenz was approached for a short-term assignment. He agreed to mentor the team until one or more viable internal candidates was well groomed.
At Asbury, Krenz is carefully downloading the wisdom of nearly 40 years of experience and closely mentoring team members. He expects to be with the company for only a few years until he has made his mentor role obsolete. Until that day comes, he continues to sow seeds for Asbury’s future and for his own.
Although Krenz’s decades of work experience have not officially been in academia, his pursuit of knowledge about people and his skill in coaching them certainly bear a striking resemblance to an academic extraordinaire.
Nancy Flagg is a freelance writer based in Sacramento, California
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