Best Managed Companies

Go Auto: Canada's Best Managed Companies 2019

Diversification is the best defence against slumps

Canada’s Best Managed Companies

It’s no surprise that Jared Priestner got into the car business. His grandfather sold cars, his father and uncle owned several dealerships, and as a kid he had the unglamorous job of picking weeds and cigarette butts out of the car lot. When Priestner started selling at his father’s Edmonton Kentwood Ford dealership in 2000, he was almost two decades younger than others on the floor. “I just started selling cars,” says Priestner. “I didn’t know what else to do, so I gave it a try and it took off like wildfire.”

Priestner gradually took on more day-to-day management duties. He became president in 2007, rebranded the company as Go Auto in 2008 and became CEO in 2015. Youth served him well, as he wasn’t afraid to try new things. He built a strong online presence well before many other car sellers, allowing shoppers to browse vehicles and chat with staff online. And he developed a hawkish eye for deals. The pre-2015 oil boom created what he calls a “frothy” business environment in Alberta. He used it to Go Auto’s benefit, purchasing dealerships in and around Edmonton. “We were able to make a lot of acquisitions of dealerships that were underperforming,” says Priestner.

Today, the Go Auto empire includes more than 40 dealerships, mainly in Edmonton but also in central and northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories, the Vancouver area and southern Ontario. The company had its best year ever in 2018, hitting $2.5 billion in revenue and selling 50,000 cars. Notably, Go Auto’s record-setting year came during a decidedly less frothy time for the Alberta economy. However, with 21 car brands (offering everything from Ford to Porsche) as well as service departments, diversity serves Go Auto well. “If people aren’t buying new cars, they’re buying a used car,” says Priestner. “If they’re not buying a car, they still have to fix their old car.”

Another venture that helped buoy the company is in-house insurance and financing, which Go Auto added in 2012 and which has grown into a $125-million business. Go Auto is happy to finance people who might be turned away by big banks: newcomers without established credit in Canada, self-employed people or those whose credit history has been damaged by circumstances such as a divorce or health problems.

Another point of pride for the company is the enthusiasm of its staff. This often means taking chances on younger, less experienced employees and training them in-house. An on-site Go Auto University offers 90- or 120-minute classes taught by other Go Auto employees on everything from service to money management. For Priestner, the investment makes the business stand out. “We [dealers] all buy the cars from the same place at the same price,” he says. “The only advantage is in the quality of our people.”

How Best Managed Companies find ways to keep excelling

The types of companies that make it on this ranking vary drastically. One thing they definitely have in common? They keep reaching for more.

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