by Patrick P. Marek
When Andrew Dahl takes the wheel from his dad Harry on January 1 and becomes president of Dahl Automotive, it’s likely that he is going keep one eye on the road ahead, and the other in the rear view mirror. While the Dahls have always been innovators in providing state-of-the-art technology and an exceptional guest experience, they also take their legacy as one of the oldest family owned car dealers in America very seriously. As only the fourth president in Dahl Automotive’s 104-year history, Andrew Dahl knows that he is following in the footsteps of exceptional leaders. Because of the trust, training, and mentorship from his father Harry, it is a job he has been prepared for all his life.
“The automotive business has been great for our family,” Andrew Dahl said in an interview at the Dahl Automotive Museum in La Crosse. “When we made the announcement that I was going to be the next president to the over 400 people at our Christmas party, I thanked Dad for not only being a friend and always being there for me, but also because he is truly a leader worth following. He is a mentor in the way he took care of the business, our team, and our family. He taught me and my brothers Tyler and Jansen the core values that have been instilled in us since we were very young.”
“He allowed us to make our own decisions, make our own mistakes, and learn from them,” Dahl continued. “That’s what I really appreciate. There are a lot of family businesses where the patriarch who is passing the baton doesn’t want to let go and still wants to continue to be involved in the day-to-day operations and decisions. The problem with that attitude is that the next generation never learns. I’ve been fortunate that Dad didn’t lead me and my brothers in that way. He allowed us to learn and put our time in. He didn’t do it for us, but he guided us gently along the way. Even though we fell a few times, he was there to pick us up, and help us to be ready in the future.”
When Harry Dahl began his tenure as Dahl Automotive President 40 years ago, the company had 32 employees and made between $1.5 million and $2 million in sales. As he makes the transition to chairman of the board at Dahl, the company has grown to 350 team members and $150 million in sales. As he passes the torch to Andrew, Tyler, and Jansen, he has great confidence in the fifth generation of Dahl Automotive.
“Andrew has proven himself, that he is a very capable and strong leader,” said Harry Dahl. “He has the respect of the entire
organization. He believes in our mission statement and lives by our core values. I have no hesitation in turning the reins over to Andrew. Dahl Automotive president is a responsible, difficult position, but he has proven himself to be worthy of the challenge. I’m very proud of him, Tyler, Jansen, and our entire team. I am expecting great things for the future.”
Chances are that Harry isn't going to have trouble staying busy in retirement. Last month he and his wife Carla received the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, and he plans on continuing his service to many community nonprofit organizations. While he will still have an office at Dahl Automotive, Harry is looking forward to having more time to hunt, fish, bike, and golf.
"I truly believe that Harry's greatest influence and impact on others is ahead of him," Andrew Dahl maintained. "Whether that's with community involvement, special upcoming projects, or working with our team, he's not the kind of guy who is going to sit on his hands. Community service is in his blood, and that's good news for local organizations. I feel strongly about that."
One of the Dahl Automotive traditions is that family members learn the business from the ground up. Andrew and his brothers Jansen and Tyler began their automotive careers washing cars on the lot during the summer months. From changing oil, to working in the credit, sales, and parts departments, the Dahl brothers experienced, first hand, every department in the dealership. It gave Andrew a great opportunity to have empathy for each team member and the job he or she performs.
“The car business doesn’t have the greatest reputation,” Andrew said. “We’re working on changing that. Our focus at Dahl Automotive is on humility-based leadership. As owners, we have a responsibility to serve our team and not for them to serve us. That makes our team happy to come to work every day, and enhances our guest experiences. Our vision is to transform the entire auto industry by creating a retail experience that values individuals, grows leaders, and provides exceptional guest service. We’re working on creating that culture, not only for Dahl Automotive, but for the entire industry. Visions are supposed to be a stretch, but we feel with our focus, values, and with the team we have in place, especially my brothers and co-owners Tyler and Jansen…we’re going to accomplish it.”
Dahl Automotive currently operates Dahl Hyundai Mazda Subaru in La Crosse, Dahl Ford Lincoln in Onalaska, and Dahl Toyota and Dahl Chevrolet Buick GMC in Winona. Other Dahl entities include: ABRA Auto Body & Glass, the Dahl Auto Museum, Line-X Protective Coatings, and Clearview Signs.