As president of K. Neal Truck and Bus Center, Korey Neal has to wear a lot of hats. The dealership has five locations in the Greater Washington DC area, and he oversees the daily operations across those branches. He also manages and controls company assets, implements marketing plans “for both short-term and long-term growth,” and directs “all marketing and sales operation, human resource management, and strategic partnerships.”
At K. Neal Truck and Bus Center, Korey Neal also runs one of the “only two minority-owned commercial truck and bus dealership in the United States.” At the dealership, clients have a choice among the complete product line of Class 3 to 8 commercial vehicles, which represent a variety of manufacturers, such as International Trucks, IC School Bus, Hino, Isuzu, Collins Bus, Diamond Bus, and Cummins. Clients can also choose between brand-new vehicles or pre-owned models. They can also get vehicle service, car parts, or maintenance.
Korey Neal has cultivated a customer-first approach in the dealership. With excellent and prompt service from its “courteous staff,” the company prioritizes “customer service and satisfaction.” The company is a one-stop shop for clients who want to receive “prompt and professional solutions.” You can leave the vehicles to K. Neal, and focus on your business.
Also, Korey Neal is the president of a company that has been a fixture in Prince George’s County, Maryland, for over 40 years. Prior to becoming president of the company, he was an NFL offensive lineman for the Carolina Panthers and the Washington Football Team (formerly Redskins).
This year, Korey Neal has also been named by the Washington Business Journal as one of its 40 Under 40.
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Korey Neal: Our organization is special for many reasons. Not only are we one of only two minority-owned commercial, full-service truck and bus dealerships in the United States, but we are unique in our identity as company and the motto we follow of being First to Serve. We take the approach that servitude doesn’t start at the bottom; it starts at the top. I serve the leadership team that reports to me. The leadership team serves the managers who report to them. The managers then serve the associates. The associates then serve the customers across the counter. Servitude is our model. We believe that if we help and support one another, we can effectively serve our customers.
As to what makes us standout, I go back to our decision to offer contact-less parts pickup and curbside commercial vehicle drop-off for our clients. These aren’t new ideas (think Panera Bread and most restaurants post-COVID), but it was new for a transportation company. We were able to provide another level of on-going safety, convenience and efficiency for our customers — mainly, our truck dealers who typically operate on the road and without much luxury.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Korey Neal: Though I never really left my office throughout the rise and fall of the pandemic case numbers, this era of blurred lines between work and home life, exposed a few areas of improvement that have helped me move forward even in uncertain times as a leader:
- Don’t let the environment change your routine.
If you don’t already have a morning routine, I highly encourage you to start and implement one right away. As an athlete, a schedule was critical to being successful on and off the field. The same is true for your personal life. I typically get up between 3:30–4:00 AM, workout, catch up on the news and take some time to read a book, blog or engage in some type of self-development. You are your most valuable asset. Burn out happens when we forget to invest in our own growth and development. Make your personal success — to include spending time with your family — a routine practice and well-kept commitment. I have fixed times during the day for working out, thinking, doing, and responding. Plan your day. Failure to plan is planning to fail.
- Prioritize. My mentor once shared this wisdom with me, “the fox that chases two rabbits doesn’t catch either one,” and this is true of any leader. Focusing on everything in your organization instead of items that are critical for your attention and output doesn’t support mission clarity for the teams and individuals who support you. You have to prioritize what is important enough to require a significant amount of your time and how it shows up on your calendar. This is where the power of delegation comes in. Focus on the big-ticket items and delegate other areas to your staff when possible.
- Fuel yourself. In my opinion, burning out as a leader is really a result of not appropriately fueling yourself. It may sound elementary, but what are you eating? Food effects the way you perform. Make sure your nutritional fuel is supporting your ability to lead physically and mentally. How are you staying inspired? If you’re religious or spiritual are you attending church, mass or getting that soul fuel you need to push forward towards your purpose? Are you taking note of the routines, rituals, and steps that great leaders follow to refuel themselves? Have you considered a coach? These are all questions related to how and what you fuel yourself with to sustain the momentum of your output and performance. Check your fuel regularly and often. Running out of gas doesn’t have to be a regular occurrence in your life as a leader.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Korey Neal: Throughout life, I’ve been blessed to have so many great mentors and coaches who have helped speed up my maturation process and continue to shape the man and business leader I have become today. However, I’d be remised if I didn’t acknowledge my parents — the two most influential people in my world. My mother has taught me how to be humble, how to give and how to sacrifice. Watching the way she sacrificed her wants and needs for my sister and I to give us a better life impacted me in more ways than one. My father has always operated in leadership roles for as long as I can remember. He has led in the corporate, entrepreneurial and community space, but most importantly he led our family which is something I try my best to do everyday with my wife and son. I owe my success to my village of mentors, coaches, role models and my parents.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Korey Neal: A good company looks good on paper. They have good values, good stock evaluations, good equity, good people and do good business.
Great companies are the top 1%.
Great companies don’t just do business, they create movements. They are customer centric, dynamic, innovative, agile, and adaptive. They don’t just exist in the business ecosystem; they are the top performers and competitors. These are the descriptors every good company should aspire to and work towards becoming.
Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Korey Neal: Every business goes through a life cycle of some sort. Early stages, maturity stages, downfalls, and upticks. It’s all about having a plan to endure the process. The same can be said for business leaders. We all have a process of maturation to go through that mirrors a business lifecycle.
When that process becomes overwhelming and it’s time to restart the engine, here’s what’s worked for me:
- Assess your last 6–12 months. You have to know where you are in order to move forward. What worked? What went wrong? These answers are key to figuring out how to move forward or pivot when necessary. Review your structure, talent, resources and the marketplace and see what pieces need to be moved or realigned with business goals.
- Review or create your growth strategy. This can apply to you personally and as a business leader. Have you created a plan for your continuous growth and development? Are you on track, behind, or stalled? After taking a self-assessment, work with your team to do the same for your company. Is your growth strategy being followed, in need of a change or refresh given the current market trends and behaviors? Use this information to inform your next steps and to restart your growth engine.
Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Korey Neal: You have to plan for downturns. You should also plan for upticks. How do you become lean when times are rough and how do you meet demand when business is booming? Having a plan won’t solve every issue, but it will give you a framework for working through any season of your business or career. If I’ve learned anything in this pandemic, it’s to preemptively plan as much as I can. Use different scenarios. Get outside feedback and support. As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail.
You also need an internal resolve to rise to the occasion and commit to the process of seeing your organization through good and bad times. Once you do that for yourself, do it for your team and keep the momentum going.
Lastly, you have to develop a solid people plan that includes growing and acquiring great talent. You won’t be successful without a solid team. Make this a priority in your planning process.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Korey Neal: Running an organization with just under 100 people with 100 different personalities has been an area I just didn’t think about as much when I was learning the business. Figuring out a people plan can be just as important as figuring out a profit plan. How will you attract the best talent? How will you keep that talent? How can you make sure the talent you already have aligns with where you are going? Asking yourself and your company these questions can help you stay ahead of the curve.
Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Korey Neal: I would tell my colleagues to take a moment and close their eyes. Think about the last time you were wowed. Where were you? What happened? How did it make you feel? Why do you keep going back? Those are the questions we continue to ask ourselves as a company. How can we create experiences that change moods, make our customers laugh or smile, and make the K.Neal experience a favorite part of their day? Is it our pricing, our product selection, or customer service? We have to consider these questions as we serve our customers.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Korey Neal: Of course, it’s a little scary. It’s a real-life review of your business and it never turns off, but if your customers are there, you should be there (in most cases). A truck and bus dealership Instagram profile may not be the sexiest page to end up on the trending feed, but our social media profiles serve as an introduction and funnel for our brand to a younger generation of customers. Is there some risk? Of course, any time you put yourself out there on the worldwide web there’s a possibility that something could go wrong, but is that a reason to exclude potential leads and increased awareness? Not in my opinion.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Korey Neal: The biggest mistake I’ve observed is letting your mistakes or failures define your ability and identity as a leader. We’re all human. We’re going to make decisions that don’t bode well. We may fire the right people and hire the wrong people. No matter what we do, we can’t let every challenge or setback become the obstacle that keeps us from moving forward. My approach to making mistakes is to address them head on and figure out what I can learn from that process. I didn’t make it to the NFL, but I gained a renewed since of commitment and brought the discipline of being an athlete with me into the boardroom. Decide now to give yourself some grace and to be honest about the mistakes you make. Many leaders have this idea that admitting faults makes them look weak, but your team will respect you (or should respect you) even more for being transparent with them. It creates space for your team to feel comfortable discussing their mistakes with you. Make it a learning experience and keep leading!
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Korey Neal: My mission in life is to give back more to the world than I take from it. Because of that, I’d love to see a movement of individual business leaders committed to serving their employees and the surrounding community better. As leaders, we have the ability to model service from a higher platform that enables a wider reach in terms of what we can offer, what we can do and what we can change. Activating service-oriented company cultures and communities should start from the top. How can service become integrated into our daily, weekly, monthly and annual calendars outside of the usual company-wide events? Servitude in our personal lives, businesses and in our communities can easily become the next leadership trend.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Learn more about K.Neal Truck and Bus Center: https://www.knealtbc.com/
Follow me on Instagram: @knealtbc
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!