Randy Crisorio is the founder and chief executive of United Development Systems Inc., a Clearwater, Fla.-based F&I performance company, seven-term chair of the Agent Summit advisory board, and author of a number of sales, ethics, and compliance programs. Agent Entrepreneur caught up with Crisorio to learn how he started his business, what’s left to accomplish, and how the U.S. Marine Corps turned a self-described “wild man” into an organized thinker.
AE: Randy, this should be quick, because I already know your life story. You grew up in Chicago, you served in the Marines, and at some point you moved to Florida and started UDS.
Crisorio: That’s close. But I actually grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I attended the same high school as Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford. Harrison was about 10 years ahead of me, and Hillary was four years ahead, in my sister’s class.
AE: What was Chicago like at the time?
Crisorio: I didn’t really know Chicago then. There were events. We visited the museums and the aquarium. And now, when we go back, we stay in hotels and eat and shop. But I never “learned” the city. And that’s typical, for people to live somewhere and not take full advantage. Plus, I left the area when I was 23.
AE: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Crisorio: I enlisted. I was actually in college, but my deferment was “not in order.” That’s the way it was described to me. I received a letter from the Army telling me to report for a physical. I had a low lottery number. I knew what that meant. Glenview Naval Air Station was 20 minutes from my house, so I went there to join the Navy Reserves. They just laughed. There was a two-and-a-half-year waiting list. I asked them for another suggestion and they said the Marine Corps station was right down the road. Now, my dad served in the Army in World War II, and he always said, “Don’t join the Marines, because they go in first.” And he was right. But I said, “Why not?” I reported to Parris Island for basic training and I wound up in a helicopter squadron.
AE: How much time passed between boot camp and aviation school?
Crisorio: Just a few months.
AE: Your head must have been spinning. The excitement, the fear …
Crisorio: All of that. And I’m sure I hated it at times. But now I’m forever grateful. I was a wild man and it gave me discipline and direction. Somebody once asked me what the best education was that I’ve ever had. It was the Marine Corps. No question.
AE: What was your first move when you came back?
Crisorio: I went to work. My mother left a want ad at the end of my bed: Z. Frank Chevrolet, a legendary dealership in the Chicago area, was hiring.
Crisorio: The job I accepted was special assistant to the executive vice president. Understand that this was a very storied dealership. They did a couple thousand cars a month. They owned Wheels Leasing. And as special assistant, anything the EVP might be involved in, I was involved in. I learned the ropes. I always had a good work ethic and it was enhanced by the Marines — a “get it done” attitude. I think they recognized that. I went to work at Z. Frank in February of ’73 and, by the end of the year, they asked if I’d like to go to F&I school.
AE: Just like that?
Crisorio: Between working as the special assistant and F&I school, they had me take canceled deals and try to make something out of them. I would find the problem, contact the customer, and bring them back in. I probably did that for 60 days. That was the extent of my experience having any kind of sales-specific responsibility, other than during the gas crisis. At that time, they broke up the dealership into “teams,” so I was the sales manager and F&I manager with an assigned sales team. But I had always been an organized thinker. That’s what helped me take a canceled deal and find a way to sell it to the lender and the customer — essentially, to try to make something out of nothing. Between that, F&I school, having the F&I experience, and managing my sales team when business was extremely depressed, I knew enough to do what needed to be done to make a deal on the front end.
AE: What was F&I school like in 1973? One day on credit life and then graduation?
Crisorio: It was two weeks. This was the original F&I school curriculum authored by Herman Bass at Pat Ryan & Associates. Credit life was certainly a piece. But we also learned how to handwrite and calculate sales contracts and much more. At Z. Frank Chevrolet, if we sold 85 cars on a weekend, on Monday, you’d be handwriting credit apps and calling them in to the girl at GMAC, reading them line by line. It wasn’t until years later that we got the smelly fax machines.
AE: Was the attraction to F&I diminished by all that manual labor?
Crisorio: The attraction was getting ahead financially and in the dealership hierarchy. The F&I managers had lake houses and owned boats.
AE: How long were you in the box?
Crisorio: Two years at Z. Frank, and they would fry you. They would bring in lunch and dinner. The food would be sitting there on the credenza while you were working with customers. My compadre in the next office was Herman Bass’ son, Danny. We would page the next customer: “Please come to Office No. 4.” That kind of setup. And in terms of regulation and compliance, there was no comparison. The Truth in Lending Act was published in 1969, and I can tell you that, in metro Chicago, it was absolutely ignored. Many of the horror stories you might hear from the old days were probably happening then. I was fried and refried. We had one night and one morning off per week. I was a young guy, making good money, with no time to enjoy it. I left Z. Frank and went to work for a Buick and Honda dealership for one year before relocating to Florida.
AE: Why relocate?
Crisorio: We had a really bad snowstorm in April of 1975. I had been married six months. It took me three hours to get home and I couldn’t park anywhere near the apartment. I trudged home, through the snow, walked in, saw Ellen, and said, “This is bullshit. Let’s move to Clearwater.” And she said, “Where’s that?”
AE: How did you know about Clearwater?
Crisorio: An ex-girlfriend’s family had moved down there, and my family’s vacations were always to Florida. I discovered I have a natural attraction to sunshine and palm trees.
AE: Did you have a job lined up?
Crisorio: I called my rep at Pat Ryan. He set me up with two appointments. On the first day, I interviewed with a guy named J.O. Stone, an affluent car dealer who owned a lot of dealership property. He asked me if I’d come back and have lunch with him the next day. On our way back from lunch, he said he had to make a stop at the Country Club Apartments. He walked in, leased us a condo, and then came out and told me which one would be ours.
AE: That’s impressive.
Crisorio: That’s how he hired me. And I was with him four years, on the carrot as GSM for three. Then an F&I company came by, waving a lot of money around. That’s how I got into this business.
AE: Was it a tough call?
Crisorio: No. By that time, family-wise, I had two young sons at home. Working in the dealership was all-consuming.
AE: What was the job?
Crisorio: That was World Service Life Insurance Company, which contained an F&I division started by Karl Singer, Pat Ryan’s college roommate. I went through orientation, and in fact, Arden Hetland [of American Financial & Automotive Services] and I were in that first session together in May of 1979. I signed a lot of new dealers starting out, but some of the development format they had was out of date. I very aggressively reorganized it, and they loved it.
They offered me a new job as director of training. But I didn’t want to move to Texas, so I turned it down. A few months later, they offered to put me in charge of marketing and sales for the Eastern U.S. I didn’t have to relocate, but I was on airplanes constantly. Now, they did have corporate jets, so for the first 10 days, it was very exciting. After that, I just wasn’t home, and I was getting worn out.
Andy Gill was my boss at the time and the head of the auto services division. He ended up leaving the company, and I got a call on a Sunday for a Monday morning meeting. When we met, they said they were reorganizing and they wanted me to run the division. I said “No” and resigned on the spot. I didn’t even know what I was saying. My mouth just kept moving.
AE: They must have been shocked.
Crisorio: I think they were. And so was I. But it’s OK. In that moment, I decided I needed to be closer to home. And in June of 1982, I started UDS.
AE: What was your plan?
Crisorio: My plan was to emulate how Ryan did business and do it better. I bought a Xerox Memorywriter, drafted training materials at night, and called on dealers throughout the day. We held our first organized training sessions in February of ’83. We had 27 people the first day and 23 people the second. But even before that, as soon as the lawyers filed the documents to start UDS, I cold-called Mutual of Omaha. The highlight product at the time was credit life and disability insurance. I got them on the phone on a Tuesday and flew in on Wednesday, then signed the contract Thursday, thus making us a general agency. I had my first commitment from an account on Saturday and installed it Monday. So within seven days of starting the company, we had activated our first account.
AE: Not bad.
Crisorio: And at the time, I only wanted to do business in Florida. That was my M.O. I’m a family-oriented guy. I didn’t want to be away. And we operated in Florida alone for a long time.
AE: What took you to other states?
Crisorio: We broke out of Florida by seizing a series of opportunities and staffing up. I have certainly done my share of travel and still do. But with the business growing and having a great staff that includes my sons, Jeff and Brian, I didn’t have to do it all the time.
AE: And that part was never assumed, correct? I know Brian pretty well, and I know he had opportunities outside UDS.
Crisorio: He did. I didn’t even ask him to. It was his idea, and he has been invaluable, as has Jeff. And so was my daughter, when she was here. She’s raising a family now. So I am very lucky. I have certainly seen plenty of offspring not be successful or go off in a different direction. And I’m lucky to have family not only in the business but committed to the business. We don’t even have time to talk about family when we’re at the office. Jeff and Brian are very capable. That allows me to go to Italy and eat ravioli.
AE: How many times have you been?
Crisorio: Twenty-one times. And we’re going again this year.
AE: Have you been going your whole life?
Crisorio: You know, my dad was actually born in Italy, but he came over when he was 7 and never went back. I never heard him say one word in Italian. I first went in 1989. There are places we “repeat,” where we know we’ll be welcomed by friends, we know what room we want to stay in, and we know what restaurants to go to. But we have met a lot of great people all over Italy. We even met some of my family in the old town. My grandfather’s vineyards are still there, still in the family.
AE: What’s left on your professional and personal bucket lists?
Crisorio: Business-wise, we’re on a growth track. We have enjoyed some tremendous accolades, including the Dealers’ Choice Awards, over the years. But I also enjoy hearing and reading the things our longtime dealer clients say about us. Personally, I’ve got grandchildren now. It’s a pleasure visiting with them, being involved in their lives, and watching them grow is a joy. And frankly, we’re proud of our kids and family. That’s life for us. A dealer’s wife recently asked me, “What do you do on weekends?” I don’t know what we do. We go out with friends, share some dinner and a bottle of wine.
AE: Do you still have that big 7 Series?
Crisorio: The Alpina B7. That’s my everyday driver, and I have a Porsche 911 turbo convertible I love to fool around with.
AE: So with all that in mind, let me ask you: Why devote so much time to working on Agent Summit every year?
Crisorio: Initially, because I thought it could be a lot more than it was. As advisory board chair, it’s all about building content. I felt very confident we could get people who could deliver value, and it has grown a lot in terms of professionalism, as has the F&I industry. The content is valuable and it’s something people look forward to. But, yes, it is time-consuming, and I told David Gesualdo and Bobit a couple years ago that I was going to stop my involvement. But then he gave me a Rolex and I said, “OK, let’s go again.” And I have really been pleased with how the agent body and product providers go about it each year. There’s always change. There’s always something going on that is important to share.
AE: You mentioned compliance. That’s a sea change.
Crisorio: No doubt. And it’s not just compliance. The training, the technology … We see significant changes every year. It all boils down to the same objective, but the way you get there has certainly changed. To be aware, to stay on top, you have got to be involved in the industry. You can’t just call on stores.
AE: That’s good advice for the up-and-coming agents out there. Don’t just live in your bubble.
Crisorio: If you stay in your own bubble, you’re going to end up doing something else for a living. In the old days, guys would get into the F&I business who were never in the car business. I haven’t seen that in years. If you’re going to start a new company today, you had better have a lot of money, a lot of patience, and a lot of skill. This business has become far more professional and demanding than it once was.