Last March, attorney and 20-year F&I industry veteran Guy Koenig joined GSFSGroup as president. Agent Entrepreneur sat down with Koenig to trace his path through the legal, insurance, and automotive industries, ask what he hopes to achieve with GSFSGroup, and why it’s important to treat every F&I professional you train fairly — but not necessarily equally.
This might sound a little cheesy, but in eight and a half months, I have yet to leave the office less excited than when I walked in that morning.
Guy, we last saw each other at Industry Summit. Is New Orleans your favorite show city?
I do like New Orleans, if not just for the food. For conferences, Vegas seems to draw more. I think all the dealer conferences are struggling with the same thing: getting folks there. It was good to see how well-attended Industry Summit was.
We’ve found the best way to get dealers and GMs is to invite them to come for free.
That works. A lot of the dealers are just getting bombarded with things. It’s harder to get a message to the dealer. They’re afraid they’re going to come to these events and get attacked by vendors. I think the best approach is to get a lot of folks together who want to interact with dealers and give them a message they can transmit.
Where are you from originally?
I’m originally from South Dakota. I’m probably the first South Dakotan you’ve met.
I have one other friend from South Dakota. He told me all about Wall Drug. I’m still waiting for my T-shirt.
Wall Drug! Big tourist draw. I lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, until high school. My family moved to Minnetonka, Minnesota, during my junior year. Post high school, I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, for about 13 years for undergrad, law school, and beyond. I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2004 where I stayed until 2012, when we moved to Southlake, Texas. Since February, as part of my role at GSFS, I have resided in Katy, Texas.
You moved to Des Moines to attend Drake, which is known for its law school. Did you always plan to go to law school?
I did. I certainly intended to have a graduate degree and I have always wanted the juris doctorate. I consciously made that decision — business degree followed by law degree. I think it’s worked out so far. I started college as a corporate finance major.
Are you a math guy?
I’m a math dork. Drake has a really well-known actuarial school. While I wasn’t in that particular program, the business curriculum is very focused on data and its applications in the real world.
And you mentioned you stayed in Des Moines after graduation.
I stayed for an additional six years. I worked for two locally based insurance companies in compliance-type capacities.
How did you like it?
I think I did a good job, but it was never a great fit. While I certainly have an appreciation for establishing and following rules and order, I always felt my heart and passion were in building and selling products and coming up with solutions to grow the business. In legal and compliance, it can sometimes be easy to say no without coming with solutions.
So you no longer work in the deal killing department.
Nope. We’re in the business of sales and service. Without that, everything else ceases to exist. My job is to understand what the rules are and find a way to grow and support our partners within that framework.
How did you get into automotive?
Probably by accident, like most of us, it seems. During my time at a large bank, a few former colleagues and great friends and I were presented with a unique opportunity to “dust off” a dormant A-rated property casualty insurance company. With the support of a great executive team, and the bank’s desire to grow third party and non-related business, we built a business plan designed around leveraging the AM Best rating and the very strong balance sheet.
The focus was on issuing our paper to managing general agents, general underwriters, and service contract and warranty administrators. This opportunity allowed us to really get a great understanding of the F&I business while partnering with numerous well-known administrators.
Why was the insurance company dormant?
It was in runoff. The banks all used to have insurance companies to sell credit insurance. When credit insurance went by the wayside, banks started selling debt cancelation. So they had these insurance companies just sitting there. At the time, there weren’t a lot of insurance companies willing to issue contractual liability policies to third-party administrators. So the market was looking for additional capacity.
And we weren’t just limited to automotive. We were also working in the consumer and commercial sectors. The industries are different, but the structures are similar. We had a lot of opportunities to learn from one business and apply those lessons to the next.
So it was a big success.
It was going very well. And then the 2008–’09 recession hit, and the major banks were really tasked with divesting themselves from non-core banking business. So we moved the team and most of our business to another insurance company that already had a presence in the service contract space.
During my tenure with this insurance company, via reorganizations, acquisitions, and organic growth, I was involved in all aspects of the administration and insurance related to F&I via partnerships with dealers, agents, distributors, and OEMs, both in the United States and internationally.
And yes, we really were successful — seven or eight times growth in five years. We added a lot of the big OEMs and really grew that business.
Where did you go from there?
After I realized I was living in an airplane, I spent two years working with one of my clients, CareGard, in Dallas, running an F&I administrative company. Great company, everything was fantastic. I certainly was not looking for anything new. But when the opportunity and honor to serve as president of GSFSGroup was presented to me, it was simply too good to pass up.
How did they convince you to join?
I could speak for days about all of the wonderful things related to this company — from the incredible support at the top of the house from the Friedkin family and their 38 years of continuous ownership, to the outstanding leadership group, and to a world class team who has built an incredible industry reputation.
While my title is president, I believe I really only have one role within the company, and that is to help put every one of my teammates into a position where they can succeed. Enabling and empowering our associates to succeed will ensure that we continue to help make our dealer and agent partners — and their customers — successful.
How’s it going so far and what do you hope to achieve?
It has gone better than I could have expected. This might sound a little cheesy, but in eight and a half months, I have yet to leave the office less excited than when I walked in that morning.
In terms of what I hope to achieve, I would say that we will focus on continuing to support our existing and new partners with the products, services, and solutions to help them grow their businesses. With all of the “chaos” in the marketplace today with buy-sells, acquisitions, and investments, we offer an incredible and long-term set of solutions to partners seeking consistency and support.
Do you take a personal interest in the training your company offers?
Yes. Look, when I think about the F&I space, there isn’t a great amount of difference in products from company to company. Generally speaking, it’s pretty consistent. Pricing is not dissimilar, at least among full-service companies. We differentiate ourselves with the value we offer to the dealer. We consider our award-winning training a big part of that.
We have a fully dedicated team that focuses just on training for dealers and agents. And that training is for sales, F&I, service — all the areas of focus for the dealer. We also have a team of performance development managers. They focus specifically on the F&I space. They are available to go in and hone in specifically on F&I. They can sit down with F&I managers because they are all industry professionals who have been in those roles.
All evidence indicates dealers are increasingly interested and invested in training. From your perspective, what’s driving that?
Most dealers want to remain compliant because they want to protect their brand. But training is so important to profitability. When you look at where dealership revenue comes from today, there is much less opportunity to make revenue on selling the vehicle itself. And when you think about the turnover that can happen in dealerships — or any business — having that training available is key.
And you have to continually refresh it. New systems, tweaks to products, new companies — all these things are constantly changing. Our job is to understand what’s happening in the industry from a broad perspective, then drive that information to dealerships in a way that helps the dealer’s business.
I coached college-age baseball players for a number of years. That was a fantastic lesson and experience in understanding that you treat everyone fairly but not necessarily equally. Everyone has a different definition of success. Find out what that is and give them a path to do that. That’s my focus.
What do you do when you’re not working? Are you still coaching or playing baseball?
My wife Julie and I have two young children who keep us very busy. And yes, sports are still a big part of my life. I can’t bring myself to leave baseball, but my body is telling me it’s getting closer. Those college aged players get younger every year.