As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Loren Baidas .
Loren Baidas is President of General RV Center, a family-owned RV dealer founded in Detroit in 1962 that currently operates 13 Supercenters across six states. He has held his position since June 2006.
Loren’s work philosophy is simple: Be better. He strives to make General RV a better place for employees, customers and manufacturers. Once a goal has been achieved, he sets his sights on the next one and the one after that. There is always something to work on according to the third-generation family owner, whether that’s developing people, improving processes or investing in technology.
Growing up around RV dealerships, Loren spent every summer of his teens working in the retail Parts department. After attending Alma College, he pursued a career outside the family business and worked as a credit analyst in the banking industry. He returned to General RV Center in 1999 with some persuasion from his father and became a sales associate in the Wixom dealership. Prior to becoming president, he was general manager of the Wixom Supercenter and a national sales manager for the company.
Although his family has owned and operated General RV for nearly 60 years, Loren sees himself as a steward of the company rather than its sovereign. With an eye always on the future, he makes decisions by considering the impact they will have on the long-term health of the organization and with the next generation of stewards in mind.
Additionally, Loren served on the board for Detroit Public Television from 2017–2021. He supports Alma College and Michigan State University. His family also founded the Richard Baidas Memorial Scholarship fund in honor of his late father.
Loren and his wife Sarah recently celebrated sixteen years of marriage. They reside in the Detroit suburbs with their three young boys. In his spare time, Loren coaches them in basketball and soccer. He also enjoys playing basketball and golf, cheering on the Spartans, and attending Detroit sporting events. It’s no surprise that tailgating is one of Loren’s favorite ways to RV. When they’re not busy at home, the whole family enjoys getting active outdoors; Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Moab, Canyonlands and Arches are some of their favorite national parks to explore.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
General RV Center is a family-owned company, and I am a third-generation owner. My story with the company goes back to my childhood when I used to work weekends and summers cleaning trailers and stocking parts shelves. After attending Alma College, I pursued a career outside the family business and worked in the commercial lending department in the banking industry. I was recruited back to General RV’s sales department by my father in 1999. From there, I worked my way up into management.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Currently I have no answer.
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?
I agree. In order to achieve success, you need all kinds of people to influence you along the way. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many great mentors in my life. One of the best was my grandfather Abe Baidas who founded the company. My grandfather taught me the lessons of hard work and that nothing works unless you do. My grandfather started this company with only a high school education, and he realized the company’s success was going to be based on how hard he worked every day. It is a lesson that I carry today and continue preach to my employees.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
While much has changed during our history, we’ve always committed ourselves to being the best RV dealership in the country and embraced our purpose of helping families make lifelong RV memories. In order to do this we have to provide exceptional customer service. We also have to take care of our customers, our employees, and our business partners. This vision still resonates throughout our company today.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Difficult is a very accurate description of the past 18 months. Being a retail business, our dealerships went from going full speed ahead to temporarily closing in many states due to COVID-19 restrictions. It was very difficult to tell your hard-working, loyal staff that they cannot come to work and we have no timetable for a return. But as I told my team difficult times do not last, strong people do. I told them we will get through this together and emphasized our stability. General RV has been around since 1962; we’ve weathered tough times and come out stronger every time. More importantly, we’re blessed to work alongside some of the strongest people in the industry. They are the key to our continued success.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
There was never a moment in which I could even consider giving up. To me the motivation was the easy part. My motivation came from making sure our 1,800 employees had a place to work and were able to provide for their families. I have a responsibility as leader of the company to make sure I look out for our employees, our customers, and the company’s best long term interests.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most critical role of the leader, especially in challenging times, is be consistent, clear, and concise with your message. The last thing you want to do is add to the confusion. Make sure your team understands the direction we need to go.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
A good way to boost morale is to communicate with your team. Be consistent, clear, and concise. Make sure they understand the leadership team will handle the major turbulence; they need to focus on the tasks in front of them. As long as we are consistent in that message, they can have confidence that the leadership team is focusing on the long-term. We also point to our past and our proven track record of success. Our company has been around for almost 60 years, and we have faced difficulties before — recession, wars, and times of crisis. We have weathered those storms and come back stronger every time.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
I believe the best way to communicate difficult news is to be factual and direct. By factual I mean, stick to the facts, not emotions nor hearsay, but strictly the facts. By direct, I mean keep it straightforward and simple as the last thing you want is to confuse people.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Our leadership team has tried to balance short-term decision making with the long-term outlook throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our decisions had to positively impact both and not just one. We went from planning a year out to planning week by week. We changed meeting schedules from monthly to almost daily. With so much new information coming every day, we felt we needed to make sure our teams understood how each one of those could impact the company. Once the world started becoming more predictable, we moved our meetings to once a week and started planning monthly. It’s impossible to see what the future could be in a year ahead but we’re as committed to our employees as ever.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
One thing I continue to tell our leadership team and managers within our company is that they must be the calm in the storm. As turbulent as the storm is, it will eventually pass. I challenge our managers to be a calm and steady presence when difficult things are coming at you daily. Do not react emotionally. Stick to facts. Be the rock that your team needs. In times of difficulty, they will look to you and react accordingly.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Losing sight of the long-term goal or health of the company is the most common mistake I’ve seen other businesses make. If decisions are made in reaction to current circumstances or with only the short-term in mind, those decisions might be what is best for them today but not necessarily what is best for their employees and their company in the years to come. Sometimes difficult decisions today can yield great results in the future. I feel you always need to weigh both the short-term and long-term when making decisions.
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?
As I stated earlier, I believe you need to make decisions that will balance both your present circumstances and your long-term goals. I believe this gives you more stability and sustainability to weather challenges. General RV has had long-term success because we have consistently maintained our financial stability; we own all of our inventory and properties. This has given us the ability to not have to make just short-term decisions in reaction to turbulent times. We can continue to focus on our long-term success and growth.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Ask questions. Accumulate as much information from inside and outside your organization.
- Stick to the facts. Do not let emotions or hearsay drive decision making.
- Get your team to believe by being consistent and confident.
- When it comes to communication, more is more. You message needs to be clear and consistent.
- Make decisions which will have positive impacts in both the short term and long term.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life Lesson Quote: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
To me this quote defines how to live your life on a daily basis. It helps me stay firmly planted in the present with the ability to call on the past for lessons learned and plan for the future. It also reminds me to focus on improving myself and appreciate the people around me. And it forces me to continue finding happiness in my daily challenges.
How can our readers further follow your work?