Best Managed Companies 2021

HGrégoire

This company’s CEO used startup principles to transform his family business

John Hairabedian didn’t plan to join the family business. But after he sold the tech company he started in university (which he and his co-founder, Harry Kasparian, grew into a fairly successful enterprise) six months after graduating, he found himself both available and experienced. So when his dad, Greg, asked if he was interested in taking over HGrégoire, the car dealership he started in Montreal in 1993, it wasn’t a difficult decision. “I realized it was a great opportunity to spend a lot of time with my dad,” says Hairabedian. And it’s been great ever since.” Kasparian joined at the same time, as chief marketing officer.

That was seven years ago, and under Hairabedian’s leadership as president and CEO, the company’s revenue has grown more than tenfold, from $220 million to $2.3 billion, and its staff has grown from 220 to about 1,500. “When I came in, I said, ‘This industry has been really inefficient — it hasn’t changed in a century — so let’s become something different,’” he says. “We took all the startup methodologies we’d learned in our first business and we became a technology company that happens to be in automotive retail.”

This forward-thinking approach is largely what sets HGreg, as the team refers to the company, apart: they created their own software rather than using the cookie-cutter technology that’s relied on by other dealerships. “By vertically integrating the software suite of automotive retail, we’re able to create different customer experiences that other retailers can’t,” says Hairabedian.

While the company has plans to expand beyond its current presence in Quebec, Florida and California, it will remain dedicated to the customer experience. “We think that car ownership is an important part of today’s society, especially with COVID — more and more people are deciding to own cars versus taking Ubers or taxis,” says Hairabedian. “Accessing mobility and accessing car ownership shouldn’t be a horrible process, so we’re making a change.”

As for Greg Hairabedian, he decided to keep a toe in and stay on as chairman after scratching his original plan to sell up and retire. “My dad couldn’t be happier with how the company is doing,” says John Hairabedian. “He still loves to hear about all the exciting stuff happening in the company. We have a call, just he and I, at 8:30 every morning, to talk about what our day is going to look like, and it’s my favourite part of the day.”