"Our research tells us that consumers spend 18 to 19 hours shopping… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)
The gig: Jared Rowe is president of auto information company Kelley Blue Book. The Irvine company has been providing new car pricing, used car values, reviews and other data for 87 years. Once just a modest blue publication, now the company also operates a website that gets about 560,000 visitors a day. The subsidiary of AutoTrader.com employs about 400 people, most in California.
Embrace what you love: "I always had an interest in cars when I was growing up. I had a 1968 Mustang that my father and I restored. Loved doing that with my dad. Loved the car."
Listen to your relatives: "My grandmother's brother, Dave Meister, owned a Ford-Mercury dealership in Columbus, Wis., which is right near where I grew up. I was in junior college, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. He said, 'Hey, before you settle, why don't you take a look at Northwood University and their automotive marketing program?' He had designs on me possibly joining the family business. I had a visit at Northwood, talked to some of the professors, and it just clicked. That's how I chose a career in automotive marketing."
Trading up: Rowe, 39, got into the car business as a service and parts manager for Central Atlantic Toyota Distributors. He moved on to product development at the Autobytel Internet car marketing site. He then spent nearly 10 years at FordDirect, a joint venture between the automaker and dealers, moving up the ladder to executive vice president responsible for product strategy. Those experiences convinced him that online research would be increasingly important as a tool for car sales. He signed on with AutoTrader.com in 2010 as vice president of product management and took the helm of Kelley Blue Book last year. The chance to work as president of KBB was "humbling. If you can imagine, having my background be all auto, Kelley Blue Book is the trusted resource. It has been around forever."
Valuing teamwork: Rowe said he learned the importance of a strong team at a unique annual collegiate event called the Northwood University International Auto Show, which this fall will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The student-run event has drawn as many as 59,000 visitors, more than 100 classic car exhibits and as many as 450 new car exhibits. "They have students run what is the largest outdoor new vehicle auto show in North America. I had a leadership position in that effort. When you are doing anything like that, you learn you need to have a good quality team. It's not about individuals. One of the things we talk about at Kelley Blue Book an awful lot is that it is not one, two, three, four, five pushing to get something done. It's the entire team collectively pulling. That's a lot more powerful and effective."
Making car shopping easier: "Our research tells us that consumers spend 18 to 19 hours shopping for a vehicle and 60% of that time is spent online," Rowe said. "It's a big investment in time, a big investment in energy, and we have to help make that an enjoyable experience.... Well-informed consumers are good buyers, and we think that dealers want well-informed consumers too."
Not just transportation: "I really enjoy the fact that cars are steeped in American tradition. They are an emotional purchase for most buyers. That is what's important about it and that's what I've always enjoyed about it. It is the second-largest purchase people make in their lives."
Being the new guy: "One of the things you'll see here, with all of my different moves, they were situations where we were going to have a common goal, a common objective, a common mission. Ultimately, when it comes to working with new people, it's about finding that common ground."
Leadership: Most days start before 7 a.m., practicing what Rowe calls "servant leadership. We are responsible for helping our employees be successful. If we give them what they need, their success will be our success."
Education: Rowe got a bachelor's degree in business administration and automotive marketing from Northwood University in Midland, Mich., and later earned a master's degree in business administration from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Personal: When Rowe isn't working, he's spending time with his family, which includes his wife, Nicole, 6-year-old Alexandra and Jared Jr., who is 4 1/2. Or he's playing golf, which is a serious pursuit, at least according to the club in his office. It's a vintage persimmon wood club from Louisville Golf with a modern carbon fiber shaft. Of course, it's a driver, not a putter.