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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, August 13, 2012, 6:30 am

CFO Recognition Awards 2012: Robin Helms, Hansel Auto Group

Finance — Service

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    Chief financial officer

    Robin Helms


    Hansel Auto Group

    1125 Auto Center Dr., Petaluma 94952, 707-769-2369, hanselauto.com

    Employees: 580

    Professional background: 15 years auto industry, eight years public accounting, three years as a financial analyst for one of the largest home builders in the US

    Education: B.S. Accounting, University of Wyoming

    Age: 50

    Comment about Robin Helms: “He has enormous respect from everyone in our company. He is a wealth of knowledge, and he is always looking for how he can help people.” –Henry Hansel, president, Hansel Auto Group.

    Questions for Mr. Helms:

    What do you see as the essential role of a financial leader in the current environment?

    A thorough understanding of the marketplace, regulations, technology solutions, and our business operations; all in an effort to provide support to our operational personnel from a financial aspect while ensuring compliance.

    What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your industry?

    Vehicle quality and designs are significantly better. Manufacturers are no longer pushing inventory on the dealer. A difficult economy and explosion of data available to customers has forced dealers to be innovative in an effort to be profitable.

    Tell us about the particular challenges and opportunities your organization has met in the recent past?

    The collapse of the auto industry required us to make difficult decisions. The most significant challenge was our computer conversion after being on the same system for over 25 years.

    What advice would you give to young emerging financial leaders?

    Build a strong educational foundation. Public accounting experience is a must. Seek out strong mentors throughout your career and learn everything you can from them. Challenge yourself to always learn something new.

    What’s the best advice for weathering today’s economic environment?

    Prepare for difficult times, diversify and protect holdings, preserve cash, and then position the business to capitalize on opportunities.

    How do you think your business will change in the next five years?

    Technology will continue to enhance fuel economy and quality.

    What is a decision you wish you hadn’t made? What did you learn from it?

    Underestimated the overall impact on employee efficiency and morale by not providing our people with their technology needs. Listen to, and observe employee frustrations. Commit to investing in technology that drives employee productivity. In the end, employees are happier which results in a better customer experience.

    What is your most memorable business experience?

    Surviving the S&L crisis in the ’80s and later the auto industry crash in 2008-2010.

    What is your greatest business success?

    The career development of others in our industry. It feels good to know that as a mentor, I have helped contribute to their success.

     What was your toughest business decision?

    Downsizing the work force. It’s always difficult to eliminate a position because of the impact on the employee and their family.

    What would your friends be surprised to find out about you?

    Though I was raised in Wyoming, my wife enjoys fishing more than I do.

    Most admired businessperson outside the company: Alan Mulally, CEO Ford Motor Company

    Current reading: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

    Most want to meet: Warren Buffet

    Stress relievers: Exercise and spending time with my wife and our dogs.

    Favorite activities outside work: Golf, travel, charitable activities.

    Is there anything we may have missed that you would like to add?

    Married for 15 years to wife Celeste. Relocated from Colorado to Sonoma County in 2009.

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