Longo Toyota, Scion and Lexus El Monte

Business: Vehicle dealership

Founded: 1967

Local Employees: 1,028


At times, employees at Longo Toyota, Scion and Lexus in El Monte are treated like celebrities.


For Christmas a few years back, Wolfgang Puck catered a party for the employees at the Kodak Theater. Not only was a red carpet rolled out for the employees to make their entrance, but they were hounded by autograph seekers.


"Usually at award shows, paparazzi are walking around taking pictures of the stars," said Kary Loefler, the guest relations manager for the dealership. "At the party, they had 'fans' going around asking for our autographs."


The El Monte dealership is the nation's largest, selling more than 25,000 new cars and trucks last year produced by Toyota Motor Corp.


And to achieve those sales, management at the dealership owned by Bloomfield, Mich.-based Penske Corp., the diversified transportation company founded by racing legend Roger Penske believes employees have to be treated like friends and family.


Tom Rudnai, the dealer's president, prides himself on knowing the names of each of the more than 1,000 employees who work under him. "Quite honestly, it has taken a lot of practice. I try not to manage from my office," he said.


Rudnai updates himself on new-hire pictures and name tags and meets with every new employee for a half hour within their first month on the job from valet and car washer to managers. He also makes sure that employees are carefully screened before they are hired, which has paid off in a low turnover rate.


The friendly attitude does not go unnoticed by employees. Hector Martinez, service manager for the dealership, remembers a day when he was making his way across the 64-acre dealership to pick up a car, when he crossed paths with Rudnai in a parking lot.


"As Tom was driving by, he rolled down his window and asked if I needed a ride," Martinez said. "He didn't have to stop."


Martinez has been with the company for 11 years, starting as a car wash supervisor. As a member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, he has had several tours of duty in Iraq and has returned to his job each time.


The dealership offers a number of tangible perks for its employees including an on-site Subway, Starbucks, retail store, and ATM, as well as shoe-shining and dry cleaning services. There also are company picnics and other events.


Of course, employee discounts on cars are a big perk. Longo sells used cars to the employees for $500 more than the total cost to the dealership and new cars for $100 more than the wholesale price plus tax and license. Employees get additional rewards for referring friends to the dealership to purchase cars.


"We give several tours weekly to people from around the world who have heard about the amount of business we do," Rudnai said. "They ask us what makes us so successful, and we tell them it is our people. We have loyal, passionate, engaged employees."


Sarah Filus

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