Tonia Douglas – The Hankey Group
- Written by: David Harry
- Produced by: Matthew Warner & Christopher Yates
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
While Tonia Douglas may not know as much about the Hankey Group as its principal, Don Hankey, she’s not far behind him in understanding the operations and services offered by its 11 operating companies.
Of course, as vice president of human resources, she needs to understand the companies as she and her team manage payroll, benefits and insurance, wellness initiatives and compliance for more than 2,100 employees.
However, Douglas’s knowledge has also been gained through experience. She started with Hankey Group as an accountant for its Midway Ford & Suzuki of Los Angeles dealership in 1998 and her tenure includes working at Knight Insurance as well as Hankey Investment Co.
Her work in HR began of her own initiative and broadened as she approached “Mr. Hankey,” as he’s known, about building a stronger HR department for the entire Hankey Group. His receptiveness to her suggestions is an example of the open nature of Hankey Group, but Douglas says leading HR for such a varied enterprise isn’t easy.
“I’ve worked with and for at least four companies in The Hankey Group and learned the business side to them,” Douglas says. “I’ve also learned that each company is different with culture and processes, so I need to be flexible as I face new challenges.”
What’s now known as the Hankey Group began in 1972 when Don Hankey increased his family’s 25 percent stake in then-Midway Ford to full ownership.
Hankey Group no longer owns the Ford dealership but does own a Toyota dealership among its 11 companies. Other companies include Knight Insurance Group, and Midway Auto Group, which rents, leases and sells cars while financing fleets for other rental car companies. Westlake Technology Holdings is a lender that services automotive finance contracts and finances inventories for automotive dealers among its other services. Hankey Investment Co. invests and lends in commercial real estate, and Nowcom develops software.
“Given the size of the organization, it’s very open and I can communicate throughout all levels,” Douglas says. “Our company presidents don’t have offices, they work on the open floor. Mr. Hankey and his son, Bret Hankey, have offices, but they’re glass enclosed.”
Douglas says the company’s open culture includes events such as potluck meals at Thanksgiving, summer picnics for employees and their friends and families, and wellness challenges. The Hankey Group also hosts hikes and bike rides where it rents bicycles for employees.
The Hankey Group also offers an employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, and a 401(k) plan. Douglas says employees look forward to getting annual reports about the ESOP because of its performance, and employees who reach certain retirement savings milestones are recognized with plaques.
In the past several years, Douglas and her HR team of 17 (including recruiters) have faced the demands of changing workplaces—and employee expectations of what a workplace should be, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the pandemic broke out, Hankey Group went to remote work where it could—but that wasn’t possible for employees in some operations such as auto sales, rentals or service. There are currently hybrid schedules for staff on the IT team, with three days in the office, Douglas says.
Her HR team is spread throughout the organization, including staff on-site with auto technicians at the dealership and car rental maintenance facilities. Douglas says they have increased employee engagement by providing more surveys, including an annual one for employees to anonymously evaluate their direct supervisors.
While increasing communications with emails, Douglas says she and her team are also using platforms such as Microsoft Teams to communicate with and train employees.
New technology, new efficiency
Though Hankey Group employees fill a wide range of roles from call center employees to real estate professionals, Douglas has been able to implement technology to manage timekeeping, benefits, employee data and productivity throughout the organization.
For instance, in December 2022, the HR department went live with UKG Dimensions, a workforce management platform, timekeeping system and app. The first phase of the implementation took 15 weeks. The app enables hourly employees to correct the hours they’ve worked—including making up for missed punches on the time clock, before their hours are reviewed by a manager.
It’s a simple solution that saves time for managers who need to correct hours, but just the beginning of what the UKGPro software suite and platform will provide HR. The second and ongoing implementation is adding advanced forecasting and scheduling that will help make HR operations and outreach more efficient. For instance, Dimensions provides analytical tools that can forecast call volumes for better scheduling and track employee productivity.
Douglas and her team have also implemented UKG People Assist, which she compares to an IT service desk because it enables employees to submit and track requests, access how-to guides, as well as policies and benefit information.
“We’re really big on reports and [key performance indicators],” Douglas says. “The reporting tools and dashboards are going to help us as well as our managers.”
Working through the ranks
Douglas, who came to Southern California after growing up in Louisiana, was an assistant to the business manager at a Los Angeles-area Honda dealership before joining Hankey Group.
She says her desire to have a greater impact on the organization led to her becoming business manager for Knight Insurance in September 2009. Her involvement in HR began as she worked with payroll and accounting to see how well policies were aligned.
In 2012, Douglas became director of HR and wellness for Hankey Investment Co. and earned her certifications from the Society for Human Resource Management as well as HRCI. She also began discussing how to create a stronger HR department with Don Hankey. In December 2018, she was named to her current position.
“It’s all part of being able to openly have a conversation with somebody without levels of hierarchy,” she says. “If you have an idea that could help improve policies, you’re always welcome to bring it up with anyone.”
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