Office manager is a pragmatic title for Jennifer LaRock that is general enough to cover her many responsibilities. Hired as a "simple bookkeeper" in 2006, she's now anything but, as her responsibilities have expanded to meet the demands of a growing dealership. From accounting to administration to IT support, today, she's become the kind of go-to person that every office needs.
She started helping CVE founder Russell Carpenter with the accounting. "CVE was 2 stores then with two separate accounting entities, so we had a lot of intercompany accounting behind the scenes; keeping track of which store owed the other and reconciling the two entities."
This was LaRock's first experience with the ag industry. Coming from a small clothing import company, she knew how to chip in where help was needed. "I asked if I could take anything home to read and they gave me what I call the 'accounting bible' from New Holland. There were a lot of concepts I didn't understand. I thought, 'This is going to be interesting!'" Now with 4 locations, that "bible" is the go-to resource for LaRock in establishing and maintaining company-wide standards and policies.
She says she's "pushy and nosey," because she's not afraid to ask about things she doesn't understand or that don't seem quite right to her. But this curiosity and assertive seeking for answers is why she's now the office manager and a key person at CVE. It's what drives her to reconcile and resolve issues.
Years with Organization: 7 - previously employed by a clothing importer.
Role: Starting with bookkeeper duties, LaRock's role grew to handle accounting, IT and process analysis. "I call myself the office manager because that covers a lot of the stuff I do."
Typically the first half of her day involves the immediate stuff that is the nitty gritty minute-by-minute operating issues of the dealership: A batch process didn't run overnight; a report won't print; a customer phones to question an invoice; the general contractor needs to know about a cooling unit for the new server room. Later LaRock will handle general ledger duties, analyze reports and double check packets of invoices from the other stores.
When she started at CVE, the company was using a business management system designed for dealerships. Early on LaRock noticed a pile of CD-ROM discs. They kept coming in and piling up. One day she went to Brian Carpenter, president and GM, and asked, "What am I supposed to do with these?" Carpenter replied, "They need to be entered into the system. Why don't you take care of it."
Those CDs not only contained vendor price book data and system updates, but they also represented the beginnings of LaRock's information technology role. Soon she was managing the entire system and performing IT support for the server and computers in the 2 stores.
Outsourcing IT Support
LaRock says she could handle IT support for users and systems when CVE was a 2 store operation. In 2008, with 3 stores - it became a stretch. But when they added the fourth store, it was simply too much.
At times, all 4 stores would call at the same time with problems. At LaRock's recommendation, an outside IT services firm was hired to manage the system infrastructure and support the stores' computers. Soon, the IT services firm will be fully engaged, remotely managing, maintaining and troubleshooting issues. Then LaRock will devote more time to her critical role of analyzing, reconciling and standardizing numbers and processes to support managerial decisions and drive company profits.
In 2008, when CVE acquired the Derby location, that dealership was using DIS for its business system. CVE transitioned Derby to the management system used by the CVE Middlebury and St. Albans stores. "Technically, we were still three separate companies. We had three separate tax IDs and we did three separate IRS returns. We almost had to keep three separate sets of books. Sometimes it would get a little tricky," says LaRock.
In 2010, CVE switched the whole company to the DIS dealer management system. The need to switch was initially driven by sales because they needed CRM tools (customer relationship management) to keep track of customer interactions and to pull reports. They needed to track lost business, the last time a customer was called, and all of the other things a professional sales force requires.
Transitioning the Systems
By 2010, LaRock was the go-to person for the system because she knew the ins and outs of their former dealer management system. So when the time came to evaluate the DIS system, she was the contact between CVE's informal project board and DIS in determining if the system would meet their needs. Brian Carpenter ultimately made the decision to go to DIS.
"We moved to DIS September 13, 2010. I know this date because I was basically in charge of transitioning all the data from one business system to the other. That was a learning curve in itself; there were more than a few roadblocks." LaRock worked long days during the month leading up to the switch.
She worked with DIS to "translate" reports from one system to the other. It was a good process for users to "clean house" when it came to the data. "They really had to go through their work orders, counter tickets and inventory to make the transition as clean as possible.
"Each system has its pros and cons. One of the issues we're still dealing with is duplicate serial numbers," LaRock explains. "The previous system handled duplicate serial numbers, but the new system does not. Data records for a lot of equipment already sold didn't transfer fully. We didn't like having to redo some reports and give equipment new serial numbers. We actually still have the old system running to access that data. I negotiated a smaller fee with the former vendor because we still need access to existing data."
Old Ways, New System
Another system transition issue that arose was related to user training. "Our people have been here for many years with established habits. We found that the new vendor does things a certain way and so they trained us to do things that way. But as we learned the new system we realized we really needed to account for certain things in a different way. I would have liked to have worked with the new system beforehand, to have determined the best way to train our people, but we didn't have access until we paid for it and it was here," says LaRock.
"Even after our third year we're still asking 'Why can't we do it this way instead?'" At the same time, LaRock finds users are still not up to speed with many of the features the new system offers. Ongoing training is what she wants to do when the IT responsibilities are finally off her shoulders.
New System, More Benefits
On a positive note, she adds, now that CVE is up to 4 locations the new system provides new reporting details that. With this capability, LaRock says, "I do internal audits to help people follow procedures and do the right things." Which can generate some "banter" with the managers.
"I tell them, 'I'm not trying to tell you how to run your department. I'm telling you how you need to account for things properly.' Sometimes they want to give someone a credit the fast way. I say, 'No, you need to follow the procedure so that when we're looking at the general ledger we have a true picture.'"
LaRock likes to instruct with the reports, "I create reports to help a person analyze what's going on in their department. Rather than report to them only a number and say 'It's too high, what are you doing wrong?' I like to help them see the 'why' as much as I can." Her goal is for regular monthly reports the staff can use for their decision making.
"Following the procedures allows us to make good decisions," LaRock says. "When stores follow them, we can compare the results of each store and identify what's working and what needs improvement. Then, we can apply this knowledge across all 4 of the stores."
In 2012, CVE merged all the locations under one entity and LaRock was deeply involved in updating the changes in accounts with vendors, banks, the state of Vermont and the IRS. Making sure everything was compliant was a huge paperwork and organizing project. But when the time came to acquire the Berlin location the Acquisition Implementation Team, as they jokingly called themselves, was up for the task. They knew what needed to be done - from accounting to IT, from training to warranty accounts.
LaRock reflects on her years with CVE and sees how she's grown into almost a CFO kind of position. For example, she says, "I deal with the bank. When there's something wrong with the credit lines they call me. I either take care of it myself or if I don't know the answer, I get with Brian.
"I call myself the office manager because that covers a lot of what I do."