The Rapid Rise of a Youthful Leader
SHOP STATS: Take 5 Oil Change Location: Rock Hill, S.C. Operator: NLJ Ventures, LLC Average Car Count: 65-90 Staff Size: 13 Shop Size: 3 bays
For most young adults Keith Scott’s age, they’d be on a college campus. Or enlisting in the military, like Scott once planned he would. Or maybe they’d just be starting out a career as a quick lube technician. Not Scott.
At age 21, Scott took over as the general manager of a Take 5 Oil Change location in Rock Hill, S.C, just nine months after joining the company.
And it wasn’t just an average location.
It was the “pearl store” according to Lee Johnson, owner of NLJ Ventures, which operates eight Take 5 locations in the area.
Open seven days per week, Scott has been the leader of the franchise’s top-producing location for the last three years.
A Quick Rise
Scott already had experience as a technician before he joined Take 5 Oil Change in the same capacity in August 2017. It was with that experience and a knack for leadership, that Scott says he’s had since a child, that he quickly became a prominent voice in the shop.
As is often to happen in the quick lube industry, there was turnover early in Scott’s tenure. At the company’s Christmas party in 2017, Scott was promoted to the assistant store manager. At that point, he thought he was on a great pace and happily expected to be in the role for a while.
Then five months later, the general manager role opened up, the top position in the store, and Scott was offered the job.
“It was a shock,” Scott says.
At age 21, Scott was skeptical about taking the role at first. His plan was to work for a while before enlisting in the military. Taking the role at the store would delay, or possibly wipe out, that plan. He thought about his peers who were in college, or were just getting started in his career and wondered if he was ready for the step. After talking with his mentors, he decided to accept the job.
“There was no point in backing out,” he says. “Then it was just about making a game plan.”
There wasn’t as much skepticism on the side of Johnson, who had watched Scott make an immediate impact for the NLJ’s first Take 5 location. Despite his young age, Johnson says he admired Scott’s straightforward attitude, evident leadership and maturity beyond his years.
“We wouldn’t typically turn over one of our pearl stores to someone that young,” Johnson says. “But the long-term vision at his age was uncommon.”
Now 24, Scott has guided the location for three years and has helped more than just his store. Johnson says Scott has trained technicians and managers at several of NLJ’s other locations and is the leading voice in the group chat among store leaders, constantly sending out reminders and inspirational messages.
Balancing Youth with Experience
At first Scott was a bit uncomfortable in the new role. Most of his peers were in completely different life situations. Nobody was managing a business or the livelihoods of employees.
“It was weird,” he says.
He also had to combat the fact that the previous general manager was in his late 30s. With Scott at such a young age, he was managing employees who were several years older than him who needed to buy into Scott and his message.
But as a child, Scott was always spending time with his older brother and his friends. It was there he developed an older mindset, so while he is five years younger than his brother, he feels much closer to his age. He also has several younger brothers, one who now works for him in the shop. In that sense, he feels like he’s “between two eras.” That mindset helped him quickly acclimate to the role with staff older and younger than him.
The team has responded to Scott’s leadership, which is centered around transparency and telling the hard truths.
“He’s got no problem telling his staff how it is,” Johnson says.
The first year was a lot of trial and error, Scott says, but he used the knowledge of some of the older workers to help guide him along. And when it got uncomfortable, Scott reminded himself of a few things. “Stay stern. You know the job. You hired them. You know what you’re looking for.”
He also credits his smooth transition to leadership to his commitment to working on the floor alongside his staff. Despite having an assistant manager, a lead technician and a senior lead technician, Scott is rarely in the back office. He’d much prefer to be working on the floor with the team.
Now 24, Scott isn’t the oldest in the shop, but he’s definitely not the youngest. The worries of leading an older workforce are gone and the team has bought into Scott’s mindset. Earlier this year, the shop broke an NLJ-record weekly car count and sales figure.
One Percent Better
What led to Johnson promoting Scott in the first place was never his skills as a mechanic. It was what he could do as a leader.
“It’s always been within me,” Scott says of his leadership prowess. “I love helping people and sometimes people just need the motivation and push behind them. It eases my soul to be able to do that.”
Instilling a culture and strong team chemistry has been top of mind for Scott, which is why he instilled the “one percent better” rule. He asks his employees to be one percent better than the day before, both at work and away from it.
His emphasis on promoting good habits outside of work has been important, Johnson says. When it comes to cultivating relationships, “he’s the best at it.”
It’s common for Scott to host Christmas parties and cookouts at his house. He’ll organize a group to help employees move and after the recent record-breaking performance, he took the team go-karting.
For Scott, it’s all about creating relationships bigger than work. He knows his staff will spend hours a day in a hard-working, competitive environment. He harkens back to lessons he learned playing football and participating in a band. Without camaraderie, he understands the shop will struggle.
“We connect like a web,” Scott says.
Johnson has also applauded the long-term approach that Scott takes with the job. Scott wants his workers to understand that working as a technician at the shop doesn’t have to just be a step along their journey. It can be, if that’s what the employee wants, but they can make a career out of it.
“I just want them to be the best. Whether that’s here or somewhere else,” he says, adding that he uses his story to help motivate his younger workers. “I tell them, ‘I did it in a few months. You can do it,’” he says. “It’s not to gloat. I didn’t think I could do it, but ultimately you can do it.”