Ask The CEO: Carl Ritter

By Molly Sinclair McCartney November 30, 2009

Carl RitterIn late October 2008, in the middle of the national credit crunch, the Sarasota-based used car business founded by Carl Ritter and known as Carbiz Inc. received a phone call asking for immediate repayment of a $43 million loan that Carbiz owed Surge Capital Management, a Chicago hedge fund. Surge Capital had gone bankrupt and the trustees were trying to collect outstanding loans. Over the next several months, Ritter and his team worked tirelessly to keep the trustees from taking action against Carbiz while searching for a solution. “We were faced with some pretty stressful issues,” Ritter says. Eventually Carbiz found a new lender in Indianapolis. Carbiz also persuaded the bankruptcy trustees to accept $14 million as full payment for the original $43 million loan. “Now it sounds like a nice story,” he says, “because it turned out to be a pretty substantial windfall, but going through the process is not one I would recommend.”


What is Carbiz? We are two businesses. Primarily we are a subprime auto finance company. We have 25 of our own dealerships that sell used cars across eight states. One of our dealerships is in Bradenton, near McKechnie Field, and another in Tampa. When the dealership sells a car, the buyer obtains the financing from us. Our second business is auto finance consulting. We provide training and consulting to our competitors and teach them the best practices to help them be successful.


What is your market share? We are a small part of the alternative financial services market, which includes subprime finance, pawn shops and check cashing stores. Last year there was more than $220 billion in this market. Our annual revenues are $50 million to $60 million at this time, but within the independent auto finance market, we are the fourth largest group in the country. We sell more than 5,000 used cars a year.


What is your background? I am 49 years old, born in Toronto but expect to be a U.S. citizen by this time next year. When I first got into business, I worked for a guy who owned multiple new car franchises and I learned on the job as I worked my way up through the organization. When he hit retirement age and began to wind down, I decided it was time for me to start a business of my own. That was the impetus for starting Carbiz in 1995. I founded it in Canada but it is a U.S. corporation and trades on the U.S. exchange. I moved my headquarters to Sarasota seven years ago.


How many employees? About 165, including about 50 in this area at the Bradenton car store and our Sarasota headquarters.


The best part of your job? The worst? The best is watching our people grow and develop. We have a fabulous group. The worst is dealing with the credit markets.


Name three words that describe you. Creative, relentless, savvy.


What book helped to shape you? Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, which is the entrepreneur’s Bible.


What’s your most important business strategy? I am a big believer in analytical analysis. You don’t run a business based on gut feelings. You make sure you have a plan that works, you do the numbers and if the numbers work you execute the plan. 


Most important lessons? No. 1: diversify. For revenue, for debt, for personnel, you can never be dependent on single sources for business. No. 2:  make sure you communicate effectively and continuously with everyone in your company.


Where would you like to be in five years? Substantially bigger. Five times as big.


Guilty pleasures.Driving my Porsche Carrera S. It’s the good one, not the cheap one. It was purchased new.

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