Do you trust your gut?

September 30, 2022

When it comes to making key decisions, it’s always an interesting question: does someone with years (or decades) of industry experience rely on their “gut” instinct or numbers in a spreadsheet to make a decision? 

Dealers have to make key decisions every single day. Whether it comes to recruitment and hiring, interactions with OEMs, interpreting reports from their various department managers or a host of external sources like industry forecasters, media agencies or bankers.

At first blush, it seems like the gut vs. numbers approach to decision-making might seem to just be about someone’s age and their “old-school” methods vs. “modern” or “technology-driven” methods. 

But it goes much deeper. 

There’s a fascinating article by Alden Hayashi in the Harvard Business Review called “When to trust your gut.” 

The article starts with a great example from the automotive industry when then head of Chrysler Bob Lutz came up with an idea that ultimately transformed the company’s reputation and fortunes in the 1990s. He was out for a leisurely drive in Michigan in his Mustang Cobra and felt guilty to be enjoying another brand’s vehicle, and was lamenting the fact that his company didn’t have an exciting, powerful car of its own. So he decided to build one.

He assembled a team to develop what became the Dodge Viper. Ultimately, the Viper became a “smashing success” writes the author: “It single-handedly changed the public’s perception of Chrysler, dramatically boosting company morale and providing the momentum that the company desperately lacked, ultimately spurring its dramatic turnaround in the 1990s.”

But Lutz’s determination went against all the numbers and his critics were many. The accountants argued the $80 million investment would be better spent elsewhere, the sales teams argued no one would buy a $50,000 car, and according to the author Lutz had no market research to support him: just his gut instincts. 

Even when asked years later about how he made one of the key decisions of his career Lutz said: “It was this subconscious visceral feeling. And it just felt right.” 

Interestingly, the higher one goes up the corporate ladder, the bigger a role “gut instinct” but built upon seasoned business experience appears to play in decision making. 

The author of the article interviewed leading scientists who study how people make decisions and determined that: “the type of instinctive genius that enables a CEO to craft the perfect strategy for usurping competitors could require an uncanny ability to detect patterns, perhaps subconsciously, that other people either overlook or mistake for random noise.”

I have interviewed hundreds of car dealers over the years. They are some of the smartest and most savvy business people you will ever meet. My sense of them is that they are very much the types to trust their gut instincts. They will of course assess the data, hear the reports from people they trust, but ultimately will make the decisions that “feel right.” 

With so much uncertainty facing the auto retail industry, and as so many daily issues crop up to take their focus and attention from the future of business, I believe car dealers are very much going to be trusting their guts in the years to come. Never has there been a time when so many people are predicting so many different possible outcomes for their businesses. 

My advice? Lean heavily on all your middle managers, suppliers and business partners to provide you with the best available data. Then trust your gut instinct!


About Todd Phillips

Todd Phillips is the editorial director of Universus Media Group Inc. and the editor of Canadian auto dealer magazine. Todd can be reached at

Related Articles
Share via
Copy link