Former race car driver Roger Penske went on to be a hugely successful entrepreneur by understanding how to manage risk, people and partnerships. He is the founder, chairman and CEO of Penske Corporation, a closely held, diversified, on-highway, transportation services company whose subsidiaries operate in a variety of industry segments, including retail automotive, truck leasing and transportation logistics. Penske is also the owner of one of the most successful motorsports teams in history, Team Penske. He chaired Super Bowl XL in Detroit in 2006 and today is still actively involved in Detroit’s rebirth. We caught up with Penske to learn more about what drives his success.
Q: You have a saying in your company: “Effort equals results.” What does this mean to you?
A: Back in the early days when I wanted something, whether it was a bicycle or a radio, my father would say, “Go out and work for it, and I’ll be your partner.” He instilled in me the idea that people who work hard are the ones that are successful. You might say that is a bloodline that runs through the company.
Simon Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Menards/DXC Technology Dallara/Chevrolet, Team Penske
Q: Team Penske has had some very good results over the years. Most recently in 2017, you had a tremendous season, with 32 race victories and three championships. How does the energy around the track carry over into your larger business?
A: Racing is the common thread throughout our company. It’s about execution, being competitive, integrity, transparency. These are exactly the same things you have to have in your business. In racing, we have an “earnings release” every weekend, so it’s a little bit different from that standpoint. But we lose more than we win, so you have to learn to be able to pick up your team and go forward. A perfect example is that we won the Indy 500 in 1994, and the next year we came back and we didn’t qualify. But after that we came back and won three times in a row.
Racing is the common thread throughout our company. It’s about execution, being competitive, integrity, transparency.
Q: Racing is a risky sport with great potential rewards. Do you see any correlation between risk in racing and business?
A: Obviously, there’s physical risk with racing, and there’s financial risk in business. And how we manage risk is by having the best people. When we go to Indianapolis we have years of experience on the team, so we’ve been through most of the situations that would create risk. On the business side, it’s the same. I run an organization where we promote from within. Many of our top people started out driving a truck or as an assistant mechanic. One thing we found is that, over time, people get bored. They don’t show it, but they do. So, we move our people around. We’re in a disruptive society. Change is important.
There’s physical risk with racing, and there’s financial risk in business. And how we manage risk is by having the best people.
Q: DXC and Team Penske have a strong partnership, and DXC has many strategic partnerships in place to help us bring the best solutions to clients. Tell us about partnerships from your perspective; why are they important?
A: Our partnerships really helped build the company, going back to General Motors, Ford and others. They’ve given us great opportunities to grow our businesses. Then you look at the B2B opportunities. It’s been amazing. If you look at DXC as a partner and what they’re doing for us on our security, help desk, engineering and the other things that are so important to us — it’s taking us to the next level. Partnerships have made a huge difference. These are not fleeting moments. These are partnerships that last 5 years or 10 years. The key is to have metrics to measure and manage them.
Q: In addition to helping Detroit attract the Super Bowl, you founded a program to help clean the city’s streets and helped establish a light rail system. How important is your work in Detroit?
A: The city has made a huge turnaround. We had a very successful Super Bowl in 2006, and I think that was maybe the starting point. Some 18,000 jobs have come into the city. Real estate has really moved up in value, we’ve got people moving in, we’ve got tax money. These are things you don’t really think about because you’re so tied up in your own business, but it’s amazing how many people give a big portion of their lives to their community, and it has been very rewarding for me to be involved.
Q: What tops your list of favorite cars?
A: A 1955 Mercedes Gullwing. That’s my favorite. But when you look at my collection, it’s very simple. We’ve won in Indianapolis 17 times, so I have each winning car and each pace car. Those 34 cars make up my collection.