In 2007, KAR was launched as a physical, online, and digital and mobile auction marketplace where manufacturers, insurance companies and dealers could come to buy, sell and trade used vehicles. In the intervening decade, the company has relied on its 18,000 employees to scale into an industry leader and a member of the Fortune 700.
With mega growth comes a new question: How can a company this large continue to stay fresh and innovate? To answer this, we caught up with KAR’s Chicago-based DRIVIN group, a subsidiary of the company that focuses specifically on data and analytics. Here’s what the team told us about maintaining that startup culture at scale, and how the difference between the car marketplace of today and the car marketplace of tomorrow comes down to one thing: data.
EMPLOYEES: 18,000 globally
WHAT THEY DO: A member of the Fortune 700, KAR provides physical, online and digital and mobile auction marketplaces where car manufacturers, insurance companies and dealers can buy, sell and trade used vehicles.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago, but the company is headquartered in Carmel, Indiana and has additional offices across North America, the U.K. and Europe.
MATCH THAT: On top of competitive medical, dental, and vision benefits, KAR prides itself on its competitive 401(k) company match and employee stock purchase program.
Joe Oliveri, Vice President, DRIVIN
Joe oversees KAR’s tech-focused Chicago office, leading the team from KAR’s subsidiary DRIVIN while providing strategic oversight of the company’s other tech subsidiaries, including Autoniq and instaVIN.
BEYOND WORK: When not at the office, Joe can be found in the kitchen, where he enjoys cooking for his wife and four kids. He’s also a live music fan and takes advantage of all Chicago has to offer, taking in around a dozen shows a year.
As a veteran of the automotive industry, what about KAR struck you as a new or exciting challenge?
As a company, KAR is all-in on the digital transformation. That’s why we acquired innovative startups like DRIVIN and why we’re dedicating resources to bolster our data hub in Chicago. There’s never been a more exciting time to be a data scientist, analyst, developer or engineer at DRIVIN — to be hands-on in creating new products that help power the sale of nearly 6 million vehicles across the globe annually.
It’s also about transparency; we’re always keeping it real and not hiding behind corporate jargon.”
How does KAR maintain the startup mindset despite scaling really quickly?
While we are a part of a Fortune 700 company with 18,000 employees, DRIVIN operates very entrepreneurially as KAR’s data hub in Chicago. We have a strong startup culture in everything that we do. Yes, we have a trendy office space and a foosball table, but culture isn’t just about fun and games. For us, a startup mindset also means sharing in one another’s successes in the office — whether that’s celebrating new sales wins or the latest technology that we’ve implemented. It’s also about transparency; we’re always keeping it real and not hiding behind corporate jargon.
Where do you see KAR in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, I see KAR paving the way with new technology that allows a much more seamless transaction between buyers and sellers in the wholesale automotive marketplace. I expect much of the experience will be automated by leveraging mobility and data in a way that accelerates efficiency, breaking down many of the geographical and physical barriers that dealers experience in buying and selling used vehicles today.
David Rymarz, VP of Operations Strategy
David is responsible for KAR’s sales enablement, using data science to provide sales teams with the analytics tools they need to succeed in their jobs.
BEYOND WORK: An admirer of the mid-century modern aesthetic, David collects mid-century modern furniture and sees his collection as functional art.
What about your company or your work inspires you?
We’re very lucky to work for Jim Hallett, KAR’s chairman and CEO, who is very open about the digital transformation upending everything we knew about the automotive marketplace. It’s inspiring to know that he not only understands that we’re at the absolute center of it all but that he trusts our team to help lead the change and grow as an organization.
With our unique data resources, we have the tools we need to help dealers optimize in a way that others can’t.”
How is KAR providing a customer experience that’s different from others in your space right now?
KAR is a leader in the digital space, with a robust portfolio of digital offerings from our OPENLANE online auctions to TradeRev, which facilitates live auctions from mobile or desktop. Because we have access to KAR’s industry-leading digital resources, we’re able to leverage a massive amount of data points to deliver the richest analytical solutions and market intelligence on the market right now. And the DRIVIN team is the data engine that powers it all. With our unique data resources, we have the tools we need to help dealers optimize in a way that others can’t.
How would you describe your team’s role in KAR’s larger vision?
I think of our team as a tugboat: We’re small relative to the 18,000 employees across KAR, but by properly positioning and using momentum, our small team plays an integral role in driving our company and industry forward into a more digital, data-driven marketplace.
Tom Esposito, Group Product Manager
Tom oversees the DRIVIN commercial solutions product team, which uses data science to help commercial consignors — aka, automotive OEMs and captive financiers — manage their portfolios and pricing, while recommending solutions.
BEYOND WORK: An avid technologist, Tom spends most of his free time reading or listening to audiobooks about the industry. He’s also a huge Cubs fan, enjoys rock climbing and skiing and doesn't mind a good glass of bourbon.
What about your work at DRIVIN inspires you?
As part of the early DRIVIN team, it has been incredible seeing this company shape from five engineers staring at an empty AWS account to an important part of KAR today. It’s also been incredible seeing the significant impact we can have on this industry. I am extremely motivated by both the products that we are building and the level of talent I get to work alongside every day.
We have the opportunity to use the latest technologies, along with years of industry data, to build brand new products that are pushing the boundaries of this massive industry.”
Describe how your team goes about creating KAR’s products. Does collaboration occur between your team and others?
Being the data science arm of such a large company, we are uniquely positioned to work with many of the teams and products within KAR, as well as KAR’s partners and customers. It’s not possible to build great products in a vacuum, and collaboration gives us the human element to pair with all of our data, which helps us truly hit the mark on what we’re building. It also helps that we’re in a newly redesigned office with tons of collaboration space and have the technology to enable our distributed team members to never feel like they’re out of the loop.
How is your product helping to disrupt the automotive industry? Why is this important?
My team is building products that touch so many parts of this business. Our primary focus is on providing new, data science-enabled tools and services to large automotive companies. My team is building a multitude of solutions powered by data science and is bringing new insights and capabilities to an already highly-sophisticated and intelligent customer. We have the opportunity to use the latest technologies, along with years of industry data, to build brand new products that are pushing the boundaries of this massive industry. What’s not to be excited about?