As a West Point graduate and former lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Stephen Cannon is a take-charge kind of guy. Three years ago he was in charge of the Hyundai dealers account at The Richards Group, which recently earned him a slot as the firm's 22nd principal.
Cannon, 44, joined Richards in 2002 after a decade in marketing at Mercedes-Benz. He first met Stan Richards in 1991, when the rapidly growing independent competed in a Mercedes review.
"I stayed in touch with Stan for 10 years," Cannon said. "When they won the Hyundai account in 2002, I sent him a letter saying, 'Congratulations, you finally won the car account you always deserved.' He responded by asking me to come to work for him."
Although Cannon has worked on the Hyundai dealer account since then, 2006 was the year he would make partner. He learned of his promotion Dec. 21, when Dale Hruby, principal for the Hyundai brand, interrupted a meeting and asked about 30 account executives to line a wall with their right hands raised.
"He had me face them and raise my hand," Cannon said. "Then, he said, 'OK, I want everyone to give a high five to our newest principal.'"
As head of the dealer account, Cannon spends about half his time on the road listening to ideas that he takes back to the shop. One dealer's request for more emphasis on safety features led to in-store displays of how Hyundai's air bags work, he said.
"We try to become an extension of the client," Cannon said.
As one of six kids growing up in Wyckoff Township, N.J., Cannon knew college would require a scholarship. After starting at William & Mary, he was accepted at West Point. He was later stationed in Germany, where he witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall.
To this day, that military experience puts the stresses of the business world in perspective, he said.
"A junior officer in the Army has been through an awful lot," he said. "Your threshold for levels of stress is much higher."