How Zeigler Auto Group is Empowering its Leaders to Develop its Next Generation In-House | Leadership Spotlight: Damon Allison


Getting to Know Damon Allison: Rockstar Recruiter, Author, Dyslexia Advocate
and the Brains Behind Zeigler's New Aspiring Leadership and Development Course

 It's no secret that recruiters have a huge responsibility when it comes to bringing in the best that the talent pool has to offer, but what about retaining and developing that same talent?  Well one rockstar recruiter at Zeigler saw the opportunity to do just that. 


Meet Damon Allison who within a few short years has become one of Zeigler's best recruiters covering the Illinois, Indiana and Michigan areas. He is also the brains behind Zeigler's newest course designed to retain and develop top talent already in-house. 

We sat down with him to discuss what his typical day looks like, what inspired him to start Zeigler's Aspiring Leadership and Development Course, and the importance of facing Dyslexia publicly while writing his new book, King of Dreams: How to Create Winning Teams in an Unconventional Way.

Although every day is different for him, Damon says his day typically starts at 5:00 a.m. with a workout at the gym to prepare him mentally and physically for his day ahead. Once home, he jumps online to scan the job sites to see if there are any urgent messages he needs to respond to from the day before. After a few quick messages, he makes breakfast and gets ready for work. By the time he's done with that it'll be around 8:00 a.m., time to start making his calls for the day. 

Depending on how many calls he has for that particular day, he'll take a lunch break around 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. and start following up with general managers and speakers to make sure everything is lined up for his classes. He also makes sure his curriculum is updated as needed. And although the typical work day ends at 4:00 p.m. or 5:00 p.m., that's not the case for him. Because of the nature of recruiting, Damon says it's important to always stay on top of messages and calls from potential hires after hours since many times top talent may apply before or after work, and on the weekends. Although it seems like a never-ending job, he doesn't seem to mind, adding that he lives and breathes what he does and enjoys helping people. 

"If you are sharing your leadership, and if you are sharing what you know, you are doing God's work."

In fact, helping people was part of the inspiration behind the new Zeigler Aspiring Leadership and Development Course; the other was Jim Craig. Jim Craig once invited Damon to do a workshop with him and after the seminar, Damon asked him how he was able to inspire and relate to a room full of auto industry leadership professionals without being a car guy. Jim's answer was simple but really made him think, he told Damon to determine what he was good at, and use it to fill a need that wasn't currently being filled. 

Having been an Olympian, for Jim it was showing the world-and in that moment, a meeting room full of automotive leaders⁠-that the impossible was possible through perseverance, hard work, and the right attitude. Having been a teacher for 15 and a half years and an AAU basketball coach for 17, for Damon it was developing and teaching a course to employees that didn't belong to the established GM and Finance performance groups within the organization. 

This group could include a porter wanting to become a service manager, or a cashier wanting to become an office manager. It could also include a current BDC manager looking to explore other management opportunities within another department. The bottom line was there was, at that time, a group of team members that didn't necessarily know how to accomplish these goals, and that's where Damon was able to fill this need. 


Damon says Kerrie Gradisher was instrumental in helping put the program together, as was Ariah Daniels who lent a hand by giving valuable feedback on what had worked for her, and what hadn't. 

Also previously graduating from the Leadership Kalamazoo program from Southwest Michigan First influenced how he structured his curriculum⁠-which he says he designed from the bottom up. The two month program includes a class project, podcast discussion sessions, local guest speakers, job shadowing and a book club. In order to get one of the 20-25 seats in the coveted class, students must be nominated by their GMs and show management potential and of course, want to be in that position.

For the class project portion of the class, he has students work by themselves or with a partner. Topics for a class project could be looking through the financials of a particular dealership to better understand deal structure and to see what can be improved. 

For the podcast discussion sessions, Damon has students listen to motivational and business podcasts outside the class and have an open discussion as a group. He believes that the best leaders are creative and a great way of staying creative is listening to the exchange of different ideas. It also helps exercise the brain on the way to work, making you think more critically.


He also regularly has guest speakers attend the sessions. These are local business leaders from the area that volunteer their time. A great example was Chelsea Allison, the VP of HR for UPS, and Damon's wife. She came in and talked to the class about her purpose and why it's important for everyone to find their own purpose for greater success in life. Since the classes are smaller than the Zeigler University sessions, the speakers are able to have more of a one-on-one session with the students. The purpose of having these sessions is to educate, motivate, and depending on the topic help them change perspectives. 

Changing perspectives has made job shadowing a huge part of the curriculum. He finds that for so many of his students it could go either way. Sometimes a student will go through the job shadowing process and find they do not like the position at all, and it's not what they thought it would be. Other times, they find that they have some of the skills already and they are more clear on what they need to work on so that they feel even more encouraged to stay on the leadership track.

Of course, being a brand new author, his course would not be complete without a book club. Damon regularly picks books that help instill passion and perseverance into his students. He has assigned books such as Gold Medal Strategies by Jim Craig, and the Running Man by Charlie Engle, along with his very own book, King of Dreams: How to Create Winning Teams in an Unconventional Way, which he wrote during the pandemic.


With so many people starting businesses during that time, Damon wanted to share everything he'd learned from his mentors and his time coaching. He knew it could help people, especially those who were used to working alone learn to work with others to build a winning team. 

One such mentor was his High School AAU basketball coach Artis Slater, who he says did everything for his life, calling him his life coach. In fact, Artis even inspired him to coach a #1 AAU basketball team for 17 years, helping countless kids get college scholarships, with some going on to play in the NBA as in the case of Xavier Tilman of the Memphis Grizzlies; and Isiah Livers of the Pistons, whom he coached since the 8th grade. 

Despite all of his success, Damon did not hesitate to walk away to help his son develop better basketball skills with more one-on-one training. He felt that if he was able to do that for everyone else, why not his own son who really wanted that extra help from his father.

Another reason he was passionate about writing his new book was to bring awareness to Dyslexia, a disorder he's battled with his entire life. He found power in writing a book despite a condition that has made it difficult for him to even write emails or do presentations, without second guessing himself--two things he does constantly for work.

"Damon shared on his 2021 vision he wanted to publish a book! 
He put that big, lofty goal out there with our team and accomplished it! 
So proud of all that he has overcome in writing this book!"

Although it did affect his previous career as a public Kalamazoo public school teacher, he learned a lot along the way. He received his Masters degree about 6 years into his 15 and a half year career with hopes of becoming a principal or an assistant principal. However, due to his Dyslexia, tasks such as writing on the spot without an editor, made it difficult to receive the promotions that would have elevated him to his dream position. But instead of letting the situation get him down, he used it as motivation to find a better fit, remembering what his mentors instilled in him. 

Damon says that without the right support to set him up for success, he wouldn't be where he is today and that's the reason he finds what he does at Zeigler so rewarding. As of the publishing of this article, Damon has now had a total of 25 graduates pass through Zeigler's Aspiring Leadership & Development Course with 20 now in session.

"The more we share what we know, the better off we'll be."

After Damon published his book, Mike Van Ryn, Zeigler's Director of Talent Development recorded a short video congratulating him. Take a look below!

"Damon has taken our talent development to a whole new level across Zeigler!  

I am proud of him and his accomplishment!"

Plus, Don't Forget to Listen to Damon Allison's Interview on Zeigler's very own The Future of ZAG Today Podcast with Sam D'Arc and Mike Van Ryn