by Andrea Bosco | Photograph by Cayla Zahoran

Forward Drive: Rob Cochran of #1 Cochran

It makes sense that one of Rob Cochran’s most prominent and defining characteristics is his drive — he’s president of #1 Cochran’s 19 dealerships, which carry 15 brands. Founded in 1965, #1 Cochran has strengthened its position as the region’s largest automotive retailer.

Cochran often reflects on his perspective of growth then and now. He’s a humble intellectual who took over the family business at 21 years old after his father fell ill. “I don’t have a desire to grow for growth’s sake,” he says. “The growth is dictated internally by the development of our own people.” A Carnegie Mellon University graduate, Cochran’s story was not that of a 12-year-old boy desirable of entering the car business, but rather developing a brand and a culture.

“When you’re a family member or the son of a business owner, there’s a burden on you,” he says. “But, it was extraordinarily important to me that I would never be viewed as a person along for the ride. I wanted to make a difference.”

Amidst his flourishing success, his charitable strive is on the upward — personally and professionally. He serves on the boards of Family House, Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh Public Theater. The company has supported Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, among countless others. In addition, he’s started an endowment for students in free enterprise at his alma mater.

More than 700 team members make up the Cochran organization — all of whom have been trained through Cochran University. The training is a creation of the entrepreneur’s, designed to freshen corporate and strategic initiatives, and utilize role-play and dynamics to maintain relevance — and hover above — the ever-fluid retail business.

“The best part of my job is seeing people within our company enjoy success and overcome personal obstacles,” says Cochran. “It’s highly rewarding to see the organization make a difference in people’s lives, not just financially, but in the way they view their profession and values.”

As Cochran looks toward the future, he and his team are tackling the challenge of skepticism within the car industry regarding consumer purchases. “We’ve made some good steps in embracing transparency and looking to help simplify the process,” he says. “It’s a big focus for us.”

Cochran and his wife, Christina, have been featured as one of WHIRL’s Couples Who Make a Difference — in fact, they graced our cover in February 2009. The pair has five children, who Cochran says he’s protective of as a business leader and a father. “If it were that one or more had the passion and enthusiasm to do this, and had the skills, that would be great,” he says, on his children inheriting the family business. “I want them to find and define what their passion is and what they’re willing to sacrifice as they chase their own individual greatness.”

The business owner is proud of the balance he’s instilled between management and sales people. “We’re trying to promote a team-based culture focused on customer service, creating the best experience, and helping to promote entrepreneurialism, which is near and dear to my heart,” says Cochran. “We’re big on recognition,” he tells me, noting an upcoming trip to South Beach to entertain his top 25 sales people.

“We do that to reward them and to create an environment where we can talk about where we’re going as an organization.”

Cochran stresses to his team members, some of whom have been with the company 40-plus years, that he and they are part of something larger — and that there’s a responsibility on them to carry out a bigger task.“We’re attempting to evolve a business in what has been a very traditional industry,” he says. “The industry is changing and we all think that’s a good thing.”

Since his father started the business, many aspects have developed over time, including the positive use of technology for a forward-thinking retailer, he says, but the ethics remain true. “You can drive cultural change and training activities around a set of beliefs uncommon in our industry,” he says. “That’s what the differentiator needs to be for us going forward.”

#1 Cochran, 877.COCHRAN. cochran.com.

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This article is featured in the February 2013 issue of WHIRL Magazine.
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