Why Subaru's Tom Doll is bullish on Camden

Thomas Doll, president and chief operating officer for Subaru of America, Inc., stands in front of Subaru’s headquarters in Cherry Hill. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Maybe Amazon should consider Camden — just as Subaru of America and Holtec International did.

This month, on the same day that officials cut the ribbon on Holtec’s seven-story glass corporate office and cavernous manufacturing plant in Camden, Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, announced that it was shopping for a new second headquarters — with plans to employ 50,000 and pump $5 billion into one local economy — in return for some powerful incentives.

Holtec received $260 million in tax incentives in return for a promise to keep 395 employed, though chairman Krishna Singh says 1,000 will be there. And Subaru of America Inc. received $117 million in incentives to move its headquarters next spring from Cherry Hill to Camden, along with 800 employees.

Thomas J. Doll is president and chief operating officer and head of the Japanese carmaker’s sales and marketing U.S. arm.

Would Subaru, which is outgrowing its headquarters in Cherry Hill and Pennsauken, have chosen Camden without the incentives?

I’m not sure we would have.

What was the competition?

We have a factory in Lafayette, Ind.; Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. We looked at the Navy Yard and at a number of locations in Delaware. The subsidies help companies stay in New Jersey because this is a very high-tax jurisdiction. The state income tax is high, both on the personal and on the business side. Property taxes are the highest in the nation. So, it’s a difficult environment. But, we didn’t have to answer that question because the governmental agency — I forget what they call it … Grow NJ — was already in place, and we just applied to get the tax credits that we thought would help us offset the cost of the building.

You committed to hiring 100 new people. Will you be able to do that?

Most definitely, because we’re growing so much. I mean, 40 percent of the people at Subaru of America have been here five years or less.

How will Subaru impact Camden?

We think that by going in there that the whole area is going to develop and gentrify, and there’s going to be a renaissance in Camden, similar to what happened in Manayunk.

How realistic is that? You’re in an isolated area, cut off by highways. All the waterfront development hasn’t yielded restaurants or shops.

Hopefully, with us moving in there, there’s going to be other development. There are plans for other office buildings and, hopefully, a hotel before too long because we need to have a full-service hotel. Services that are going to be required, restaurants are going to be necessary, and nightlife, because, as I said, we have people coming and going all day and night. And it’s not just our headquarters that’s going there. We’ve got our national training center going there. We’re taking local people in the Camden area and training them as automotive technicians.

Have you had a hard time finding technicians?

In society today, our parents teach us that we’re not going to be successful unless we go to college. There’s a whole group of people out there that aren’t really made for college, but can do technician work. And, believe me, an automotive technician is a great career. The average technician in the Philadelphia area can make well over $100,000.

What makes a great car salesman?

You have to let the customer buy. You can’t sell too much. Car salespeople want to sell, because that’s what their job is. Instead, let the customer tell you how they’re going to use the car. Then you try to fit them into the type of vehicle that they need.

Why is the automotive market in a slump this year?

It’s bewildering, because the economy is doing well. Unemployment is low. The stock market has been going crazy. Consumer confidence is high. But yet, the car industry is going to be down 600,000 to 700,000 vehicles this year. Last year, the total market was about 17.6 million vehicles, a record. Everybody was expecting this year to continue on, but it hasn’t.

What was your first car?

A ’64 Chevy Impala SS.  I loved that car.  The only problem was, it started to burn more oil than gas.  So I had to get rid of it.

 

 

 

 

 

THOMAS J. DOLL

Home: Lafayette Hill

Family: Linda Gardner Doll, wife; sons Steven, 26, David, 21.

Diplomas: Abington High School; Villanova University, accounting; Drexel University, master's in business administration.

Resume: Started as an accountant before moving to Subaru in 1982. Rose through the ranks to become president in April 2013.

Drives: Only Subarus -- an Outback and a Legacy sedan.

Anything else: "That would be heresy."

SUBARU OF NORTH AMERICA INC.:

Headquarters: Cherry Hill, moving to Camden in 2018.

Sales: More than 600,000 vehicles a year, up from fewer than 200,000 eight years ago.

Employees: 1,085, plus 246 Japanese nationals, contract workers and temps nationwide; 708, plus 176 others in Jersey.

Dealerships: 620. Not company-owned.