Danny Rivera’s grandparents left behind everything they had in Cuba to pursue a better life in the US. Motivated by their sacrifice, he has taken his own risks and learned from his failures to become a top leader in his field.
While Rivera didn’t have to tackle the extreme risks faced by his grandparents, he has certainly bucked norms. After earning an engineering degree, he enrolled in law school instead of pursuing an MBA. Although he never practiced law, the skills he developed during law school served him well as he transitioned from IT leadership to business leadership for Driven Brands, the largest automotive services company in North America, where he is currently executive vice president and group president of the maintenance segment.
Rivera is the top executive and is responsible for all aspects of Take 5 Oil Change, one of Driven’s fastest-growing brands, which is known for its “ten-minute stay-in-your-car oil change.” The Take 5 business has grown from about thirty locations when acquired by Driven Brands in 2016 to over six hundred locations today and continues to rapidly grow.
“Dream big, work hard, and learn from your failures,” is a motto that Rivera has come to believe through the years. One of his most formative experiences occurred when he began his career in General Electric’s leadership development program. The invitation to join GE’s prestigious program, which came soon after he obtained his bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Florida International University, was quite an accomplishment.
The two-year program, aimed at developing business leaders for Fortune 500 companies, was divided into four six-month “rotations.” After each rotation, program participants were evaluated and ranked. After the first rotation, Rivera was shocked to find out he was at the bottom of the rankings.
“I was working really hard and felt that I had succeeded at the work I was assigned,” he recalls. The feedback that he was underperforming compared to everyone in the program was tough to take, but Rivera was determined to learn from this failure. He requested a meeting with the CIO to discuss the matter. The executive was frank. The poor assessment was not a reflection on his technical skills: Rivera’s main shortcoming was not putting in much effort to improve team performance. A leader must engage with others and help them succeed, not just focus on one’s own tasks, the CIO told him.
Rivera has kept that lesson front of mind as his career has progressed. In his current role, he engages with Take 5 Oil Change’s franchisees in nuanced relationships that are unlike the traditional manager/subordinate arrangement. It requires the ability to persuade instead of ordering or making decrees.
That’s certainly not to say that Rivera doesn’t take action. He knows how important it is to the success of the brand for his management team to make operational changes that improve service and efficiency throughout all six hundred Take 5 locations. Whenever he notices hesitance or resistance to those changes, Rivera works to understand the franchisee’s particular circumstances. Franchisees, he explains, are entrepreneurs who often invest their life savings into their dreams. “They sign the front of a check—most people have never done that,” Rivera remarks. “That level of commitment is to be respected and admired; my team and I owe them the same level of commitment.
“As a leader, your job is all about vision, people, and priorities,” Rivera continues. “Vision is about helping others see a future world that is better than the current one. It’s about hearts and minds. If you have their hearts and their minds, the hard work to get there is justified.”
A vision worth achieving, says the EVP, requires people that are hard-working, smart, and all in. “Once you have the vision and the people, it’s about pointing those great people at the three to five things that truly matter, that truly move the needle.”
This is a lesson Rivera says he’s learned the hard way. “Earlier in my career, I would focus on over a dozen initiatives all aimed at improving the business,” he says. “Through mentoring and time, I’ve come to realize that one of the most important jobs of a leader is to determine which are the priorities that truly matter and to put your and your team’s energy there.”
Rivera’s leadership skills have impressed his colleagues outside the company. “Danny has an effective leadership style that allows him to manage all aspects of the Take 5 business very successfully,” says Glenn Marks, business development and strategy manager for BP Lubricants. “He has earned the respect of his employees, franchisees, and vendors.”
Relationship building is also important to both Rivera and Driven Brands, and the latter works to strengthen community-wide connections through its charitable programs. The company’s efforts have been effective in strengthening ties between corporate management, employees, and franchisees, Rivera says. “You want something that you can relate with franchisees that transcends business,” he explains.
Each company within Driven Brands portfolio has its own charitable cause. Take 5 focuses on raising money for children’s hospitals: each one of its locations solicits donations from customers while they wait in their cars for their ten-minute oil change.
“Our employees make it fun,” Rivera says. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, and when a customer makes a donation, we ring a bell and the entire shop just explodes with positivity.” Take 5 employees also make TikTok videos and internal videos to promote the gift giving. “Last year, we raised over one million dollars for children’s hospitals. This year we’re going to beat that number.”
Driven Brands’ charitable efforts are always a great icebreaker topic when Rivera reaches out to franchisees. But whenever the conversation turns to more serious matters, he relies on the foundation provided by his legal training. “It’s helped me with being able to defend a position, better articulate my point, and to think on my feet,” he says of his JD.
At this point in his career, Rivera is happy with the rewards that have resulted from some of the risks he’s taken. Any setback he’s faced, he’s not only overcome but learned from. Now, he’s aiming to use the lessons he and his team learned during the company’s most recent setback—the COVID-19 pandemic—to grow Take 5 to new heights.