In 2008, the recession was raging, the automotive business was a bust, and Joe Cardinale decided to make some changes.

So during the next couple of years, the president and co-founder of Cardinale Automotive Group reinvented the way his dealership group works.

He committed heavily to online sales and marketing. But he also parted ways with third-party lead providers, developing his own systems and software to manage his online presence so as to be ready to take advantage of what he calls the "zero moment of truth" -- the point at which a consumer decides to buy a vehicle.

He also installed an approach he calls "management driven," which seeks to anticipate industry trends rather than wait to follow the market. And he set stringent goals for his staff and held them accountable for results.

Those disciplines and cultural changes guided the Seaside, Calif., group through the recession, are helping it ride the current economic wave and, Cardinale predicts, will insulate it from the next downturn.

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