Only five positions should be necessary for an office staff of an average-size or smaller dealership.

That's the conclusion of dealer CPA Debra A. Kent, who has audited dealers for 15 years at Henry & Horne P.L.C., headquartered in Mesa, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix.

Noting that a five-person staff is prescribed for dealers with a computer system interfaced with accounting, Ms. Kent recommends the following quintet of office staffers and their job descriptions:

1. Accounts Receivable/ Payable. Prepares A/R statements; reconciles A/R schedule; handles collections; pays vendors and reconciles vendor invoices to purchase orders, statements and accounts payable schedule.

2. Contracts/DMV. Reviews final status of car dealers and completes necessary paperwork; processes title applications and reconciles contracts, vehicle receivable schedule and Department of Motor Vehicle schedule; rebates receivable schedule.

3. Cashier/Warranty Administrator. Closes repair orders; collects RO and counter ticket payments; issues receipts; submits and corrects warranty claims and reconciles warranty schedule.

4. Receptionist/Inventory Clerk. Answers phone and directs callers; records inventory purchases; prepares new and used vehicle "jackets" and mails A/R statements.

5. Office Manager/Controller. Handles financial management of dealership and communicates all financial data to management and dealer; oversees internal controls and sets forth policies and procedures as necessary; assists office staff; reconciles all schedules not reconciled by others; reconciles other unscheduled accounts; processes payroll; maintains payroll files and submits payroll tax payments and reports.

"The fewer the number of people involved in the office," says Ms. Kent, "the more effective the staff. But I strongly believe that staff members should also feel a responsibility first to the dealership and not only to their own edesk' and, in case of illnesses or vacations, should understand the basics of the other positions."

Cross-training in other office positions is vital, adds Ms. Kent.

"This is necessary not only for vacations and vacancies," she explains, "but a cross-trained staff can shorten the learning curve for new employees."

Too often, she cautions, office employees feel isolated from colleagues in the dealership. This can be remedied by a corporate philosophy of teamwork and responsibility to the company as a whole, averting incidences of blame and hostility, she says.

"Dealers often tend to overstaff their offices during periods of high sales and profits, but this isn't efficient and can result in layoffs when business softens," says Ms. Kent.

"That creates morale problems and can be headed off by looking at no more than five key office staff members."

Henry & Horne serves about 75 dealers in southwestern states and is a member of the AutoCPA Group.

Visteon Automotive Systems has created an annual scholarship in aftermarket studies for women and minorities at Northwood University.

The Visteon Excellence in Aftermarket Scholarship will offer scholarships to a new student each year. Students at each of the university's three campuses - Midland, MI; West Palm Beach, FL; and Cedar Hill, TX - will be eligible.

In addition to financial support, the students will be given summer jobs with the Visteon Global Aftermarket Operations, where they will be able to merge classroom learning with a variety of real-life experiences.

By offering the grants to women or minorities, Visteon hopes to increase workforce diversification within the automotive aftermarket.

"Our hope is that upon graduation, the student will have experiences and knowledge that will provide them with a competitive advantage in the workplace," says David Peace, vice president of the Visteon Global Aftermarket Operations.

"In addition, we believe infusing the industry with additional minorities and women will make the aftermarket stronger and brighter for the future. We are excited about leading the industry in this initiative and hope others will follow."

Robert Sundwick, chairman of Northwood's automotive aftermarket program at its Florida campus, says, "The aftermarket industry is facing a critical management shortage in the next decade.

"It is programs such as this that address the problem head-on and provide solutions that will benefit the industry for years to come. Education is the industry's greatest weapon."