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Bill Nash said the knowledge he gained from JMU’s accounting program is still valuable to the work he does today as a CEO.

When Bill Nash prepares for his day, the plan he may have made originally is completely different by 9 a.m. because of what comes up. When the JMU alumnus (’91) is not in CarMax’s home office in Richmond, he’s traveling to different stores across the country, interacting with associates, answering their questions and hearing their concerns.

As the chief executive officer of CarMax, Nash said he feels that a big part of the company’s success has been the associates and, more specifically, the passion they have in delivering a quality customer experience. CarMax has made a name for itself in the industry for 27 years. 

However, when Nash started his journey after graduating from JMU, being a CEO wasn’t always the plan.

Nash lived 40 minutes south of JMU and heard about the university through his sister, who was a senior when he was a freshman. He said that when he first started at the university, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. At some point in his college career, he said he became interested in accounting, but as he progressed in the major, he realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. 

Nash finished the major and ended up going into public accounting. He said that although it wasn’t his dream job, he gained useful knowledge from JMU. From learning how to manage his time to working with small groups, he still uses these skills today.

As an accounting major, he started job searching during the fall semester of his senior year and had a job lined up after he graduated. But, in the accounting world, Nash said, summers are usually slow, so he asked if he could start in the fall to make the most of his last summer. 

“I took the summer off, and I moved to the beach, and I made very little money,” Nash said. “I worked at a sports rental place, and I just wanted to enjoy life. I knew I would be working for a long time, and I wanted to have a little fun before I got into the working world.” 

After two years in the public accountant job, he got certified to be a public accountant, got married to his wife — who’s a JMU alumna — and moved to Richmond.

The move to Richmond led him to a job at Circuit City, an electronics retail company. Coming straight out of public accounting after two years, he was looking for a company where he could do more work within corporate public accounting. 

“I remember coming home and telling my wife, ‘Wow, that culture is very different than any company I’ve experienced through my accounting days,’” Nash said. “The culture is what attracted me there. It’s almost as if they put on a show — everybody seemed to be happy.”

At Circuit City, Nash had the opportunity to switch positions every six to seven months. He said that from supervising payroll to managing the accounting department, each position gave him the opportunity to see different aspects of the company, which shaped the way he wanted to go about his career. 

After four years, he wanted to become more involved with the business and operations of a company. Around the same time, Circuit City expanded and opened its first CarMax store in 1993, and he decided to do audit work, becoming more interested in the company. 

“I totally believed in the mission of the company, which is to change the auto industry,” Nash said. “This was the opportunity to run a business within a business. It was really what I was looking for. I was looking to get into the operations, leverage my business background, my accounting background, and starting that auction group up and running — that just kind of checked all the boxes for me.”

Nash said CarMax began with a small group of people selling used cars. At the time, no one wanted to walk into a used car dealership, much less work for one, Nash said. His goal wasn’t to become CEO. Instead, he said he wanted to run the best auction business he could. 

“Every time I’ve had the opportunity to take on a new role, I just want to make it a little better than the person before,” Nash said. “We should all strive for that as leaders when you leave a role. You want to make sure the person who’s taking your role takes it onto the next level.”

Tom Folliard, the non-executive chair of the board of CarMax Inc., was the former CarMax CEO and met Nash during a get-together between associates while playing basketball. Folliard saw that Nash was a great basketball player, but he also saw that Nash goes above and beyond in his role. 

“As hard as he worked playing basketball, he worked just as hard at his job, and he was very committed,” Folliard said. “He really became the face of our auctions, and we wouldn’t be able to grow that business without him.”

Although CarMax is one of the largest retailers for used cars, Nash said the company wants to hire great talent and doesn’t settle for who gets to wear the CarMax uniform. One of the biggest stressors of his role is to maintain the culture it has.

“The thing I continue to worry about [is] how can I foster that environment. How do I make sure we, and the other leaders in the organization, we’re hiring the right people and that we’re [sharing our] values,” Nash said. “[What] we’re actually delivering is an experience, and the experience is all about treating people the way that people should treat one another. It’s about integrity and transparency and treating people the way they should be treated.”

Nash said that when he isn’t visiting other stores, talking to investors or in the office, he focuses on ensuring that there’s a balance between his work and personal life. He said it’s easy to let work dominate and “let it get out of whack,” but he makes sure to have time for himself and spend time with his family. What Nash enjoys to do in his free time is exercising, to relieve the pressure. He says exercising allows him to “keep everything in perspective.” 

Although he’s the face of CarMax, that doesn’t stop Nash from creating a positive relationship with his associates and colleagues. John Ficken, the CEO of Quotidian Group, is a leadership coach who worked with Nash for 15 years. 

“He’s a little bit of a character, but he’s such a good rock-solid person, impeccable integrity, really good values, very driven, very ethical,” Ficken said. “He radiates positive energy in addition to all the wealth of positive executive skills.”

Nash said he wants to continue building on the customer service experience that CarMax provides while disrupting the industry. To this day, he said, he enjoys having the opportunity to travel and connect with his associates while ensuring that CarMax doesn’t lose that foundation.

“I’m very fortunate,” Nash said. “I always tell folks when they’re looking for advice, they should think about their work environment. I say, ‘Look, you work for a very long time. You have to love what you do and love the people you work for.’ I absolutely do that here, so much so that it is very easy to get up in the morning and go to work. I don’t get up dreading going to work. I love coming to work, and I’m excited about where we’re going.”

Contact Talia Davis at davisty@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.