It has been a quick run to the top for Orlando-area car dealer Frank Rodriguez.
After only nine years as a dealership owner, Rodriguez, 54, is the elected president of Ford Motor Co.'s National Dealer Council. He has built one of the country's largest Hispanic businesses that consistently is one of the top 20 selling stores for Ford.
Now he and business partner Carl Atkinson are among the first U.S. car dealers venturing into the Chinese market by opening a dealership there.
Rodriguez started his automotive career as a showroom salesman in Florida in 1979.
By 1986, he was general manager for the Scott-Mcrae Group's Honda dealership. Shortly afterwards, he became the third general manager in the 80-year history of the group's flagship store, Duval Ford.
The “factory” was impressed with him. Rodriguez entered the dealer ranks in 1995 when, at Ford Motor Co.'s request, he bought out a previous partner of what's now called Greenway Ford in Orlando, and became a 50-50 owner with long-time dealer Hoot McInerney.
In his first month there, Rodriguez oversaw the best month in the 20-year history of the dealership, selling 385 vehicles, up from 228 units in the previous month.
“I walked fast and talked loud,” laughs Rodriguez, “I just wanted to put some new life into the store.”
He bought McInerney out three years later. He has since added a Chrysler Dodge Jeep franchise and a Kia store. He also is building a new Ford store in Tampa.
In 2000, the existing Ford store relocated to a new facility. Rodriguez ordered excess inventory and held a going-out-of-business sale a month before the move, selling nearly 800 vehicles in the last 29 days at the old place.
He continued the pace after the move, selling 33 cars on the first day at the new location.
Dealer since: 1995
Dealerships: Greenway Ford, Greenway Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep, The Kia Store, all in Orlando, FL. Building a new Ford dealership in Tampa. Part-owner of Greenway Shanghai Motors, Shanghai, China
Family: Wife Mary Ellen; children Amy 25, Elizabeth 19, Frank Jr. 16