Were it not for his grandfather's vision of the future, this year's incoming NADA chairman might have been running a hardware store and sawing wood back in old Virginia.
The story starts in 1924 when H. Carter Myers Sr. saw the future and it was in automobiles. Seeing a good thing, he didn't wait long. He transformed his 22-year old hardware and sawmill store into a Ford dealership in Petersburg, VA.
Eight years later, a heart attack forced him to slow down. He convinced his son, H. Carter Myers Jr. to take a two-year leave of absence from his job at General Electric and help him out with the store. Mr. Myers Jr. never did get back to General Electric — his father died in 1934 and he promptly became president and general manager of the dealership. Forty years later, at his retirement party, he joked that he was going back to General Electric.
The year was 1965 and the dealership was going strong. The retired dealer's son, H. Carter Myers III, was a senior at the University of Virginia and not giving much thought to a dealership career. But he wrote a term paper on the subject of car leasing. It was a subject he was familiar with — long before the manufacturers got into the leasing game, his dad had been offering leasing through the dealership.
He mailed the paper to his dad to proof read. Impressed, the father offered his son a job as a new car salesman. In 1974, he became president of the dealership. In January, he takes over the top spot at the National Automobile Dealers Association's convention in New Orleans.
It's not just happenstance that H. Carter Myers, III has been so successful as a dealer.
“I grew up in a small town, and if you didn't take care of the customer, you'd hear about it,” he explains.
His father at dinnertime would always have a story about some difficult customer or problem.
“My father was committed to the customer,” Mr. Myers recalls. “There were times, if a customer was having problem with a car, my dad would go out and ride around with him on Sunday just to see if they could diagnose the problem.”
Those dinnertime lessons stuck with Mr. Myers. Today, he's just as accessible to the customer as his dad and grandfather were. His phone number is in the local directory. His cell phone number is on his voicemail. And just like his dad did, he'll still ride around with the customer to help diagnose a problem.
According to Mr. Myers, “The toughest problem today is the intermittent mechanical problem. It's easy to conclude that a problem doesn't exist. And customers get mad when they bring the car in and we don't experience the problem.” But he cautions, “There is always a problem. People have better things to do than waste their time or the store's time on some imagined problem. It might take us a while to find it, but if we're accessible and stick to it, we'll generally figure it out.”
He's the second small-town Southern dealer in three years to become chairman of the NADA, the world's largest dealer association. Harold B. Wells, a GM and Chrysler dealer in Whiteville, NC, held the NADA top spot in 2000.
Despite his drawl and country upbringing, it would be a mistake to consider Mr. Myers as a good ol' country boy. He's a tough businessman who admits he doesn't mind “taking a deal away from the guy down the street.”
The Ford dealership has long since been sold to a former associate but is still in its original 1924 location. A Honda store was created in 1974 in Petersburg, VA. Heritage Chevrolet was added in 1982 in Chester, VA and the Colonial Auto Center, in Charlottesville, VA was purchased in 1984.
Although Mr. Myers has firsthand experience with many brands, he diplomatically refuses to say which has the best product. He even refuses to name a specific favorite car.
He quips, “My favorite cars are those whose taillights I see driving out of my dealership.”
Mr. Myers has a strong background in government relations, having been involved in Virginia state politics for several years. He has been appointed to Virginia's Commonwealth Transportation Board by two governors and has served on the Governor's Economic Development Council.
At NADA, he chaired several committees including Government Relations, Public Affairs, Real Estate and Information Technology. He has also been president of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association and the Tri-City New Car Dealers Association.
He is a passionate advocate for the dealer franchise system and says he intends to use his time as NADA chairman to restore the faith the manufacturers once had in the system.