ROBERT SCHULER, THE FAMED TV MINISTER OF THE Crystal Cathedral, spoke at a NADA Convention Sunday morning inter-denominational worship service years ago.
Dr. Schuler's message was "Learn to Turn Your Success into Significance."
It seems appropriate to revive that theme for the Ward's Dealer Business annual Top 500 issue in which so many eminently successful business organizations are recognized and acknowledged.
An interesting fact is the top dealers on the 500 list often are on the list year after year. Success is not a stranger to these entrepreneurs. Many of them have been Time magazine Quality dealers award recipients and or past presidents of NADA and local and state associations.
During my tenure as the NADA director from Massachusetts during the volatile years of 1969 to 1979, it was my privilege to observe first-hand the commitment and dedication of successful dealers to industry challenges while they also ran successful dealerships. I recall a fiery speech by Bill Hancock (a director from South Carolina) to the NADA Board in which he shared his frustration with Capitol Hill' s attitude toward new-car dealers. He helped create the Dealers Election Action Committee (DEAC) in cooperation with Ed Mullane, another dealers' rights battler.
Simply because of alphabetical protocol (Massachusetts), I was fortunate to be seated at board meetings between Reed Draper of Michigan and Jack Pohanka of Maryland. Both men were presidents of NADA and were directly responsible for programs which current dealers might take for granted.
Mr. Draper was responsible for making the first Diamond Dinner fund raiser a reality, netting in excess of $100,000 in seed money for subsequent DEAC programs. Today, every NADA Convention closes with a DEAC Diamond Dinner.
Jack Pohanka was the architect and prime mover of the Automotive Repair Technician Certification Program which is still widely accepted as the proficiency rating for all automotive repairers.
My personal contribution to the dealer community was the research and development of the Dealer Candidate Academy in 1979 with a big assist from J. Ferron who was the assistant NADA research director. After a year of research, it was determined there was a dire need for training dealers' family successor-candidates outside the restrictive environment of the family controlled dealership.
Merely by happenstance, Robert Burger, General Motors vice president of marketing at the time, learned of our desire to create a training facility for dealer-successor candidates and offered us GM's $1.3 million Jam Handy minority training program along with its facilitator Bill Fickling.
Under the outstanding leadership of Harold "Woody" Miller, the academy program has since been extensively modified and has become the premier training facility for dealers' successor-candidates and dealership managers in the industry.
Following World War II until the mid-1950s the dealer franchise agreement was a unilateral and coercive instrument which was grossly unfair to dealers. The length of the contract was for one year only. During renewal, dealers were coerced into purchasing expensive "Mickey Mouse" factory programs before signing their renewals.
Granting of new franchises was often biased and laden with favorable considerations for friends and relatives. New vehicle distribution was a nightmare and dealers were forced to stock large numbers of slow-selling vehicles in order to get adequate supplies of "hot" models. Warranty reimbursement was based on 50% labor and parts at cost plus 25%.
In December, 1955 a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Joseph O'Mahoney (D-WY) on anti-trust and monopoly was in the process of investigating General Motors for possible anti-trust violations.
Merle H. "Doc" Yager was a successful Pontiac dealer in Albany, NY. He was also a former GM zone manager. Learning about the Congressional hearings, Mr. Yager wrote a letter to Sen. O'Mahoney outlining a GM policy regarding the one-year renewable franchise, the cancellation of which was held over dealers' heads like a club.
Mr. Yager was astounded when the Senator asked him to testify. His testimony was important to the committee because he was a successful Pontiac dealer for 14 years, was financially solvent, formerly worked for GM and had no personal ax to grind with the automaker. Mr. Yager asked for support from various dealer associations and was turned down. They feared reprisals against their dealer members.
He was the only witness to testify in person against the might of General Motors. Mr. Yager was risking his substantial livelihood. Lined up when he took his seat at the witness table was: (a) The president of General Motors (b) The chairman of the board (c) GM's chief counsel (d) The vice chairman of the board (e) GM's treasurer. Behind them sat 14 GM vice presidents.
As a result of his courageous testimony, many reforms in consumer and dealer protection resulted. Though the O'Mahoney hearings targeted General Motors alone, the entire automobile manufacturing community was on trial.
Almost immediately following the hearings, GM dealers were invited to sign five-year selling agreements which ultimately resulted in dealer reimbursement of 100% of warranty labor instead of the 50% being offered then.
Doc Yager remained a successful franchised Pontiac dealer for many years.
Nat Shulman was owner of Best Chevrolet in Hingham, MA for many years.