My Journey to Succession Planning

February 17, 1994, I wrote a check for $762,000 for the total assets and goodwill of Dallas Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Dallas, Ga. This was the beginning of my lifelong dream of becoming a franchised dealer and most importantly, building a business that my son and daughter could join. My daughter had just finished college and my son was a freshman in college, the plan was coming together. I had just finished a career as the founder and President of a large F&I Development Company, doing business in the Southeastern United States and had been fortunate enough to sell the Company to Primerica, and the table was set!

The small dealership in rural Paulding County Ga was to grow to prosper over the next 23 years. First, in acquiring 20 acres and building a new facility and secondly, when Fulton County, Georgia (Atlanta) annexed several adjoining counties to create the “Greater Atlanta Metro Area”. During my tenure as CDJR dealer, I also acquired two Hyundai dealerships, one in Metro Atlanta and one in Athens, Ga. The plan was coming together.

Upon the birth of my first grandson in 1997, my daughter took a leave of absence. At the Thanksgiving table that year, I asked if all family members had what they had dreamed of having at this point in their life. I certainly had, as my dream of owning an automotive franchise and my children joining me in the business had been fulfilled. My wife spoke up and stated that my daughter had other plans and wanted to pursue a career as a Registered Nurse. This is the first time I had heard of this but accepted my daughter’s desire and after her leave of absence, my daughter reentered college to pursue her nursing career in obtaining the proper degrees.
All was good until it wasn’t good anymore. Chrysler went through their first merger with Daimler, which failed. Then they merger with Cerberus Capital, which failed. Then Bankruptcy; no franchise and no floorplan. I will never forget sitting in my office with all my managers present the day all Chrysler dealers receive the overnight letter advising whether they were to be terminated or allowed to continue. Dallas Dodge Survived.

Business and life progressed. I chose to bring in a minority partner and for several years, I became basically absentee, allowing my partner to operate the business. At the time my partner determined that he would not be able to ever buy me out, as I still had a son actively in the business, my partner decided to leave.

My son was a great person and could have been a great dealer. Unfortunately, he did not have the passion for the business and for that matter the motivation to do what it took to be successful in the Automotive Franchise business. I knew in 2012 that it was time for me to consider an exit strategy.

One day the phone rang, and a buyer was on the other line. Of course, I told the buyer we were “not for sale” for all the reasons we now hear on our daily calls to dealers. However, once I had time to digest the call, I returned the call a month later and the rest is history. I chose to sell the dealership and assist my son in his next endeavor. My initial intent was pure, however, I never considered what my children had in mine for the rest of their lives.

Succession is obviously key in any business. Not only is the successor required to have the desire, but he or she must have the ability. I knew in my heart that my business would never prosper upon my exit. The toughest decision in my life but one that I have never regretted. Having been raised by a career US Marine, an enlisted man, E-9, we were by no means wealthy but always had what we wanted. Everything I accomplished in life was at my own initiative and at my own risk. Make a mistake and it was over. Failure was not an option!

I sold the dealership for 20 times over what I paid for it and the next day formed Gill Automotive Group, LLC. My daughter is now a Nurse Practitioner, and my son was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2020. The last nine years since forming Gill Automotive Group, from a professional and vocational standpoint, have been some of the happiest and most rewarding years in my life!
The story demonstrates why we At Gill Automotive Group, LLP understand the decision faced by so many dealers.!

As the founder of Gill Automotive Group M&A, I’ve walked the emotional journey that many of you face today. I understand the disappointment, the uncertainty, and the sense of loss that accompanies letting go of a dream. But I also know that within every ending lies the seed of a new beginning, waiting to be nurtured and embraced.

If you find yourself at a similar crossroads, grappling with the decision to let go and move forward, know that you’re not alone. I’m here to offer a listening ear, a guiding hand, and the wisdom of someone who has traversed this road before. Together, let us navigate the path ahead with courage, resilience, and unwavering determination.

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Gill Automotive, Group LLC is recognized as a leader in the automotive buy/sell space.

We would be honored to discuss potential buy/sell opportunities.