Michael Morais

Age: 39
Open Road Auto Group
Bridgewater, N.J.

In a little more than a decade, Michael Morais went from the showroom floor to COO of Open Road Auto Group, helping it become one the largest dealership groups in the United States along the way.

Morais was named COO of Open Road Auto Group in January 2010. That year, Open Road increased retail new-vehicle sales 28 percent from 2009 to 19,597 units and revenue to more than $1 billion from about $860 million, despite having two fewer dealerships than in 2009.

Morais started in 1998 as a sales associate at Open Road Honda in Edison, N.J. Later, as the general manager of a newly opened Acura store, he took just two years to make it the third-highest volume Acura dealership in the country. In 2003, Open Road CEO W. Rodman Ryan made Morais a first vice president with management responsibility for four of the group's dealerships. Since then, Morais has overseen the acquisition of seven of Open Road's 19 dealerships.

As COO, he has pushed Open Road's dealerships to operate as a group, rather than a collection of individual stores. For example, he set up Performance Advertising Group in 2009 to handle all advertising and marketing for the group, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

"We began processes -- how we staff a store, how we view a store, how we evaluate a store's profit potential and what a store's return on investment could be," he says.

Morais has dedicated much of his time lately to operating Volkswagen of Manhattan, which opened in January inside a six-story building that will soon contain a new Audi dealership as well. Volkswagen Group of America funded a $125 million renovation project to house the dealerships. Open Road leases the building from VW and holds franchises as the dealer operator.

"Michael is a proven leader with a wealth of knowledge and experience in running successful Volkswagen and Audi dealerships," Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America CEO, said in an e-mail to Automotive News. "As a Volkswagen dealer council member, Michael brings both keen insights and the innovation needed in this business."

Morais credits his colleagues for the group's success. "From entry-level position to high level, I believe our place attracts and retains the best people in the business," he says. "This award isn't about me. It's about the Open Road Auto Group."

-- Ryan Beene

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