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In late 2008, as Chrysler Financial began to unravel, Jamie Darvish found his family's dealership group on the brink of losing everything.
The company, Darcars Automotive Group, had more than $250 million in cash, savings, deposits and floorplan loans linked to the lender just as Chrysler Financial began to freeze financing and shut down its lines of credit.
The family-owned group, established by Darvish's father, John, in 1977 as a Chrysler store, had built close ties to Chrysler Financial for more than three decades. When the crisis hit, Chrysler Financial was writing 80 percent of the group's retail loans, including those for non-Chrysler brands.
Jamie Darvish had to move quickly.
"It was a real awkward situation," recalls Darvish, a group vice president. Darcars suddenly found itself lacking wholesale financing to stock new vehicles, leaving it in violation of its agreements with automakers, he says.
The credit markets were seizing up, two of Detroit's three automakers were heading toward bankruptcy and the nation was collapsing into all-out financial crisis. "And I got to call someone and say, 'I need a couple hundred millions dollars in floorplan lines,'" Darvish says. "It was scary times."
Darvish took charge of restructuring the group's real estate, cash and asset-management portfolios to keep the company afloat. He sought out a diverse group of captive lenders and secured the much-needed financing, in part because of the company's low debt and strong equity position.
Despite the challenges, the company didn't lay off any employees. Instead, it added more than 300 workers, bringing today's ranks to about 2,000.
"Jamie is so methodical," says Tammy Darvish, his older half-sister and a vice president at Darcars. "He could take apart a spaceship and put it back together. He's driven by the challenge."
The experience forced the dealership group to take a hard look at its business, rework its expenses and cut waste.
"We got more nimble," Jamie Darvish says, noting that profits grew in 2009. In 2010, it had its best financial year in history, followed by another banner year in 2011, he says. He declined to disclose profit figures.
Now the company, which has 21 dealerships concentrated in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, is looking to expand. Says Darvish: "We're in full acquisition mode."
-- Christina Rogers
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