Jason Brickl went from washing cars and cleaning the service-bay gutters at the local Chevrolet dealership to becoming its general manager and minority owner in a span of just 10 years.
In high school, Brickl had dreamed of one day becoming a car dealer, but he figured achieving that would take longer than it did.
Brickl moved around the country for several jobs with Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., and at a Toyota dealership, until 1999, when Darlene Ballweg asked him to come back home to Wisconsin and oversee Ballweg Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Pontiac-Buick.
It was Ballweg who gave Brickl his first job at age 16 and put him on the sales floor as soon as he turned 18.
"She took a chance on a 26-year-old as a general manager and gave me an opportunity," Brickl says. "Basically the opportunity was, if you work hard and we do well, you can accomplish your goal."
Brickl gained a small ownership percentage in the dealership as part of the deal. He and Ballweg, whose husband, Danny, ran the business from 1965 until his death in 1984, expanded from a single outlet in a town of 3,000 people to six dealerships across Wisconsin.
Darlene Ballweg remains the president, with Brickl as her CEO and the majority owner of most of the stores, which generate $200 million in annual revenue on sales of about 5,700 new and used vehicles.
Under Brickl, the group has added two Toyota-Scion stores and a Ford store, as well as a larger Chevrolet dealership. It also has a Mercedes-Benz store that is moving to Rochester, Minn., early next year. A replacement for the group's original store in Sauk City, Wis. is opening in August.
"One of the things I realized was that we had to have a little more size and scope, and to be able to find ways to reduce expense by sharing cost," Brickl says.
In 2008, Brickl was elected to General Motors' National Dealer Council, becoming chairman last year. After a reorganization of the council, he was named chairman of GM's Dealer Executive Board, an elite group of four dealers that meets regularly with GM's top leadership.
"He's not afraid to tell us, General Motors or Chevrolet where we're doing things wrong, but at the same time telling us what we're doing right," says Don Johnson, the head of Chevrolet sales and service for GM. "He has the respect of the dealers -- and, given his business performance, he's got a lot of respect from General Motors."
-- Nick Bunkley