At first, seller's regret; now he moves ahead
Soon after selling his stores, Tom Hessert wanted a do-over. No dice.
Thirty days after selling nearly all of his dealerships to UnitedAuto Group in 1998, New Jersey dealer Tom Hessert offered all of the buyer's money back in exchange for the stores.
Hessert says he sold 13 of his 14 dealerships -- and immediately felt that he made a mistake.
"One thing I found out is that nothing in my life changed," says Hessert, who had explored his own public offering. "There was no reason to do it other than the money, and I regretted it right after that."
But UAG wouldn't reverse the deal, valued at around $30 million. So Hessert -- who had entered the auto business to make enough money to race cars -- went on working for UAG as executive vice president for a little more than a year.
He says he had kept one Nissan store, and he figured he could eventually use the proceeds from the deal to buy more stores and return to life as an entrepreneur. Taking his financial risk off the table was a major appeal in the deal -- knowing that any expansions he made would be with his family's future secured.
He says the first two dealerships he bought post-UAG turned out to be his former stores.
After Roger Penske acquired controlling interest in UAG in 1999, the pair made a handshake deal. Hessert agreed not to infringe on UAG's business or recruit any former employees now working for the public retailer. And Penske sold him back his Cherry Hills Classic Cars, then a Jaguar-Saab store, and his Classic Chevrolet store.
Hessert considered investing in other businesses -- a plastic molding company and a finance company. But he knew auto retailing and was good at it. "It made me successful as of that point, so why change?" says Hessert, now 60.
Hessert added a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram store in 2011, and he continues to look for acquisition targets. A daughter and a son both work for him. His son is now racing cars himself.
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