Summer job led to career
Mitch Pierce sold a car on his first day.
What began as a summer lark turned into a passion and career for Mitch Pierce.
When he rode his motorcycle in 1978 from his hometown of Spokane, Wash., to San Diego, Pierce expected to earn money for college by working the summer at a Chevrolet dealership owned by his friend's uncle.
He sold a car his first day and was the store's top salesman by his second month. Pierce, then 19, never returned to college. By 1991, he'd become a Toyota dealer in Tempe, Ariz., a new location for the brand.
"There's nothing that really compares to starting a business from scratch," said Pierce, now 55. "I had the opportunity to handpick and interview every potential employee from the CFO on down to the guys working in the wash rack."
By 1997, Pierce said, the store was in Toyota's top 10 for volume and three public companies approached him. He wasn't in the market to sell, but he listened. Attracted by a $48 million stock deal and unsure of the impact the publics would have on his operation, Pierce liked what he heard from AutoNation, then known as Republic Industries.
Pierce and two longtime friends from childhood in Spokane who also became dealers -- Tim Pring and Marshall Chesrown -- all sold to AutoNation within two months of one another, he said.
Pierce stayed as president of AutoNation's southwest market for six years, but missed having his own company.
"That entrepreneurial spirit was gnawing away at me," he said. He won a Nissan point near Phoenix and opened in 2004.
By then, Pierce had determined that he could grow his business faster if he had the right equity partners. Today, he has seven stores -- five of them with his main business partner, John Elway. He got to know the now-retired NFL quarterback well at AutoNation, which had acquired Elway's dealerships.
Said Pierce: "It does get into your blood -- and once you've had success with it, something about it tugs us back."
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