You can call Pat Patterson strong willed, but never question his loyalty.
The 70-year-old dealer has watched many of his contemporaries sell to chains and private parties in recent years. But Patterson says he plans to continue as principal owner of Pat Patterson Motor Sales (Volvo) in Memphis, Tenn., to make sure his 56 employees are treated right.
'If I were selfish and greedy, I'd sell tomorrow,' says Patterson, who bought his store in 1968.
'It would just mean a bigger bank account that I don't need. But my employees need jobs. Corporations are looking for facts, figures and financial results. Most of my employees have been with me for 15 years plus.'
Most of the day-to-day responsibilities at Patterson's store have been given to General Manager Randy Mathis and Patterson's two sons, J.M. Patterson, 42, and Donald Patterson, 40.
J.M. Patterson is vice president and deals with Volvo corporate headquarters. Donald Patterson is used-car manager. Mathis, a veteran Memphis dealership manager, was hired six months ago to manage the entire operation.
The elder Patterson has set up a succession plan whereby upon his death or retirement, his sons will split 75 percent of the company and Mathis will receive 25 percent.
'I'm chairman now, but it's not set in stone who is going to be chairman (after me); it will either be J.M. or Donny, depending on J.M.'s health,' says Patterson, a Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award winner in 1991.
Patterson recently spent $800,000 to update the appearance and technology of his dealership without going into debt. 'We owe no money here,' he says. 'At 70, you don't need to be owing a bunch of money because your heirs are going to have to figure how to pay it back.'
He has been approached by several private owners who want to buy his dealership. Four months ago, Richard Dyer, Sonic Automotive's head of Volvo franchise development, talked to him about selling. Dyer is also the nation's top Volvo dealer. Patterson put off the decision.
'I could sell it for $6 or $7 million, but by the time you get through with all the tax liabilities that wouldn't be the practical thing to do,' says Patterson.
Patterson says he also is concerned about a chain's ability to keep employees and train them properly. His sons also have expressed mixed emotions about selling to someone outside the family.
'You're just a number on a computer with a chain outfit,' says Donald Patterson. 'If you have a serious problem and try to get to the head man at a chain operation, it would be like an act of Congress.'
The Patterson family has tried to add personal touches to the dealership operation, says Donald Patterson. For instance, his wife Barbara calls service customers after each appointment to make sure their cars were repaired properly.
For now, the elder Patterson says that owning the dealership gives him something to do each day. On most days, he arrives at 7 a.m. and goes through all the checks and invoices. He leaves by 1 p.m. to enjoy some 'couch time' at his Memphis home.
'Then my bride of 49 years (his wife, Dorothy) decides which restaurant we're going to that evening,' he says.
His semi-retirement schedule also allows him to spend time at his 1,500-acre farm in Decatur County and a lakeside home in Mississippi.
In addition, Patterson enjoys spending leisure time talking to his employees at his store.
Adds Patterson: 'My employees are superstars; they mean as much to me as my whole family.'