'If I should quit tomorrow, this place would go on the same as if I were here,' says 86-year-old Bud Webster, owner and operator of Webster Chevrolet-Buick in Cody, Wyo., for more than 60 years.
'My employees, most of whom are long-term with me, wouldn't wake up wondering if they had a job; that's all been taken care of.'
Papers for a succession plan, with ownership to be passed on to Webster's son, C. Edward Webster, an attorney and city judge in Cody, have been drawn up with General Motors officials.
'My son knows of the great pleasure I've had in running this business over the years, and he'd like a shot at it,' the elder Webster says.
Because of his law practice and judicial duties, Edward Webster has been involved in his father's automobile business only to a limited extent.
'But when the time comes, I intend to keep the dealership in the family,' the younger Webster says. 'Dad's got a great group of relatively young employees, many of whom have worked for him for a long time. They have their own jobs and do them very well. There's no question that the dealership will continue with the present staff.'
Office Manager Michelle Farlow, 45, who has been with the dealership 28 years, says, 'When you come to work for Bud Webster, you stay and stay and stay. Employee turnover here is almost nil.'
'I have a marvelous organization,' Webster says of his $10-million-a-year operation.
Besides the loyalty of many long-time customers, Webster believes the acquisition of the Buick franchise in 1956 has paved the way for continued success. 'It's long been the top-selling car in the Cody area,' he says.
His son, his employees and others in Cody will cite Webster's work ethic as primary in the long run of success. 'I've had people tell of being out and around at 4 a.m. and seeing Dad already in his office,' Edward Webster says.
'I've done well through the years,' Webster says modestly. His business acumen is widely known through northwestern Wyoming. In addition to the car business, he owned Coca-Cola Bottling Co. at Thermopolis for 36 years and 'in a very lucrative investment' served as a director of Shoshoni National Bank for 40 years.
An irony in Cody is Webster's determination to keep the business in the family, while sharply and openly criticizing 'the lack of attention to small dealerships today by General Motors.'
'I've lost all personal contact with Chevrolet; everything today is done by telephone,' he says. 'That's been hard to get used to. I think GM officials have reached the stage where they don't give a damn about the small dealer.
'They preached customer satisfaction, and ours has been among the highest in the nation, but when it comes to helping us get merchandise we need, it doesn't mean a thing.
'I've not thought about expanding brands,' Webster says. 'If something such as Cadillac or GMC was dropped in my lap, of course I'd be delighted, but I have no interest in adding a Ford or Dodge line.
'Though I've been approached about selling, I've never offered the business for sale, and have no intention of doing so.'
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Webster was celebrating his 25th birthday at a bar in Hudson, Wyo., when he heard of the availability of the Chevrolet dealership in Cody.
'The dealer there was bankrupt, and was very anxious to sell when I visited him,' says Webster. 'I didn't have the money necessary, but my brother Owen did; he'd just sold his interest in the family ranch at Meeteetse, 28 miles from Cody.'
Bud Webster was working as a sales tax auditor for the state of Wyoming, and the fact he had a college degree in accounting earned him the support of Chevrolet officials. Papers were signed at the zone office in Great Falls, Mont., and the Webster brothers assumed control on Nov. 1, 1937.
'Though as a young man I never dreamed of becoming a car dealer, I liked it from the start,' Webster says. 'I loved the challenge and the competitiveness of it. Chevrolet thought I did a pretty good job; it was a good relationship.'
Brother Owen, though, found the car business not that much to his liking, and he sold out to Bud on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Webster has no immediate plans to retire. He works every day of the week and still personally sells many new Chevrolets and Buicks.
He and Lucille, who celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in December, enjoy getting out in their comfortable 1996 Roadmaster. Only in very recent years have they given up their fall weekend drives to Denver to see the Broncos play football.
At 86, it's time a guy gave up something.