Throughout his working life, David Rosenberg has been drawn to both the corporate business sense of Wall Street and the sense of community within a family-owned automotive dealership.
But last year he found a way to work for both - Wall Street and Ira Motor Group - by selling his dealerships to publicly traded Group 1 Automotive Inc. of Houston.
The sale will be finalized this month. Rosenberg, 37, will remain as president for at least five years.
Cars have been a part of Rosenberg's working life since he be-gan cleaning them at his father's Danvers, Mass., Toyota dealership when he was 12 years old. Rosenberg worked his way through various departments - parts, service, and eventually, after finishing college in 1984, sales.
'I liked it; I did well,' he says. 'After a while, though, I didn't know if that was what I wanted to do the rest of my life.'
Rosenberg had a friend who was working on Wall Street. He thought it would be nice to work there, too. So he headed for New York.
Yet while an MBA student at Columbia University, Rosenberg, unlike his peers, found himself passing up The Wall Street Journal for the New York Post and The New York Times.
'I was looking at the car ads and taking the concepts and the theories that I was learning in the classroom and calling up the dealership with ideas,' he says. 'After a while, I realized that I really wanted to stay in the car business.'
Rosenberg returned to the dealership, and in 1990, became general manager of the business his father, Ira, had begun in 1967 as a used-car lot in Salem, Mass. Ira Rosenberg retired and David Rosenberg nurtured the business, concentrating on his father's principles of customer satisfaction and employee retention.
The venture eventually evolved into a nine-franchise, six-dealership stronghold in Danvers, plus two dealerships in Lowell, Mass., and one in Medford, Mass.
FINDING A FIT
About five years ago, Rosenberg met with some dealer friends of his father's. They discussed merging and going public. For various reasons - among them that the concept of a car dealership going public was a virtually untried idea - the deal was never consummated. But Rosenberg held onto the thought and kept in touch with some of the contacts he had made.
A few years later, Ira Motor Group began working on a deal to go public with Classic Automotive Group of New Jersey. The deal was nearly set when the market for publicly owned dealerships plummeted. The deal was called off. Classic Automotive eventually sold to United- Auto Group Inc. of New York.
A number of other publicly traded dealership groups pursued Ira Motor Group, but none fit quite right. Then Group 1 came along.
Rosenberg knew right away that it was the real deal.
'We have the exact same philosophies in business,' he says 'They really are car people, and they're also business people, and they're also Wall Street people.
'The model that they presented to me was exactly what I was looking for personally and I also thought it was the best thing for my dealerships and for my employees.'
Much will stay the same: The dealerships will still be called 'Ira,' and they will still donate to charities and invest in the community.
Rosenberg wanted to make sure the dealership group wouldn't lose the close-knit feelings held among its 500 employees. 'My father always referred to people as the `Ira family,' and I refer to them as `Team Ira,' ' he says.
But Rosenberg's concerns have largely been allayed. Group 1, he says, strongly emphasizes employee retention, benefits and stock programs. The alliance also will give employees more chances for advancement. Rosenberg believes the deal will help him to attract the best and the brightest new employees as well.
Rosenberg's job will not really change much, other than the fact that Group 1 wants him to help expand the company. Ira Motor began that work in earnest while still in negotiations with Group 1 last year - by adding four new franchises (two Dodge stores and one Chrysler-Jeep store) outside Danvers. Rosenberg is shopping for other franchises.
EASING THE RISK
The sale certainly has helped ease the financial risk for the Rosenberg family, which includes three young children.
'My father, for his whole life, always had everything at risk for the dealership,' says Rosenberg. 'And it's a lot more security not to have everything on the line all the time. After a while, you learn to live with it, but it's certainly nice not to have it.'
But Rosenberg believes that his dealership group is also less at risk as well. 'I thought it was strategically the best thing for me to do ... to team up with a larger entity,' he says.
'My crystal ball tells me the people who are going to succeed and thrive are the people with the most resources, (those who) can invest the most in research and development in terms of new technology and strategies of customer retention - and I really think this is the way for us to be ahead of the curve.'