It probably came as no surprise to anyone that Pat Moran wound up one of the most powerful women in U.S. auto retailing- except to Moran herself.
Referring to herself as a former part-time travel agent and single mother of three, the 54-year-old Moran now runs JM Family Enterprises Inc., the parent company of Southeast Toyota Distributors Inc.
The Deerfield Beach, Fla., company sells Toyota vehicles and services to retailers in five states. It also retails vehicles of its own in southern Florida, and operates two port-distribution centers.
But Moran had a connection: Her father is the 81-year-old company founder, auto-retailing giant Jim Moran. Moran the father built the Florida empire during the 1970s and 1980s, after semiretiring from a soaring car-dealing career in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. It was the father who brokered the deal to distribute Toyotas to dealers in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, independent of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc, the automaker's American subsidiary. It was Jim Moran who entered the captive finance and insurance businesses.
But it was daughter Pat that the father turned to in 1983 after a stroke made him realize he needed a successor.
Pat Moran was raising three children at the time, working part time in travel services. At the time, she readily admits, she was oblivious to the workings of the family business.
'I didn't know what his business was,' she says. 'I knew my father was a legend, but that's about all I knew. I knew it was a family-owned business and I knew I wanted it to go on after my father.'
She told her father, 'Dad, that's great, but first you have to tell me what you do.'
At first she was uncertain. Her decision was to first work part time for the conglomerate and decide whether she liked it enough to jump in with both feet.
'After six months,' she said, 'I fell in love with the business.'
Moran's involvement has grown over the past 16 years. She was named president and CEO of the company in 1989. At that time, the various business units were generating $2.4 billion a year. Last year, under her management, the privately held company saw $6.5 billion in revenues. At a time when Toyota itself is flexing its might around the world, building factories, creating new products and expanding in overseas markets, it shows no interest in taking back the lucrative distribution territory Moran manages. In fact, her effort to escort Toyota's Southeastern dealers further into e-retailing is a model for Toyota's nationwide e-commerce studies.
Moran makes it clear she is surrounded by effective managers. Jim Moran still reports for duty every day. He occupies the office next to his daughter's, offering advice and perspective as needed. He is also still publicly active in the company, meeting with suppliers and dealers and appearing at company functions.
But daughter Moran has spent the past decade creating her own management team - a task she admits has not been easy.
'It took me 12 years to assemble a team I felt comfortable with and felt would support me,' she says. The old-boy nature of the auto industry has meant that meetings are often dominated by intelligent and powerful male executives.
'Even though I'm the CEO, I'm invisible sometimes. I call it `Invisible Woman' syndrome.'
A grandmother now, she says the CEO role has been tough on her family. 'It has taken a toll on my children - time, health,' she says. 'I've given up personal ties.'
At the same time, the business has become even more of a family endeavor. Jim Moran's wife, Jan, also has executive duties at the business, and five other family members work in various capacities there.
But she calls her work her 'path in life.' While she didn't build the company, she has guided it through a period of enormous industry change that, among other things, has seen Toyota transform from a Japanese importer into a major North American manufacturer. That has changed the way Southeast Toyota receives cars and trucks, processes them, communicates with the factory and distributes product to its 160 dealerships.
'My father will be known as the legend and the entrepreneur,' she says. 'I will be noted for change.'