The psychological and professional dynamics of operating a successful family business can pose quite a challenge, even to close-knit siblings. But that challenge was a non-issue for brothers Al and David Gossett who, along with Al's son, Brian, own and operate Gossett Motor Cars Inc. in Memphis, Tenn.
Working together to run their three dealerships 'has been one big, long barrel of fun,' says Al Gossett.
The family chemistry that has proved so solid is no mystery to the Gossetts. For each of them, the explanation seems simple.
'I don't think we have any conflict,' says Al. 'We sit down and talk.'
David agrees. 'We cut straight to the chase. Al's even-tempered, and I'm more fiery. He keeps my blood pressure down. Over the years, I think I've mellowed.'
'He has,' Al adds with a grin.
'All three of us have an understanding of our personalities,' David says. 'It's a no-B.S. deal here.'
Al sees only positives in the family business. 'We're a pretty close family,' he says. 'We cut through the B.S. and shoot straight with each other. Then we put the facts together and communicate on an eye-to-eye level, being very honest and open with one another. Trust is important. We don't have to worry about each other from that standpoint.'
According to Al, that approach permeates the dealership.
'Everyone in the company knows they can come to any of us. We run a real straight dealership and treat everyone fairly.'
David is convinced this approach reaches customers.
'One of us is always here,' he says. 'We think it's nice to have a company head available for customers. If they have gripes or nice things to say, they can say it to a Gossett.'
'I still sell cars,' Al says. 'David still sells cars. So does Brian (general manager of Gossett Chrysler-Jeep).'
'A lot of times, customers want to talk to dealers and can't get to them,' David says. 'With us, dial the phone and we're ready.'
Passion for the good life
The brothers are from southern Louisiana. They spent most of their formative years in Baton Rouge, developing a passion for the good food and festive music for which the region is famous.
Al, the older brother, was the first to enter the car business. He started selling cars in Baton Rouge in 1975. In 1984, while working as general sales manager at Carl Sewell's Cadillac dealership in New Orleans, he left his home state to become sales manager at Bud Davis Cadillac in Memphis. He had been well trained by Sewell, whom he considers a mentor. (See story on Sewell Automotive Cos. on Page 96.)
After three successful years, Gossett and partner Dwayne Hawkins bought a Volkswagen store on Covington Pike, on the north side of town. They added Mitsubishi shortly after taking over. Suzuki and Saab soon followed.
Meanwhile, Al intensified his efforts to lure his brother to join him in Memphis. Working in Dallas for another of Sewell's Cadillac stores, David was successful and happy with his position as a finance manager.
David resisted his brother's overtures initially, but Al was determined to make Memphis a family affair.
'It took me a long time to get him over here,' Al recalled. In 1990, he succeeded. That same year, Jeep was added to the lineup, and the brothers Gossett began fine-tuning their business and working out the intricacies of their working relationship.
'I'm a little more conservative than Al,' David says. 'He thinks big and I'm the one who says `Hold down the flagship.''
Expansions and additions
In 1994, Hawkins sold the Gossetts his share in the business to concentrate on his Crown Auto dealerships in St. Petersburg, Fla. That same year, Porsche and Audi were added. Another addition to the business came shortly thereafter - Al's son Brian.
The Gossetts are in the midst of a major expansion. A building was completed late last year to house the recently added Chrysler line, and the new Volkswagen building is in the later stages of construction.
Across the street, a former retail property is being converted into an office complex, used-car operation and off-site training facility. It's further evidence of a family that works together and succeeds together.
'Hard work does pay off,' David says. 'Dedication is really noticeable. If you work hard and give it all you've got, you can see the results. You never quit learning. You can't live in the past in this business. It's always a challenge.'