For some auto executives, leaving Detroit and opening a dealership is a well-traveled path to retirement.
But former Chrysler sales chief Gary Dilts may be the only one who employs men with Kalashnikov rifles to guard the inventory. Or who spends thousands of dollars to replace the showroom glass every time it's shattered by the shock waves from a nearby bomb.
Dilts and his business partner, Shakir Alkhafaji, own the only two Chrysler Group dealerships in Iraq. And they are on their way to building a third to sell autos in a nation still rife with violence.
Their 15,000-square-foot Baghdad showroom, which would look at home in many American cities, sold 709 Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram vehicles last year.
They did so without the benefit of consumer credit, without rebates or incentives, and in a society where the concept of a warranty was so foreign that they had to demonstrate it by fixing vehicles for free just to show they weren't lying.
Amid the most challenging of business conditions, their company, Veritas Automotive and Machinery, opened a second store last year in the northern city of Irbil, in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. And this year or next they plan to open a third store in the southern port city of Basra.
When people ask, "Why?" -- and they always do -- Dilts has a ready answer.
"They're going to have a middle-class market emerge [in Iraq]; it's already starting to," says Dilts, 61, who retired in 2006 as head of U.S. sales for Chrysler after three decades with the company. "We thought, if we do the right things -- get ourselves positioned in the north, the central, the south -- we'll be there when the market starts to come alive."