When Ira Rosenberg hears his former Boston-area dealership group advertising using the Ira name, it's like a knife in his heart.
But Rosenberg, 76, and his son, David, 50, have come back in a big way since they sold Ira Motor Group -- and the rights to the name -- to Group 1 Automotive Inc. in 2000. Between father and son, they now own 18 dealerships operating as Prime Motor Group in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
Ira Rosenberg, a self-described poor kid from Malden, Mass., who quit high school and ran away to join the Navy, got fed up with retirement in Florida. So in 2004 he arranged an early exit from his noncompete agreement and went up to Maine and found "this cute little store."
"I walked in, and I smelled potential," Ira Rosenberg said of the Toyota store in Saco, Maine. "It stank of potential."
He was back in business.
By 2006, David Rosenberg left Group 1, where he had worked as a regional president, and started buying stores himself. David Rosenberg had started working at his father's dealership at age 13, washing cars. He once had ambitions to work on Wall Street and pursued his M.B.A. at Columbia University to get out of the car business.
"But every time I'm sitting in class I'm thinking about how it applies to the car business," David Rosenberg said. So after earning his degree, he joined his father and agreed in 1998 to buy him out over a period of years. But the publics called before that was completed.
Now David Rosenberg is using those M.B.A. lessons to expand Prime.
"If it's the right franchise and the right location, we'll buy it," said David Rosenberg, who owns 15 of the stores with another partner. Ira Rosenberg, who owns three of the stores with his son, says he's not actively looking.
But the Rosenbergs, who dabbled with the idea of going public themselves just before the sale of the Ira group, say they won't sell out to a public group again. It's too hard to keep customers and employees engaged and shareholders happy at the same time.
Said David Rosenberg: "Never, ever -- and I know never is a long time -- but never, ever, ever."