New Year's Day promises to be bittersweet for Patti Swope.
It will be her first day at the helm of Sam Swope Auto Group, a 16-dealership business her father started from scratch and nurtured for over 60 years. But it is also the beginning of the first year without her father.
Sam Swope died at 88 on Dec. 9, less than a month before his only daughter was to take over as CEO of the Louisville, Ky., group.
Patti Swope, 51, currently is the group's chairman. On Jan. 1, the current CEO, Dick Swope, who is Patti's cousin, will retire after holding that post since the late 1980s.
She was interviewed for this story one day before her father died.
In a subsequent interview last week, Swope said moving into the group's top management slot was not a decision made as a result of her father's recent poor health. The Swope family decided four years ago that she would succeed her cousin whenever he was ready to retire.
"His loss is a tremendous event for me both personally and professionally. I will miss him terribly as my father and my adviser," Swope said. "I'm disappointed that he won't see me take the helm of our dealership group. But I know he will be with me in spirit."
"His passing doesn't change my vision for the future of our company. I intend to continue moving forward. I think that is what he would want me to do."
Sam Swope Auto Group and the Swope Family of Dealerships of Elizabethtown, Ky., make up Swope Automotive Group, founded by Sam Swope in 1951 and later joined by his brother, Bill. Bill is the father of Dick Swope.
Bill Swope is retired. The Elizabethtown stores are operated by his other sons, Carl and Bob Swope.
The two Swope dealership groups report their sales together. Together, Swope Automotive Group operates 21 dealerships and ranks No. 85 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups based in the U.S. with retail sales of 10,740 new, and 14,153 used, vehicles in 2013.
Patti Swope joined the family business in 1985 selling new and used cars. Over the years, she has held several management positions, including executive vice president for business development, handling matters such as manufacturer relations, strategic planning, brand image and facilities updates. She worked side by side with her dad, Dick Swope and the group's management team for "a number of years," she said.
The group does a lot of things well, she said. But "I want to take it from good to great."