In late 2007, brothers Alex and Hampton Graham came home to learn how to run the family dealerships. There was illness in the family, and the Great Recession was about to steamroll auto retailing. It worked out in the long run, but it was tough at first.
"Growing up, I didn't ever think I wanted to do anything in this business," said Hampton Graham, 31. "That first month, I wanted to quit. It was terrible."
Hampton and Alex, 35, are co-vice chairmen of Duval Motor Co., a six-dealership group in Jacksonville, Fla. The group, founded as a single Ford store, marks its 100th anniversary this year.
The brothers are fourth-generation dealers. In 2007, when Alex was about to finish law school and Hampton was about to finish his undergraduate degree, their father, Tip Graham, disclosed he had been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Their grandfather, Walter McRae Jr., who ran the business previously, also was ailing at the time.
"It was time to come home and figure out what to do with the family business," Hampton Graham said.
The brothers had worked summers in the business. They went to work full time for the group in 2008, Alex Graham said.
"We got about 10 months in, full time, before the crash," he said. "We got a lot thrown at us that first year," but it was valuable business experience, he said. After the recession, the group sold some dealerships and paid down debt.
Their father, 61, and grandfather, 88, both died in 2010.
In separate phone interviews, the brothers saluted CEO David Hodges and CFO Jeff Curry for breaking them in and correcting them when needed. "We were very, very fortunate," Hampton Graham said.
"You can't work with people who treat you like you couldn't do anything wrong."