Ramsay Gillman, president-elect of the National Automobile Dealers Association, proclaims the power of franchised car dealers with evangelistic fervor.
Like an itinerant preacher, Gillman plans to hop from one state association meeting to the next to 'preach the NADA gospel,' he said. Gillman's gospel is one of association involvement.
'NADA backs the dealers up and the dealers need to back up NADA. We need to be one voice,' said Gillman, who has been active in NADA since 1989 and now represents South Texas dealers on the board of directors.
Gillman will take office at the 1997 NADA convention Feb. 1-4 in Atlanta. He said he plans to expand dealer participation beyond NADA's 58-member board of directors.
Committee membership is a good place to start, he said. NADA has 13 committees - from industry relations to membership, government relations to finance. The committee members are all presidential appointees. Of 153 committee members, 17 last year were not NADA directors.
'Sometimes boards of directors get overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to do. I don't think a president should hesitate to go off the board to pick a committee member or a line chairman,' he said. When the committee membership is made public at the convention, 'I think you will see non-board members in some key areas,' he said.
MOVERS AND SHAKERS
The average dealer is a mover and shaker within his community, Gillman pointed out. 'Dealers need to realize how much clout they have. They are pillars of their communities. They can get a more immediate response from their congressmen than Toyota or Chrysler or Ford,' he said.
Gillman will urge members not only to contact their representatives in Congress, but to get on the phone with factory executives. He said he believes NADA's grassroots political efforts are successful, pointing to victories such as the luxury tax phaseout last year. But he said industry relations could use some work, based on NADA membership surveys.
As a former chairman of the Mitsubishi Dealer Council and current NADA line chairman for GMC and Honda, Gillman brushes elbows with plenty of factory executives. His strong relationship with automakers shows in his Houston-based business, the Gillman Cos.
Gillman has 13 stores offering 16 different franchises. He only had to initiate the acquisition of one of those stores. 'The rest of them were all open points given by the manufacturer - which is unusual,' he said.
Gillman learned to wheel and deal with factories from his dad. Frank Gillman was somewhat of a legend in Houston as the first Pontiac dealer in the city. 'He was a pretty brash guy and well-respected. When he had a problem with the manufacturer he would just pick up the phone and talk to the head guy with Pontiac,' said Gillman.
BUILDING AN EMPIRE
Ramsay Gillman has built a reputation of his own. He is a past president of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association and past vice president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association.
Gillman served on the six-member Texas Motor Vehicle Commission from 1984-87. The governor-appointed commissioners decide lemon law cases and disputes between dealers and manufacturers.
His automotive career began at age 12, filing office papers and washing cars for his father's Pontiac dealership.
When he turned 14 and got his driver's license Gillman was promoted to 'make ready' work, preparing vehicles for delivery.
So eager was he to dive into the business that Gillman quit high school to sell used vehicles. But after a year, he returned to finish high school.
In 1963, Gillman went to college to study business. Within a year, he quit school - this time for good - to sell cars for his father. 'It is all I wanted to do. I never wanted to be a fighter pilot or a surgeon or an architect. I never dreamed of doing anything but selling cars,' said Gillman.
Frank Gillman gave Ramsay and his brother, Barton, now a passive investor, each a 37.5 percent stake in the business and put their names on the dealer agreement in 1967. Frank Gillman died at age 82 in 1987.
'He was a superb mentor and trainer. He was my best friend. I miss him every day,' said Gillman, who will celebrate his 53rd birthday Feb. 1 at the NADA convention.
He adopted his father's business philosophies. Gillman remembers: 'Always do what you say you're going to do and, as a manager, do not be afraid to let people do what they are best at.' He says those tenets helped build a successful automotive empire.
Gillman Cos. employs 800 people and has reached $300 million in annual revenues.
'It's just fun. Every day a new situation arises and you or your management have to make decisions that count,' he said.
Gillman and his wife, Stephanie, have a daughter and two sons. His daughter, Stacey, 30, is assistant chief operating officer of the Gillman Cos. and dealer principal of Gillman Lincoln-Mercury-Mitsubishi in Rosenberg, Texas. Jason, 27, is manager of Gillman's used-vehicle inventories, and Christopher, 19, is studying automotive marketing at Northwood University in Dallas.
Gillman puts in a full day of work as CEO of the Gillman Cos. When he is not at work, he enjoys playing golf, fishing, hunting and snow skiing.