Years ago, AutoNation executives had discussed supporting one cause, but the initiative seemed to be too hefty because each dealership had a different name and supported different causes, Jackson said.
Drive Pink "came from the decision to brand the company, and that brand would stand for something substantively and distinctively," Jackson said.
On the leadership team and beyond, Jackson saw more of his associates facing challenges related to cancer. Even AutoNation founder Wayne Huizenga and his wife battled cancer. Jackson and his team realized that most people already had dealt with cancer, were currently fighting it or knew they could someday get their own diagnosis, he said.
"It's an effort that is very meaningful to all the associates," he said. "When you talk about building a culture in a company, there has to be something of substance that binds everyone together."
Breast cancer is a common cause for companies to associate themselves with because it's not political or controversial, said Deborah Small, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who specializes in charitable giving and consumer judgment and decision-making.
"It's not like immigrant rights or something along those lines that's quickly politicized," Small said. "There's not two sides of it."
It's also relatable and very much connected with a color and symbol, she said. Most U.S. consumers connect the color pink and the pink ribbon symbol with breast cancer.
"Because of its commonness, nearly everyone knows somebody who has experienced this," she said. "There's kind of a community of advocates that feel passionate about the cause."
Even though supporting a cure for cancer is a common mission for corporations, AutoNation's deep-seated commitment stands out, said Martha Rader, a leadership consultant and professor at Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Fla., about 50 miles from AutoNation's Fort Lauderdale headquarters.
"Those companies that can really get behind a cause and commit to it and align all of their priorities are going to differentiate themselves," she said. "There are such great changes coming [to the auto industry] that those dealerships that can get ahead of things and can inspire that positive culture now are going to win later."