Automotive News 40 Under 40

Leo Portaluppi

AGE: 35

POSITION: Managing partner, Steve Jones Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, Owensboro, Ky.

Leo Portaluppi

Few people have climbed as many rungs on the automotive retail career ladder as Leo Portaluppi.

Portaluppi, 35, is managing partner of Steve Jones Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, a mid-sized Chrysler store in Owensboro, Ky., near the Indiana border. But it wasn't all that long ago that Portaluppi was on the working end of a broom, sweeping up service bays in a Houston-area Honda store owned by Penske Automotive Group where his father worked as a technician.

"I started off as a shop helper, with aspirations of becoming a technician," Portaluppi explained. Over the next 13 years at what was then Goodson Honda in Spring, Texas, Portaluppi went from being a tech, to a service adviser and then a service manager with aspirations of running a dealership.

All the while, he said, "I got to be around some great, great car people."

Portaluppi ultimately formed a bond with the Honda store's general manager, Steve Jones, and when Jones bought a struggling Chrysler store in his Kentucky hometown, he turned to Portaluppi to run it.

"In Houston, we would sell 30 or 40 cars on a Saturday. When I got here five years ago, we were selling 30 or 40 cars a month," new and used combined, Portaluppi said. "I had to raise the expectations -- 30 or 40 cars a month wasn't going to cut it anymore."

Portaluppi began rebuilding the dealership in 2008, and he and Jones expanded the operation in 2009, even as Chrysler was going through its bankruptcy. Now the dealership averages 50 new and 60 used cars a month.

"I've met very few people in this business that have grown like he has. He just took to the business and took to managing people. Every group he ever managed or ran was immediately elevated," said Bob Lang, service director at Penske Automotive Group. "If I owned a dealership, I would put him in as the general manager."

-- Larry P. Vellequette