Damian Mills, 48
CEO, Mills Automotive Group
Margot Miller and Kelly Alston credit Damian Mills' mentoring in helping make them better automotive retail leaders.
Mills, CEO and owner of the growing Mills Automotive Group in Charlotte, N.C., is known for mentoring people inside and outside his dealership group and for giving people of diverse backgrounds access to opportunities.
"It's really a calling for him," said Alston, an Automotive News 40 Under 40 honoree in 2014 and variable operations director for the Mills group, now with 19 dealerships. "He is very intentional about grooming and growing people of diversity and he's very intentional about our organization reflecting what the community looks like."
Fifteen years ago, Mills gave Alston the chance to run the second dealership Mills acquired.
"It wasn't the ideal opportunity to give a rookie general manager a shot, but he saw something in me," said Alston, who for 10 years led a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealership in Fort Mill, S.C., before Mills promoted him to his current role. "And I saw something in him. Because at the same time, I didn't believe that he would just have one, two, three or four stores."
Mills bought his first dealership in 2004, a Ford store, and now has dealerships in four states, including three stores purchased this year.
NAMAD says Mills' group is the largest Black-owned dealership group in the country with a single owner, and with some brands, Mills is one of just a few African American dealers. Audi, for example, confirmed that Mills is just one of two African American dealers who own one of its luxury-brand stores.
Mills told Automotive News last month that 2021 has been among his most successful years professionally, but also difficult personally after his father died in February.
"As I move forward, it's critically important to me to not only be appreciative for what we've been able to accomplish, but also consciously aware that to whom much is given, much is required," he said. "So it doesn't really matter what you have, it really matters what you give."
Miller, who oversees finance and insurance for the group and who has worked for Mills for nearly eight years, said Mills looks to promote people who embody good character, integrity, work ethic and performance and who are team players.
Miller, an Automotive News 40 Under 40 honoree in 2016, said Mills has helped her to think through decisions.
"I can't put a price on that — somebody just teaching you in an executive role how to make the right decisions and how to think your way through [them]," she said.
— Melissa Burden