Asbury Automotive Group Inc. co-founder and former Subaru of America President Thomas Gibson died June 20 at his Villanova, Pa., home. He was 79.
Gibson founded Asbury Automotive Group in 1994 with financial support from Toronto-based Onex Corp. and a vision to buy large dealerships.
"We are not doing this to make a quick hit," he told Automotive News in 1995. "We are building a good, customer-oriented, stable business."
Gibson was Asbury's chairman from the board's creation in 1995 until 2004, a run that included Asbury's initial public offering in 2002. He also was CEO in the group's early years and again on a brief interim basis in 2001 following his successor's death. He remained with the company until 2007.
Today, Asbury, of Duluth, Ga., ranks No. 5 on Automotive News' most recent list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., with retail sales of 109,910 new vehicles and $9.84 billion in revenue in 2021. It plans to more than triple revenue to $32 billion by 2025.
"We are saddened to hear about Thomas Gibson's recent passing," Asbury CEO David Hult said in a statement Tuesday. "As the co-founder of Asbury Automotive Group, he laid down the foundations of our company which has led to our success over the past 28 years. He founded Asbury with the goal of forming a group of 'the best dealers, in the best markets, with the best brands,' and we believe that we have achieved his vision. As a Board Chairman in 2002, Mr. Gibson also helped lead our company through IPO — further solidifying our company's future success. We feel the impact of his legacy at Asbury every day."
Shortly before founding Asbury, Gibson spent a long tenure as president and COO of Subaru of America Inc., joining the company in 1982 and leaving in 1993, according to his LinkedIn page.
"I cannot say good enough things about Tom and how much he meant to the company and to me," Subaru of America CEO Tom Doll said in a statement. "Tom was extremely generous with his time and mentorship, and taught me a lot during my early career at Subaru of America. He had a tremendous impact on the company in our early years and I am lucky to have called him a good friend. He will be greatly missed."
In the 1980s, Subaru was a high-flying, publicly traded, independent importer. But it experienced financial difficulties later in Gibson's term and was taken over by Subaru vehicle manufacturer Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. in a 1990 rescue. Gibson told Automotive News the fun had gone out of running the automaker's U.S. unit at the time he left. Gibson's wife, Sophie, said his feelings stemmed not as much from the company's finances but from the constant travel to Japan. "It was wearing him out," she said.
Gibson briefly was CEO of facilities operator SMG before creating Asbury, an idea his wife said he developed near the end of his time at Subaru. SMG was successful during his tenure, but "I was bored stiff," said Gibson, who described the auto industry as "in my blood."
Gibson's lengthy industry career also found him working for Ford and Chrysler. His time at Chrysler included serving on CEO Lee Iacocca's management team in the early 1980s and on the automaker's board in the 2000s.
"We moved nine times in 14 years," Sophie Gibson recalled of her husband's time across the three automakers. "Subaru was our last move."
She said her husband frequently mentored others, not just co-workers but children of social acquaintances. "They would come to Tom," she said.
Gibson's sister called him a family man, and Sophie Gibson said that while her husband might work long hours, "he didn't bring his work home with him that much." He intentionally kept the two worlds separate, she said. When he came home, "he was here for the family."
Gibson was born Sept. 2, 1942. His sister, Nancy Prowitt, said that while "we weren't a total car family," Gibson and some of her other brothers would socialize with friends over a vehicle kept at the house. "There was always a jalopy in our garage," she said.
But he didn't set out to enter the auto industry specifically, his wife said. Ford "gave him a good offer" after college, she said.
He had a bachelor's degree in economics from DePauw University and an MBA from Harvard University. At the time of his death, he was on the boards of Dealer Tire, Alliance Inspection Management and Leader Auto Resources, according to his LinkedIn page.