DETROIT — In a suburban Chicago dealership nearly 60 years ago, an insurance agent with a history in automotive retailing established the first finance and insurance office. F&I pioneer Pat Ryan was recognized for his trailblazing achievement last week when he was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.
At Dick Fencl Chevrolet in 1962, Ryan established a process for a designated dealership employee to sell credit life insurance to customers. Despite backlash from salespeople, who had previously sold those products, Ryan launched F&I departments at surrounding dealerships by hiring his own employees.
Ryan rejected a partnership offer from the leadership of Dick Fencl Chevrolet and instead started Pat Ryan & Associates, an underwriting company that specialized in distributing those products to auto retailers. The company also trained people to become F&I managers, to funnel licensed agents into the departments he created.
On stage at the MGM Grand Detroit last week, Ryan, 82, reflected on the creation of the F&I department, which he referred to as the "fifth profit center." But it ultimately was more than that, he noted. "It was really to improve the relationships of the dealer and his customers," Ryan told an audience of nearly 800 attendees.
Many of the thousands of students who completed his training went on to be dealership general managers or auto dealers themselves. By professionalizing the position, Ryan said, it attracted high-quality applicants to auto retailing.
"We believed that the industry needed fresh, attractive people that didn't have the bad habits of the past and could be taught — could be trained — to do it the right way," Ryan said.
Though Ryan is known for his accomplishments in the insurance business, auto retail is in his blood. Ryan's father and uncle were auto dealers, his father selling Ford vehicles and his uncle selling Dodge. His grandfather sold Diamond T trucks until the Great Depression.
"I still love the aroma of a service department. I still get excited when I smell a new car," Ryan said. "I'm a car guy, and I'm glad to be here."