Bob Rohrman, an iconic vehicle dealer in the Chicagoland/Northwest Indiana area for decades, has been named the Indiana 2012 TIME Dealer of the Year for his contributions to community service and his industry accomplishments.
The 78-year old Rohrman will be honored at the 93rd annual National Dealers Association Convention & Exposition in Las Vegas on Feb. 4, 2012. He was chosen represent the Automobile Dealers Association of Indiana in this competition - one of only 50 auto dealers, from 17,000 nationwide, nominated for the 43rd annual award.
The TIME Dealer of the Year Award is sponsored by TIME Magazine in association with Ally Financial, and in cooperation with the NADA. A panel of faculty members from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan selects one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one National Dealer of the Year.
Recipients of this award are among the nation's most successful auto dealers who must also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service, according to Kim Kelleher, worldwide publisher of TIME, and Tim Russi, executive vice president, North American Operations, Ally Financial.
"Auto dealers have a tremendous impact on the vitality and strength of communities across the U.S.," says Russi. "Ally is proud to support these extraordinary dealers who are truly making their communities better places to live and work."
As part of the its support for the TIME Dealer of the Year program, Ally will make charitable contributions to local community causes on behalf of the 50 nominated dealers, In addition, the 2012 national TIME Dealer of the Year winner will receive a $10,000 contribution for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization of his or her choice.
Children's organizations are a major focus of the Rohrman family's charitable and community service, Bob Rohrman says. In fact, he has chosen the Make A Wish Foundation to receive the Ally Financial donation.
"That's the thing that really touches my heart. It's kids. They don't have much of a chance in life. It's sad," says Rohrman, who owns 25 dealerships in Indiana, including his newest Rohrman Auto Group in Chesterton, a Nissan dealership. In addition, Bob Rohrman Auto Group has 12 dealerships in the Chicago area from Westmont to Gurnee and Schaumberg.
"We just started building another dealership in Kenosha, Wisconsin," he says.
Known for this TV and radio commercial featuring a cartoon lion and a roaring pronunciation of his name, Rohrman began his career in the automotive retail industry at the age of 21, after serving as a platoon leader and tank commander in the 2nd Infantry Division in the Reconnaissance Company from 1953 to 1955.
"When I got out of the Army in 1955, I started selling cars in Lafayette (Ind.)," Rohrman says of his first job in his hometown, working as a sales associate for a used-car lot. He worked his way up to sales manager.
Then in 1963, Rohrman says he realized he'd reached as far as he could at that dealership and decided to open up this own used-car lot in Lafayette. He later jumped at the chance to partner with Toyota in a franchise opportunity. At the time, Toyota was a newcomer to the American car market, and Rohrman and the automaker have enjoyed a long and mutually prosperous history together.
Today, the Bob Rohrman Auto Group has grown to represent more than 16 name brands of vehicles in his dealerships. The family-owned company employs more than 1,400 people, selling more than 42,500 vehicles annually. Two of Rohrman's sons and several of his 16 grandchildren work for Bob Rohrman Auto Group.
And Rohrman's employees stay with his company.
"Some of my employees are just now retiring," he says. "I've had one technician with me for 40 years and two parts manager with me for 25 and 23 years. One of my general managers has been with me for 41 years. I hired him as a salesperson in Lafayette and now he's my second in command. I believe in promoting from within."
As president/CEO, Rohrman says he wants to make certain his employees succeed by providing the right training for the right people from day one.
Last year, Rohrman University for Automotive Training and Development opened. Here new hires and current sales staff are given free training to ensure customers receive the maximum in service and satisfaction. One of Rohrman's sons heads up the program and is one of the instructors.
"My company policy is that my employees have to have a minimum of three training sessions a week at each dealership to keep informed," he says.
All of this represents Bob Rohrman's philosophy of doing business - taking good care of his customers, many of whom return again and again to purchase vehicles, refer friends and even bring in generations of their own families to buy from Bob Rohrman Auto Group dealerships.
"I'm often asked, what is the secret to selling someone a car? The answer is simple: fall in love with the customer," Rohrman says. "I believe if you love the customer, they are going to like you. And if they like you, they will buy from you. I've had the most rewarding retail automotive career because I've made a lot of friends by selling a lot of cars to people I love."
All Bob Rohrman Auto Group dealerships are full service offering new and used vehicles, parts and service.
"We have a finance department and handle 80 to 85% of all financing at our dealerships," Rohrman says.
"I love what I do. I don't work at all. What would I do if I retired? I'd go out and sell a car. It's a lot of work for me to play golf," he says with a chuckle. "It's like that song, 'I Do It My Way'."
Giving back to the community is also part of Bob Rohrman's "way". He actively supports a variety of education initiatives and programs for the disabled and underserved.
For example, he has donated $3.5 million to his alma mater, Jefferson High School in Lafayette, to establish the Rohrman Center for Performing Arts. Rohrman also sponsors two scholarships for international students attending Wabash College, and helps repair and maintain 30 bicycles for those same students.
In addition, he created the annual Bob Rohrman Auto Group Charity Bowl, a bowl-a-thon fundraiser that involves all of his 12 Illinois dealerships. The money raised during the bowl-a-thon supports Lambs Farm, a home for mentally disabled adults and children.
Rohrman's other community service includes being a major sponsor of the March of Dimes Walk America and American Diabetes Run.
Although he's been honored numerous times for his work and his community service over the decades, Bob Rohrman says being nominated for TIME Dealer of the Year is the pinnacle.
"In our business, this is the highest honor," he says.