HATTIE: (In the Studio) Hi, I'm Hattie Bryant. Where do jobs come from? What fuels the economy? Why do some companies grow and others close their doors?
Each week we try to answer these questions and at the same time introduce you to founders of companies who have a dream. These are some of the most interesting people in America. Here you will always find men and women who bet on themselves and their ability to pull themselves up to new heights. Today, we take you just south of Detroit, Michigan to the quiet suburb of Woodhaven to meet Pamela Rodgers, owner of Rodgers Chevrolet. She's the car dealer that doesn't look like one. Let's go to Pamela Rodger's Neighborhood.
HATTIE: Where do the dollars come from in a dealership?
PAMELA RODGERS: Well, new car and used car sales actually represent maybe 75% of all revenue generated, and service will maybe represent the remainder. But, you need a good Service Department. We don't consider service our back-end; we consider service our backbone, because we know this is where our customer stability is going to be, by providing good service to our customers. That will keep customers coming back, and the referral business coming back.
HATTIE: Pamela is the right person in the right place at the right time. She is one of the few women in the world who owns a car dealership in her own right. It wasn't passed to her by her father or a husband. And, she took a failing location and turned it around. Today, with a team of 85 employees, her business, Rodgers Chevrolet, generates 73 million in revenues by selling nearly 200 cars per month and by servicing as many as 1200 a month.
HATTIE: So you all just make it happen.
GERALD MROZ: We make it happen. To make the customer happy is #1 in Pam's eyes.
GERRY: I mean she told me one thing: "Just take care of my customers. 'Cause if you don't take care of them and they get to me, I'm going to take care of them."
ANNOUNCER'S VOICEOVER: Drivers, Hit it!
HATTIE: There's plenty of competition for Pam and her team. This is Detroit, Motor City, the psychic birthplace of the automobile.
HATTIE: And on a perfect August Saturday, car lovers come to see and be seen. The annual Dream Cruise down Woodward Ave. attracts hundreds of cars worthy of display. Americans and cars go together like hot dogs and mustard, like summer and sun.
HATTIE: We're surrounded by heavy metal, the machines we all can't live without, but I find in this soft-spoken woman with an MBA in Finance what must be the perfect balance for leadership.
HATTIE: What makes her unique?
DIANE LABAN: Pam is very intelligent. She can read a financial statement. (laughter) And she knows what questions to ask.
MAUREEN MONROE: She's great to work for. I'm glad she gave me the opportunity to be the Parts Manager.
RON LEWANDOWSKI: She's really good to her employees.
TERRI MAHONY: The easiest person I've ever worked for.
BEN HEER: It starts from the top, obviously, and Pam's direction and motivation – she obviously – Again, it's just Pam coming out.
DIANE: I think Pam demands excellence in a way where people want to give her the best that they have.
HATTIE: While working at Ford Corporate, Pam found out about the Minority Dealer Program. You've done your fourth application into the Minority Program, and finally they said, "Yes."
PAMELA: Finally they said, "Yes."
HATTIE: Did that have anything to do with that particular mentor writing a letter for you, or this particular location becoming available because it had --
PAMELA: Well, he played an important role, in terms of my acceptance, in terms of making sure that I met the right people, learned some of the jargon, cut through some of the, you know, political tape, if you will, at the time.
HATTIE: What do you think he saw in you?
PAMELA: I don't know what he saw, but whatever it is, thank God for it. Maybe just my willingness to work, my tenacity for work, my willingness to come early, stay late, do what it takes to get the job done. Follow-through. Discipline. So -- because I volunteered to do things. When they needed help, I'd step up and say "I'll take care of that," and was hopefully helpful to him in his business, in growing his business, that he took me by the hand. Because you're right. He didn't just look at me and say, "I want to help her." A relationship had to grow and nurture –
HATTIE: Would you say meeting him was a turning point?
PAMELA: It was a very important point. A very important point, yes.
HATTIE: So when you got out of that, then they found you an opportunity?
PAMELA: In Flint, Michigan. Now you're not from this area?
PAMELA: Flint is a GM town, with nine GM plants.
HATTIE: Oh my gosh! So you're going to try to sell Fords in GM territory.
PAMELA: That's exactly right.
HATTIE: Was that like throwing the babes to the wolves? It's like, "Just throw her deeper in the ocean, see if she can swim out of this thing."
PAMELA: It was very tough. It was a very tough market, and we went in right in 1990. And you know the economy was not very strong at that time. So, of course, it was impossible to make that boat float. It just, was just going against the grain in way too many areas. My partner passed during that time.
HATTIE: Your partner died?
PAMELA: Yes. And then again women still weren't accepted into that business. We're still talking – 9, Yeah – 10, 12 years ago, and they didn't think a woman could do it. So, we liquidated the store.
HATTIE: You've had two failures so far – you couldn't sell cars and your first dealership you had to liquidate. Did you ever think about going back to that corporate job since you had that big fat MBA? I mean really, people with MBA's –
PAMELA: Often, often – but that's a lesson in business. Not necessarily giving up every time you hit a bump in the road.
HATTIE: Oh I know – I hearing it, I'm hearing it –
PAMELA: You know –
HATTIE: People look at you today and go "Look at her!" She made it easy.
PAMELA: But they didn't know it took a few hard knocks to get here.
HATTIE: Right – Right -- Okay, so what did you do when the liquidation happened?
PAMELA: Well, when we finished the liquidation, I continued to work with Ford for a couple of months. And then my stipend ended. We looked at a couple of other sites, but my stipend ended. And then I went back to work for the dealer in Flat Rock.
HATTIE: Oh, the mentor!!
PAMELA: Yes, I went back to work for my mentor. At that time, he had purchased a second location in Detroit and really needed someone to manage the smaller Flat Rock store. So, I didn't have a job. (laughing) I didn't have anything to do.
HATTIE: I'm on the street – (laughing)
PAMELA: Right – So I moved back to Detroit and I took a position – accepted a position as general manager of the Flat Rock store at that time. And, he moved on and ran his own second dealership in Detroit. He decided to sell his Flat Rock store. And that's when I became a member of the GM family. To put it delicately, the store was in a cash poor position. He had a huge following from Detroit, so when he moved to Detroit, that following went with him. So all of those other candidates in line from the GM family for opportunities –
HATTIE: Nobody wanted it –
PAMELA: It wasn't on the radar screen for --
HATTIE: Are you telling me you bought the ugly duckling?
PAMELA: I bought the Ugly Duckling -- Yes – as I said, it was cash poor and really didn't have a huge following.
HATTIE: But why – why – why? Because you had already had all of those other failures -- you are setting yourself up for failure to buy the thing that isn't working.
PAMELA: It wasn't working at the time – no it wasn't.
HATTIE: But what was inside of you that thought that you could do something different.
PAMELA: I wasn't ready to give up – I was still determined to become a dealer. I still thought I had an opportunity to make this plan work for me. It was my chance to get back into the game. I didn't think I would have any other offers. It was my chance to get back in the game. So, I took a chance. And I was thankful for GM for giving me the opportunity – even though it wasn't the best.
HATTIE: All right --when was that?
PAMELA: I became a GM dealer in 1993.
HATTIE: So how many years did it take you from when you had the dream "I want to be a dealer?"
PAMELA: To actually become a dealer?
HATTIE: Right –
PAMELA: With GM? I left Ford in 86 – so 7 years.
HATTIE: Pam took me to see her new home under construction, then her parents arrived to have a look. Until now, Pam has lived her entire adult life in rented apartments. As she had to keep investing cash in her education and then in Rodgers Chevrolet.
MOTHER: I remember vividly the day that she announced that she wanted to become an automobile dealer. We were having dinner and conversation was going very ordinarily and she announced, "guess what?" I said, "What is it?" She says, "I have an announcement to make." I said, "Gee, let's hear it." So she said, "I am going to become an automobile dealer." Of course, I choked. I couldn't believe it. Because, it was so – so far fetched from what she's always done. And that is a pretty tough arena. And being a mother, you naturally think – well, my little girl is going into this tough competitive arena. I know she has what it takes, but – so I did have the reservations. But her father said immediately, "Go for it!"
HATTIE: Back to the dealership, Pam had more to show me. (Hattie and Pam arrive in Pam's yellow Corvette.)
HATTIE: So do you love it (the Corvette) because it goes fast or do you love it because it looks great?
PAMELA: Both – it goes fast, it looks great and it drives like a dream. It can corner.
HATTIE: It can corner – we got to get one.
PAMELA: Yeah – this one's for sale. (laughs)
HATTIE: Spoken like a true dealer.
PAMELA: That's the whole idea, you want to provide a place where people can earn a living and prosper. If they can have a comfortable living environment – and they can feel comfortable in the environment in which they work and grow and provide shelter for their family – and needs for their family. Then that's a win-win for everyone. And that is what business is all about, providing good service for your employees, for your communities. And growing.
JIM FREEMON: This dealership is doing a lot more things right, in my opinion. And that's why I came here. I watched from another dealership as this dealer got better and better and better. And I realized – hey – something is going on over there.
PAMELA: I was going against the grain at that time -- I was a woman, I was minority. They didn't think women at that time had what it takes to make it in this business. They thought this business was too challenging – too competitive -- that women were too frail, too gentle. That they just didn't have that tough skin to be successful in this business. So, yes, I was going against the grain, but when you're the underdog – and that is exactly what I was – there was more people trying to push me out of the way. So I was the underdog and there is always somebody rooting for the underdog. So you have to find those mentors, find those people, find that support system. I mean, it's difficult to do -- easier said – but as many people are trying to push you away there is somebody in there trying to help.
FATHER: She has been a success -- I am still expecting her to do more and more in the business. I don't think -- even though she has reached this pinnacle of success, that she has reached the top. And I expect her to do more and I know that she is trying to mentor and help many other women, black and white, come into the dealership.
HATTIE: What did she say to get you -- to entice you to come?
DIANE: I really, at the time, wasn't going to work for any more dealers because I enjoy the auditing phase. But I have never worked for a woman – Pam is the first woman I have ever worked for – and it was a challenge. And I enjoyed working for her.
HATTIE: And do you think that being nice translates to the bottom line?
PAMELA: Do I think being nice translates to the bottom line? Yes -- I do – there is a thing called negative reinforcement and a thing called positive reinforcement.
It might not translate to the bottom line as quickly as negative reinforcement, but when it does transfer to the bottom line, I think you build a strong foundation. Something that can grow and nurture, that has roots -- if you will – where it won't blow away the first time something comes along. So, it may take longer to build, but it will be a much stronger sturdier tree when it does come to fruition.
HATTIE: Do you see the team at Rodgers – is this your family?
PAMELA: Yeah – I spend more time here than I do at home. They feel like family to me. We had an employee at one time and he had to leave us. So we had a little exit interview for him and we said, "What was the worst thing about working here?" He said, "People get in your business, they're always trying to find out what's going on – they're just nag, nag, nag." We said, "Okay, what was the best thing about working here?" He said, "People love you – they care about you, they nurture you." So -- yes, it is like family – just like family – you have your good times and your bad times and you just continue to grow together. Your biggest asset is your biggest headache - but you just have to love each other through the tough times and the good times.
HATTIE: Do you think back about why you might be so strong? Where do you think that comes from?
PAMELA: Well, I am very blessed. My grandfather was a graduate of the University of Michigan and he became a lawyer in the early 1900's. Followed by my uncle, who graduated from the University of Michigan, and was one of the first black judges in the Detroit area. Followed by my father, who is also an attorney and practiced with my grandfather and brother. So, knowing the prejudices and the obstacles they faced coming up – especially my grandfather in the early 1900's. And if he can make it back then without the support systems and networking that we have in place right now. Then I have no excuse not to face some of the diversity challenges that I have faced before in the past. Just knowing that it can be done -- we show that it can be done again.