Bigger Is Better

Anthony March and Ernest Hodge have joined forces and dealerships to make March/Hodge Holdings an auto powerhouse

planning." Their plan included moving some of their management teams into positions within the new holding group. As the company builds or acquires new stores, the March/Hodge strategy is to offer equity partnership stakes of at least 25% to the dealer/principal running that dealership.

"We’ve grown so fast in the past year that we’ve moved some of the sales staff into positions at some of the new stores," explains Hodge. "But we will not put anyone into a dealership unless they have a partnership stake in that store," he adds. Why? "You’ll have a more committed person. His money is also at risk. We will not go into any store unless we have an equity partner running it."

Jim Cunningham, former GM regional director for the Southeast, has been on the board of directors for Heritage Automotive since its founding in 1991 as the representative for Motors Holding Co., the finance arm of GM. After leaving GM,Cunningham became CFO of a white-owned dealership in Atlanta before being lured to come on board as the CFO for the new holding company. His financial background and industry knowledge of acquiring dealerships helped in the merging of the two businesses.

"We’ve all basically grown through the process," says Cunningham. "Both guys took over stores that weren’t very successful and made them grow. They understand the fundamentals," he says. "This business is about people. If you don’t have the right people, it’s not going to work," he adds.

The philosophy drives both March and Hodge in their goals and management styles. "Enthusiasm sells cars," explains Hodge. "I want people to feel good about what they do." And he points to his dealerships’ four goals: employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, market leadership and good corporate citizenship as a statement of that fact. "Most dealers think they need
to have their hands on everything. But, if you bring them [employees] up and empower them, even letting them make mistakes, they’ll be more effective," explains March.

Bobby Thigpen, a former sales manager at Heritage Cadillac in Atlanta, is now president and an equity partner in the company’s Daytona Beach, Florida, stores –,Lloyd Buick and Lloyd Cadillac Oldsmobile. He’ll also be managing Lloyd Infiniti, the holding company’s new import franchise under construction in Daytona Beach. "We try to promote from within first," says Hodge. Even Cunningham will be giving up his CFO post to take a stake in the holding company’s new Kennesaw Lincoln-Mercury dealership under construction in the northeast Atlanta suburb.

MERGING BUSINESS AND STYLES
In 1977 Tony March was 27 and a highly successful engineer — the youngest engineer in management (black or white) at GM’s Fisher Body Division. A Howard University graduate with a degree in electrical engineering, March was a native of Daytona Beach who’d financed his college education with a swimming scholarship and summer internships at GM. He says he saw plaques on the wall of his then GM boss’ office

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