for design patents held on various systems and decided that he could have one too. He does: three of them, to be exact — one for a "Vehicle Power Seat Adjuster Control System" (the electrical unit that moves a car seat back and forth) and two for a "Bi-Directional Electric Motor Control Circuit" (the motorized pull-down unit that automatically closes a car trunk). He’d only been out of college four years when he got his first patent in 1977.
March only decided to go to the GM Dealer Academy after a fellow employee, Chandler Lee — another be auto dealer 100 — asked him to sign his letter of recommendation for the academy. While looking over its brochure, he and Lee began discussing the possibilities of ownership. "That’s the reason I left GM; I wanted to own something," says March. "My wife, Gail [also an engineer], and I were looking to buy an electrical company at the time, but the books weren’t good. This was a way to get into a business I knew about."
March found a sponsor in Bill Cook, owner/operator of Bill Cook Buick in Farmington, Michigan, who would also train him while he attended the academy. Ernest Hodge of Norfolk, Virginia, also signed up.
Since 1977 Hodge had been working in the car business as a salesman for Colonial Chevrolet in Norfolk. A graduate of Norfolk State University, Hodge had put himself through school working the graveyard shift at a local Christmas tree manufacturing plant. He says a friend convinced him to go into car sales after graduation from college when he was between jobs. That was in mid-January 1977. He sold six cars in those two weeks and sold a record 26 cars in the shorter month of February, clearing about $6,500 — almost half of what he’d made the year before.
"I never wanted anyone to tell me how much money they could pay me. Give me an opportunity and let me go; I’ll decide how much money I can make," says Hodge, who went on to become salesperson of the year at Colonial.
After working at the dealership for several years, rising from salesperson to general manager, Hodge applied to the academy with sponsorship from his employer, Josh Darden. "He just had a salesman’s personality," recalls Darden. "Long before we had an opening, we promoted him to finance manager, then to sales manager."
After graduating from the academy in 1985, Hodge returned to the Colonial dealership and became a part owner in a Cadillac dealership in Virginia Beach with Darden and another partner. He stayed for four years before deciding to fly solo, taking a shot at a Chevy franchise in Maryland via GM’s "Fast Start" program in 1989. But it quickly became clear to Hodge that this store was in a dying area and after five months he elected not to purchase the dealership.
He went back to Colonial and waited