Car Dealer’s Passion Drove His Success

B.E. 100s CEO killed in an auto accident

Cornelius A. Martin had a passion for speed and fast toys. As President and CEO of Martin Management Group, (No. 4 on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list in 2006 with $386 million in revenue) based in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that fervor extended into his career and drove him to amass a lucrative car dealership empire. That zeal also enriched his personal endeavors. Martin would don a leather jacket and motorcycle boots and take his Harley-Davidson “Fat Boy” for a casual ride twice a week. It was during this weekly ritual that Martin was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident on June 3. He was 57 years old.

From humble beginnings, the farm-raised, Greeneville, Kentucky native owned and operated more than 15 auto dealerships in Arizona, California, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia as well as several Harley Davidson dealerships in Bowling Green and Louisville. Martin first appeared on the BE 100S in 1997.

As a matter of fact, it was Martin’s selection as BE’S Auto Dealer of the Year in 1997 that led to him becoming a Harley Davidson dealer. Including Martin, there have only been four African Americans to own HD dealerships, with there being only six in existence.

Bill Evers, Director of Dealer Development for Harley Davidson said his relationship with Martin began with a phone call after reading his profile in BLACK ENTERPRISE. During that conversation, Evers learned that Martin was an avid Harley Davidson rider. They invited him to their main offices, interviewed him and three years later an opportunity was presented in Bowling Green.

“He was the man we wanted,” Evers said. “[He] had a very charismatic personality. He always spoke with sincerity. And when he spoke, people listened.”

In the short time that Martin was with Harley Davidson, Evers said he had become a well-respected advisor. When input was needed on how Harley Davidson could do a better job in identifying other African American dealers or when other dealers wanted to share ideas and frustrations, they would call on Martin.

Martin began building his empire in 1985 and purchased a Bowling Green Oldsmobile/Cadillac dealership, which is still in existence today.

Gregory Jackson, President of the Jackson Automotive Management Group, said Martin is an inspiration and encouragement to him and to countless others.

In his remarks during Martin’s funeral, he commented on how much Martin’s life and example means to him and other minority dealers.

“It goes without saying that minority dealers — past, present, and future — owe him a debt of gratitude for his service.”

cornelius a. martin owned more than 15 car dealerships.

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