She’s in the driver’s seat

Nissan names first black owner of Infiniti dealership

She’s come a long way since being a legal secretary for Motown Records in the late 1960s. Now Ellenae Henry-Fairhurst is making her own music as the first African American to own a Nissan Infiniti car dealership in North America.

Henry-Fairhurst has been involved in Ford, Chrysler-Plymouth and other dealerships for more than a decade. Now she is the new owner of Infiniti of Huntsville, based in Huntsville, Alabama. “I looked at Infiniti as a great, exciting opportunity, and this company has exceeded my expectations,” says Henry-Fairhurst, who opened her dealership earlier this year. “This is an exciting opportunity for me.”

Of the approximately 1,070 existing Nissan dealerships, only 13 are owned by African Americans. And up until now none of those dealerships has carried the luxury Infiniti line. Nissan had promised to increase its minority-owned dealerships by 25% by the year 2002. So far it seems intent on living up to that goal, going as far as linking salary/bonus incentives to regional executives’ performance in matching qualified minority candidates with dealership appointments.

Sheila Vaden-Williams, president of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers, says Nissan should be applauded for its aggressive stance on pursuing minority dealers. “Nissan has really done a fabulous job of reaching out to ethnic communities. Ellenae now joins a very small group of African American dealers with luxury lines under their control,” says Vaden-Williams. “I think the appointment is a signal that at least some manufacturers have a recognition that embracing diversity should be a business-oriented focus and not some feel-good social program. As minority groups grow demographically, it makes good business sense to have us in their dealerships. They cannot grow without us.”

Henry-Fairhurst built a name for herself working in dealerships in Detroit. But in 1992 she moved to Huntsville, a northern Alabama town that has always been a progressive patch in the middle of Dixie. Huntsville has NASA, a number of aerospace companies and several colleges nearby. Henry-Fairhurst said her new home “is the best-kept secret in the South.”

Infiniti Division Vice President Tom Orbe says Henry-Fairhurst earned her opportunity to run the franchise. “Ellenae is such a vivacious person,” Orbe says. “She is fully devoted to customer service and ensuring that her customers and employees are treated well and remain happy.”

Adds Henry-Fairhurst, “I’m constantly dealing with customers. My job is to ensure that they are satisfied. And I feel that we are going to do that very well here.”

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