Women of the B.E. 100s

A look at how women CEOs arte running some of today's largest black-owned DK: businesses

carrying a full schedule as present of this company.”

Her introduction to the world of auto dealerships came almost by osmosis. In Richmond, Indiana, while Bob Ross was going through the General Motors Minority Dealer Academy, several dealers would inevitably gather at their house and end up discussing the business. “Dealer operations became a daily discussion in my home,” she says. “So I was always aware of how the business worked.”

After several years of operating a Buick, Opal and International Harvester Trucks dealership in Richmond, the couple pooled their resources in 1979 and purchased Davis Buick and Mercedes-Benz in Centerville. Today Ross and her daughter, Jenell, are in the midst of expanding the operation. They recently opened another lot and currently sell from a broad vehicle base that includes Buick, Mercedes, GMC and a host of pre-owned vehicles. Last year, the company had sales of $66.7 million, landing it in the No. 23 spot on the BE AUTO DEALER 100 list.

Jenell, 28, who has served as the company’s customer relations manager for the last five years, has witnessed firsthand her mother’s desire to keep the business running. “She’s a very energetic, enthusiastic person,” says Jenell. “I can be here from 8 a.m. to late in the evening and she’s still here, wanting to talk and walk through plans or ideas she has about the business.”

The transition has meant sacrifices on Jenell’s part as well. She had been attending graduate school part time at Wright State University in Dayton to earn an M.B.A. But that’s been put on the back burner for the moment. “I had to be here as much as possible,” she says. “It’s been almost a year [since her father's death], but we’re still getting comfortable with our expanded roles.” Currently, she is attending the National Automobile Dealer Association’s (NADA) dealer academy, a preparatory program for aspiring auto dealers. The goal is that either she or her brother, Robert, already a NADA graduate who now leases and sells used luxury automobiles with his own company, 21st Century Auto Leasing, will run the company once her mother steps down.

Ross and her daughter have been aggressive in implementing new initiatives. Among these is an open house held for their Buick customers. Every other month new customers are invited back to the dealership to learn more about their vehicle and the dealership itself. “It gives our customers a chance to see us and put a face with a name if they ever need service,” says Jenell. “So far, they’ve been very receptive.”

Indeed. This year the dealership reported one of the best sales months in its 19-year history. In May, it sold nearly 300 vehicles, compared to 196 sold in May 1997. Ross is taking that momentum and going for a ride along the Internet, where customers will soon be able to find the vehicle of their choice in cyberspace at www.bobross auto.com.

Bob Ross’ presence is still being felt in the community. The family recently established the Ross Foundation Memorial Fund, which

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