Navigating the Curves (2011 BE100s Auto Dealer of the Year)

Surviving tragic losses and industry turmoil, Jenell Ross repositions the family dealership to speed past the competition

Though scarred by losses and a battle against a business and economic climate so brutal that it devastated African American-owned dealerships as a whole, this Centerville, Ohio-based business has endured. Now management is looking to expand and return to the growth track and the next generation is looking forward to better days. For their perseverance and ability to weather the twists and turns that come with business ownership, Black Enterprise named Bob Ross Buick/GMC and Mercedes-Benz its 2011 Auto Dealer of the Year—the second time the dealership has been bestowed the honor.

Tragedy Strikes
Robert Ross Sr. started his dealership with an acquisition in Richmond, Indiana, in 1974 when he was chosen to participate in General Motors’ Minority Dealer Development Program. Ross subsequently acquired Davis Buick and Mercedes-Benz in Centerville and relocated the business to the city, which is in the Dayton area. After acquiring a GMC franchise, he built a business that consistently ranked among the be 100s. Ross died of heart disease on July 6, 1997.

Upon her father’s passing, Jenell, who had worked in the dealership as a customer relations manager, postponed her M.B.A. studies at Wright State University in Dayton, to attend the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Dealer Candidate Academy, a preparatory program for aspiring auto dealers. “I don’t even remember that time. I was just operating on fumes,” says Jenell, who has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Emory University in Atlanta. “I had to jump in with both feet.”

Norma headed the business and focused on growing it through community relations. Jenell, now 41, was made vice president/dealer principal and oversaw operations while Robert Jr., now 48, became vice president/fixed operations manager, and oversaw the parts, body shop, and service centers. (He has continued in this role.) So successful was the family and management team that black enterprise named Bob Ross Automotive its Auto Dealer of the Year in 2000.

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