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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 19, 2021 1 year ago

Auto sales veteran motors through challenges

Ferman Motor Car Co. is one of the largest dealership groups nationwide, with more than 1,300 employees and annual sales of $850 million.

Count Tampa-based Ferman Motor Car Co. as one of the winners, at least in terms of sales growth, in the pandemic. The company, with brands that include BMW, Ford and Chevrolet is nearing $1 billion in annual sales.

But President and CEO James Ferman, speaking at a recent University of Tampa Hall of Fame Business Speaker Series event, says he went into the pandemic fearing a repeat of the 2008 recession. He soon realized that with people staying home and not traveling, they needed to maintain their cars or trade up — something that boosted auto dealers across the region. “Surprisingly, we had enormously good sales in 2020 and it’s continued into 2021,” Ferman said at the event, hosted by the Sykes College of Business and held at the Falk Theater in Tampa and online via Zoom. “We haven’t felt the pain of the pandemic like so many businesses that weren’t as fortunate.”

The company was founded in 1895 by Ferman’s grandfather, W. Frederick Ferman, then headed by his father. Today, it’s one of the largest dealership groups nationwide, with more than 1,300 employees and annual sales of $850 million. Some other key points from Ferman from the event include:

• Define success: Starting a business only with the intent of making a lot of money will never make an entrepreneur a success, he says. Instead, success should be defined and measured in different ways. “For me,” he says, “the balance of a successful business recognizes the worth of employees, values its customers and encourages the sharing of financial resources that you are fortunate to earn — sometimes.”

• Be prepared: With a list that includes the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s; prime interest rates soaring in the 1980s; the 2008-2009 recession; and now the pandemic, Ferman says opportunities for sleepless nights have been plentiful. “How do you overcome them?” he asked the audience. “Create resources along the way to help in these challenging times. You have to organize and you have to be prepared financially for unexpected expenses. In other words, you always have to be on your toes.”

• Doing and dreaming: Another key to the company’s success, Ferman says, is understanding the difference between what can get done and what needs to get done. “Being optimistic is not a substitute for being realistic,” he says. “You can have great ideas, but they eventually have to have a reasonable chance of success and you need the capital to back it up besides the great ideas.”

Employee empowerment: Ferman attributes some of the firm’s success to hiring the right people and then letting them use their skills and talent — a key in any business. “Empowerment is important,” he says. “The more empowered our employees are, the more they know what role their job plays in our company, the more they will do it properly and the better off they will be.”

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