Local car dealer highlights successes

Published 11:00 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

When Bill Jackson took his first job as a car salesman in Bessemer in 1969, he had a single goal.

“I had a goal to be a dealer within five years,” he said. “I had my application in and approved in five years and within in six years I had my first dealership: a small store in Clay County.”

Times were tough, and the dealership he purchased was nearly defunct. “I borrowed every penny of the money to buy it,” he said. And in a period of plus-20 percent interest rates, failure was not an option. “It was right then I became a dealer. I had to make it work.”

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And make it work he did. Working around the clock he learned the ropes of the dealership business and found success. “Nobody helped me,” he said. “I was a first generation dealer, who bought a store that was about defunct, and built it over time.”

With a thriving dealership in Clay County, Jackson decided in 1989 to purchase the GM dealership in Troy. Last week, district representatives of General Motors surprised Jackson at his dealership to present a 35 years service award.

“That’s called longevity,” he said jokingly.

Jackson credits his longevity, and success, to old-fashioned hard work. “I think most entrepreneurs who are not as well educated push a little hard to be successful. I worked day and night, 24-7, because I had nothing to fall back on.

“I never even played a game of golf until I was 40 years old … I just didn’t have time.”

The support of his wife, Jean, was critical in those early years. “When we first got married, we said we were going to have four children,” he said. “I looked up one day, with our two sons, and said, ‘what happened?’ She said, ‘Bill Jackson Chevrolet happened, that’s what.’ And she’s right.”

Add to that a commitment to fairness and Jackson had the formula he would use throughout the past 35 years. “It’s simple. Never sit across a desk and let somebody think you’re better than they are.”

That philosophy creates loyalty, in both customers and employees. “During this recent downtown, I’ve never laid anybody off,” he said. “I figure the folks who would get laid off are the ones who need the job the most.”

Jackson has seen his share of economic ups and downs, from the sky-high interest rates of the 1970s to the downtown of 2008.

Times have changed since that first dealership. “When I went to Clay County in 1975, I stocked the used car lot with about $20,000 … and I had a pretty decent car lot,” he said. “Now, I look out there are see 20 or more cars that cost over $20,000 on our used car lot.”

Today, Jackson still serves as president of Bill Jackson Chevrolet in Troy. He works alongside his son, Jim, who oversees day-to-day operations of the dealership. “When you start something like this, you always that your children might be interested some day,” he said, adding that a second son is a successful attorney. “This has been a family effort,” he said.

Jim Jackson said he is proud of the recognition awarded his father by GM and the example his father set along the way. “It’s all about keeping people happy and treating people the right way.”