Lehman Dealership Enterprises, a family-owned business with over 80 years in South Florida’s market, just sold its automotive business to Lithia & Driveway, one of the largest automotive retailers in the nation, headquartered in Oregon.
“We’re very eager to expand [and] to serve customers in Florida, and within Florida, the Lehman group is regarded as one of the best dealerships,” Tom Dobry, vice president of Lithia & Driveway, told Miami Today.
Both companies have a similar background. They are led by second and third generations of automotive families that started with a small store and grew over the years. “The regard for their employees and their customers is very much aligned with our values,” Mr. Dobry added.
William “Bill” Lehman Jr. took over management of the family business, a Buick dealership in North Miami, in 1967 at 26 years old, when his father became a congressman.
Over the past 55 years, Mr. Lehman Jr. grew the family business into nine dealerships in Miami, and at age 81, he decided to retire. “I think it’s time to slow down,” he told the newspaper.
Mr. Lehman’s son, Justin Dash, joined the company ten years ago, and he decided this was a good time to sell. “When the market is good and you’re making a lot of money and everything is going well, that’s the time to sell; when things are bad and nobody wants to invest in car dealerships, that’s the time to buy,” Mr. Lehman said.
Just last year, Lehman Dealership Enterprises had an annual sales volume of $850 million. The purchase includes nine stores that deal in brands including Honda, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, Buick, GMC, and Subaru. The official sale date was June 27, Mr. Dobry said.
Lithia & Driveway also announced the purchase of two Esserman International stores in Miami Dade. The acquisition of the 11 stores in total is projected to generate $850 million in annualized revenue, the Oregon-based company wrote in a press note.
“The scale of our company will help the Lehman organization,” Mr. Dobry said. “We can bring them proprietary technology and the strength of our company with everything from health insurance benefits to more lending options for customers, so we intend to help the Lehman team grow the business and their stores, and we intend to expand our footprint in the state of Florida by acquiring more stores.”
Lithia & Driveway already has some presence in Florida, with dealerships in Fort Lauderdale, Coral Springs, Tampa, and Orlando, among other locations.
The Lehman family won’t remain involved with the new buyers, but they continue to operate Lehman Leasing, a bus and truck leasing business, and Local Finance, a full-service auto finance company.
Lithia & Driveway will keep the Lehman name in the dealerships. “They purposely wanted to keep the name Lehman,” Mr. Lehman said. “It’s got a good reputation, and that’s usually what they do when they go into a market.”
The new owners will also keep the almost 500 employees of Lehman Dealership Enterprises. “Everybody that was previously with the Lehman organization is now with the Lithia & Driveway company,” Mr. Dobry said.
“We retained everybody in the stores; they’re the experts in the community, they have the relationships with the customers, so we [are leaving] the store leadership and other teams intact, and we expect them to continue to do business the way they’ve always done business and to continue to support the local community,” Mr. Dobry added.
“They assured me they wanted to keep everybody that worked for us,” Mr. Lehman said. “That was important to me; I don’t want to see anything happen to them, I want our legacy to continue taking care of our employees and taking care of our customers.”
Looking back at his extensive career, Mr. Lehman said that if he had to point to one element for his success, it would be taking care of the customers and employees. For instance, he recalled, every Christmas the company would pay a bonus to employees, so he made sure to go around the dealerships, give it personally, and thank the employees for their work.
“I think those kinds of activities, taking care of your employees, means a lot and help you be successful in the marketplace,” Mr. Lehman said.
In a new chapter of his life, Mr. Lehman says he is grateful to be healthy and is planning to keep busy running his two other family businesses with his son and as chairman of the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
“Plus, I like to play golf, I have an RV [to travel with my wife], and I play bridge, so I don’t think I’m going to be bored,” he said.
Mr. Lehman has been involved in the South Florida community for 50 years. serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Museum of Contemporary Art of North Miami, president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, executive vice president of the trustees of Florida International University, president of the South Florida Auto Dealers Association, and president of the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center.