Rolling Out

Wade Ford Dealership Owner Steve Ewing Talks Succeeding During Good and Bad Times

Wade Ford Dealership Owner Steve Ewing Talks Succeeding During Good and Bad Times

Steven R. Ewing, the president and CEO of the largest minority-owned Ford dealership in the country, Wade Ford, is the quintessential exemplification of an American success story. Throughout his illustrious automotive career, Ewing has blazed a sparkling trail of achievement at running dealerships that originates in his New Jersey hometown, through Scranton, Pa., and down into the suburban Atlanta with Wade Ford.

Since 1989, Ewing has owned and operated a series of Ford and Lincoln-Mercury dealerships beginning in his home state of New Jersey. In 2001, he was operating Champion Fordland and Champion Nissan in Scranton, Pa., when a friend at Ford told him about a franchise opportunity in the metro Atlanta market. Ewing became president and CEO of Wade Ford Inc. in Smyrna, Ga. in 2002.

Yet, it was when the economy crashed through the floor in 2008 that the attributes that made Ewing a success was able to shine through the rubble of the protracted marketplace malaise. At the “Who’s Who of Black Atlanta” gala at the Twelve hotel in Atlanta, Ewing spoke to rolling out about taking over Wade Ford in 2002 and succeeding during favorable and precarious economic conditions:

What did you do to win the trust and loyalty of Wade Ford staff members when you took over the helm of the dealership?

This is really about being a leader. And in the one thing that I’ve learned in my life, with everything that I’ve earned, I’ve had to build a team. If you are going to go out and get people to follow you, then you need to set an example — going out and being a leader and getting people to want to follow you. When I came to Wade Ford, they didn’t know what they were getting, and the employees were all ready to quit. I had to look them in the eye and explain to them that I put on my pants the same way that they did, and I was going to work as hard — if not harder — than the guy who came before me. When you lead people, you cannot lead by showing them that you are the boss. I had to let them know that I’m ‘Steve’. I’ve done just about every job at a dealership [except I can’t fix cars]. The thing is, you have to set a strong example, show a strong work ethic and go out and get it done.

In the first six of the eight years Ewing’s assumed the reins of Wade Ford, the dealership has earned Ford Motor Co.’s President’s Award, which recognizes dealers with superior sales numbers who have also garnered the highest praise for service based on customer satisfaction surveys.

My employees have always been customer-driven, but I raised the bar.

The Great Recession created a lot of casualties in the dealership ownership business. What did you do that enabled you to not only survive, but thrive under such adverse conditions?

Work hard at the business, stay focused [and] stay disciplined. Run your business and stay focused on your business. We also invited all of our vendors to come in and discuss what we were trying to accomplish. If they wanted to continue doing business with us, they would need to modify some of their metrics to allow us to move forward.

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