Steve Germain can’t wait to have the opportunity to call his kids, when he’s in his 80s and 90s, and ask them if they sold any cars today.
“I’m going to call them every day, I can tell you that,” he says. “They don’t even like calls. I mean, they’re like, ‘Dad, just text me.’ But I’m going to call them until the very end.”
Germain joined his brothers in the family business after college. His grandfather, Warren Germain — Henry Ford’s personal accountant who wanted to fulfill Ford’s desire to make automobile purchases more accessible outside of Detroit — started a car dealership in Bexley in 1947. His father, Bob Sr., expanded to Florida in the late 1970s.
In the ’60s and ’70s, Germain says his father’s generation of car dealers wasn’t aggressive about getting their kids involved.
“It was all just about trying to make payroll. It was a different environment; a different business. It was a different day, and their focus, our fathers’ focus, was not the next generation; it was the next month,” he says.
The transition from third to fourth generation will differ because Germain learned from his experience to cultivate a long-term outlook. While Germain, who became president and CEO in 1995, took the initiative and asked if he could join the business, he made it clear with his children that the business is in their blood and he’d welcome them.
“The best long-term exit strategy is to have a generation that’s moving in, the next generation, as opposed to working all your life and selling the business,” Germain says. “It’s just a very lonely exit strategy.”
So, Germain is happy his children — Jessica, director of operations, Germain Luxury Brands of Easton; Zach, general manager, Germain Lexus of Naples; and Austin, general manager, Jaguar Land Rover of Easton — are all involved with the business, which comprises 21 dealerships throughout Ohio, Florida and Michigan.
“They’ve grown up in this environment and they are very much in tune with today’s buyers,” he says. “Although the average buyer is a little bit older than the kids, they’re a lot closer (in age) to today’s buyers than I am. So, they can relate, and we can adapt to changing habits. Having the next generation of owners and managers very involved in any business, that is a great asset and one that is hard to duplicate.”
Structuring for the future
Like any family business, Germain Automotive Group has had its challenges. In 2011, Bob Sr. died, and the business had just made it through a very difficult period, the recession. Germain and his brothers knew few companies make it to the third generation, let alone the fourth.
“Each of the brothers needed to groom their children in the manner that they wanted to and the only way to do that would be to realign the business and each of us — for lack of a better word — would go our own direction,” Germain says. “So we split and realigned the company.
“We’re all still in the business and very involved and work together, but the ownership structure is different than it was in 2010. And that gives us the ability to manage and move forward to the next generation as we see fit. That’s best for our family, as opposed to trying to dictate to other families how they should move forward.”
It might seem confusing at first, but Germain believes it actually strengthens the overall brand because a majority owner, in any company, will have a stronger commitment to the customers, growth and employees.
“Because each of us have a stake in it that’s 100 percent, each of us maintain and are absolutely committed to the customer experience,” he says.