National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers celebrates 35 years

Car_Dashboard_by_meghar_optSince its inception in 1980, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), America’s largest minority dealership group, has been a beacon of light and champion of advocacy for its members in search of parity in the automotive industry.
Always seeking fairness, diversity, inclusion and opportunity, NAMAD relentlessly collaborates with local, regional, national and international policy and lawmakers and industry stakeholders on behalf of its members to help level the playing field for minority automobile dealers in one of America’s oldest and most storied industries.
“There is tremendous buying power as it relates to minority consumers purchasing new cars and trucks,” said Damon Lester, president of NAMAD, a 501 (c) non-profit entity. “While 30 percent of all new vehicles are purchased by minorities, only 5 percent of American automotive dealerships are minority owned.
“So our main focus is to increase the number of minority-owned dealers across the nation, advocate for workplace and supplier diversity, and support minority engagement in the automotive retail sales and service sectors.”
There are approximately 18,000 new-car dealerships in America of which about 1,200 are minority owned. Such dealerships include owned and operated by African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans.
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Based on NAMAD’s 2013 Rooftop Activity Report, which provides statistical data related to actual minority dealership locations in the United States, there are 272 African American new car dealerships, 502 Hispanic American new car dealerships, 247 Asian American-owned new car dealerships and 95 Native American new car dealerships.
A closer look at the report reveals that Black-owned new car dealerships have been on a rollercoaster ride downward since 2005, when it peaked with 751 dealerships. Lester said that when GM eliminated Saturn, coupled with the elimination of various other auto manufacturers’ models, many Black-owned dealerships were hit hard.
He also pointed to the down-trending of sales during the deep recession in the mid-2000s that saw many Black dealerships simply run out of cash with no way of accessing additional funds. Ultimately, a multiplicity of Black automobile businesses closed, forever.
It was a similar climate for minority-owned dealerships in the late-1970s to early 1980s when America experienced a crippling recession, punctuated by high interest rates and even higher gas prices. Minorities were struggling to start new dealerships, and the ones in business were besieged by severe challenges to stay financially afloat. Something had to be done, collectively.
In the spring of 1980, a group of minority dealers in Detroit convened to discuss strategies of survival. The minority dealers initially called themselves, the Minority Auto Dealers Association (MADA), which was the forerunner of NAMAD. Jesse Jackson, founder and president of Rainbow/PUSH, was a key figure in helping to establish the foundational principles of MADA (NAMAD).
According to research compiled by the late Rusty Restuccia, a former Ford Motor Company executive and an expert on researching the long history and contributions of African Americans in the automobile industry, MADA was comprised of Black-owned automobile dealerships, represented by such owners as Jim Bradley, Clarence Carter, Nathan Conyers, Mel Farr, Sr., Dick Harris, Jesse Jones, Willie Patmon, Bill Shack, Porterfield Wilson and Jim Woodruff. Shack was elected as the organization’s first chairman.
Later in 1980, many of the aforementioned African American new-car dealers and other stakeholders arranged a series of meetings in Washington, D.C. with President Jimmy Carter and key members and departments under the auspices of his administration, including the Department of Commerce.
The goals of the meetings were to gain
support from the president on such survival actions as immediate and low interest business loans, refundable tax credits for consumers purchasing new cars and trucks, and the restructuring and moratorium on repayment of dealer development debt.
Ultimately, the group known as the Minority Auto Dealers Association (MADA), united under the banner of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD). Nathan Conyers, who industry historians call the dean of Black Automobile dealers, served as the organization’s first president.
“In the summer of 1980, President Carter flew in to Metro Airport,” recalled Conyers, in a videotaped interview presented by NAMAD. “The president, in a speech, announced the help the federal government was going to give to the automobile industry.”
Conyers, in an article published in the Living Legend section of DRIVEN I, described his own joy from helping African Americans in the industry.
“My greatest accomplishment in the automobile business are the opportunities that were extended to help other Blacks become automobile dealers,” said Conyers, who owned Michigan’s first Black Ford dealership. “At one time, I counted that we (his multiple dealerships) had assisted 37 other Blacks go into the automobile dealership business.”
With Conyers’ auto business and other top national African American dealerships located in metro Detroit, it was only logical to establish NAMAD’s first headquarters in the Motor City, where the organization was born. However, in the early 1990s, the organization moved its headquarters to Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C., to be closer to the movers and shakers of Congress, the U.S. Senate and other federal government powerbrokers and entities..
Damon Lester has served as NAMAD’s president since 2007 after joining the organization in 2002 as its vice president of operations. Before coming to NAMAD, he had never worked in an automotive environment, or in politics. Nevertheless, he had gained valuable experience as a lead accountant and auditor of national and international non-profit organizations through the World Bank while working for a well-known accounting firm of CPAs in Maryland.
Equipped with excellent organizational and business skills, along with the ability to bring about a spirit of collaboration amid hundreds of minority-owned dealers of NAMAD, Lester has been a strong voice of advocacy when politically interfacing with key members and committees of Congress and the Senate, as well as with the White House in the person of President Barack Obama.
Now, well-versed in the vast issues facing the automobile industry, especially as it relates to minority involvement, Lester’s opinion and insight have been utilized by dozens of media outlets such as Black Enterprise magazine, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and many more
Lester looks forward to NAMAD’s celebration of its 35th anniversary during the organization’s 2015 Conference, which will be held in July 2015 at Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, Florida. While celebrating its history, membership and accomplishments will be important, Lester said NAMAD is also focused on its next 35 years and beyond.
“Our future will entail some form or fashion of a private equity fund, where we will be able to use Wall Street money to acquire stores for our respective dealers,” Lester said. “We will also create a global program in order to provide minorities an opportunity to learn about career opportunities in the service areas of our industry.”
Lester also cited NAMAD’s “Next Gen Program,” where sons and daughters of current minority-owned new car dealers can fully understand the history and importance of continuing family businesses beyond the current ownership.
‘The next 35 years are important for the organization,” Lester said. “About 95 percent of our dealers are first generation. We have to make sure that our dealers are aware of succession planning. So we are in this paradigm shift as to how will they (current minority-owned automobile dealers) will be able to reproduce themselves, reach back, train and urge others behind them to carry on the business.
“To be successful, we are going to have to figure out some ways to do some non-traditional things going forward.”
Lester is excited about the production of NAMAD’s recent documentary titled “Making Tracks II,” a 17-minute video presentation that chronicles the minority pioneers in the automotive retail, which includes the history of NAMAD. The organization is considering presenting similar documentaries that will feature Hispanic Americans, Asian-Americans and Native American automobile dealers.
“We want to make sure that we memorialize our history for the next generation, so they fully understand the importance of this association,” said Tom Moorehead, NAMAD chairman, who owns and operates the nation’s first Black-owned Rolls-Royce franchise, located in Virginia.
Others agree that the importance of NAMAD is critical to the future of minority automobile dealers.
“NAMAD is the watchdog,” said Jesse Jackson. “It measures where we are. If it were not for NAMAD, we would just go mad. It’s a national organization that checks on where Blacks, Latinos and Asians (in this industry) are, and that’s measurable.”
“The biggest success NAMAD has had is the cooperation among all minority bodies to come together as one,” said Martin Cumba, a Hispanic and a former NAMAD executive who owns a GM dealership. “There’s been talk of different organizations and separation, but we (at NAMAD) have found that when everybody speaks as one voice, it is very beneficial.”
Lester vows to continue to unite the hundreds of minority-owned dealerships while collectively speaking in one loud voice.
“It’s mind-boggling that 35 years after we started NAMAD, we’re fighting pretty much the same issues,” he said. “But, in order to continue to get a large uptick of progress, our collective voices must get and remain aggressive. There’s a tangible push when our voice is aggressive.”

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