Updated: Jan 5, 2019
As one of America’s leading entrepreneurs in the luxury auto industry, Thomas Moorehead has built a legacy that is founded on decades of resilience, dedication and the power of paying it forward. As a seasoned businessman, we asked Mr. Moorehead to break down what it was like growing up in a small town, in rural Louisiana and how he got his start as an entrepreneur. His story will not only inspire you, but also equip you with tools to own your own vision and over achieve your goals.
Take us back. You left home against your father’s will to study business at Grambling State in Louisiana. Can you reflect on that experience?
Growing up in a small town in Monroe, Louisiana was interesting. There were 127 kids in my graduating class and only two of us expressed interest in Business. My father insisted that I go away to Grambling State to study education, get a teacher’s certificate and return home to teach because the dreams of a business degree weren’t affordable. I knew I didn’t want to teach. I had been inspired by a local Dentist and Pharmacist to be more. I wanted to be an owner of something that was unclear at that moment. I went through with Grambling and later moved to Detroit, Michigan working full time while attending school part time. At the time, the draft came around which led me into the service. After leaving the military, I transitioned straight into the automotive industry.
Tell us more about your career trajectory before venturing into the auto industry at age 40?
What was the progression like?
Well once I graduated I wanted my Masters in Business Administration. I was broke and the Dean of Social Work recruited me into a non- traditional program to position me into the business. I had placement with United Auto Workers and an electrical company in Detroit. It afforded me the opportunity to learn about business. As a result of my experience, I moved on to a doctoral program at the University of Michigan studying Urban and Regional Planning. My fraternity brother (Kappa Alpha Psi) and mentor, Mr. Bradley, proposed an opportunity to grow me into the car business. He sat me down with plans to groom me into becoming what I originally sought out to be when I left Monroe. He spoke confidently about my financial future – “You’ll be a Millionaire in five years.” This was a bold statement that got my attention, but I knew in that moment this type of success would accompany major sacrifice. I was married with a young child and this meant leaving a major institution to sell cars for a year. I learned that it was necessary to take a step back in order to move forward. After working a year and breaking sales records, I was placed in a managerial position at his Cadillac dealership. I was hands-on in every department of the dealership. Mr. Bradley’s philosophy was if you are to fire someone, you should be able to fill the position yourself and perform proficiently in it.
Mr. Bradley was a major key in your success, obviously. Can you speak on mentorship and the role Mr. Bradley played in your life?
I am here today because of the role he played in my life. For 17 years I sent him my financial statement every month. Three copies would be distributed - one to the manufacturer, one to myself, and one to Mr. Bradley. He would review and critique each month. Some months, he would ask, "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?" and other times would ask, "HOW DID YOU DO THAT?" That mentorship and level of accountability is the reason I am where I am today. I had an awesome support team. My desire is to get more of “us” in this business. When I look at all the diversity among us, we have about 119 dealerships out of 16,000. We comprise about 5.2% of the dealerships nationwide. My biggest problem is getting a bigger piece of that pie. Most of us first generation dealers don’t have the capital to finance the upcoming guys entering the business. It’s important we come together as a community to invest and that’s what we’re doing now.
In 2015 you awarded 18 scholarships to graduating seniors in the Northern, VA area. Can you speak more on your philanthropic endeavors, specifically the Joyce and Thomas Moorehead Foundation?
Being a good corporate citizen is huge. Education is dear to me. We partner with various schools to finance these students to remain in school. Some of those schools being Bowie State University, Howard University, Bethune Cookman, Grambling, and Hampton University. We also have a mentor program that involves the student, the school, and the parent because it takes all three to make this happen.
What would you say is the single most critical trait you possess as a business owner and how has that impacted your most successful project to date?
I would say really understanding people. Learning what motivates and pushes them to perform. It’s not about us. It’s about the customer as they are the boss of the business. They keep the doors open. I try to keep all of my employees focused on that philosophy.
My biggest success is developing the standing BMW dealership here in Sterling, VA which is one of the largest BMW dealerships in the country. Manufactures’ primary concerns are can you sell and can you have a good customer satisfaction index (CSI)? This will open up major doors. I’ve always held onto the philosophy of not being the most expensive and also not the cheapest but having the best service component ever. This is what we pride ourselves on. I am an advocate of customer service and putting the customer first.
How do you define success at this point in your life?
My needs are different now. When I look at the way America is moving, “we” have to be prepared to enter the workforce because “we” are no longer a priority in the way we once were. There needs to be more creative, nontraditional approaches toward navigating professionally to become successful. It goes back to mentorship within the community and being that role model that I was fortunate enough to have coming up in the business.
What advice would you give to a young Entrepreneur?
Be the best you can be and help others along the way. Be a great corporate citizen. Protect your reputation and walk in integrity. Never stop learning. Master your craft. My wife and I have built a great team but still ask the question, what is real greatness? There’s always room for improvement.
Sir Henry Royce has a saying “Take what is good and make it better.” Never stop tweaking what you have.
What were your biggest challenges in solidifying your position in the automotive industry?
CAPITAL! Finances are the hugest challenge without a doubt. Running a dealership requires a lot of money. For example, if we sell 35 cars on a Saturday, we have to pay off all those trades to get a free and clear title. Some days checks are written for millions of dollars at a time. In the most recent down turn, a lot of us have gone out of business simply because we ran out of cash.
What was the defining risk you took that transcended your career?
I would say never looking back. Go full speed when making a sober decision.
Hard work! My grandfather always said “Work when others are sleep.” I always kept that with me. Work Smart! Always seek to understand people and the market. Surround yourself with good people.
Jack Welch wrote a book called Winning. It speaks about getting people on the bus and in their respective seats. Find good talent and manage them well.
Like Michael Jordan, understand your team and make sure everyone is in the right role.
Have great policies but have greater people.
What is your dream car?
That’s funny because it has changed tremendously over the years especially being in the business. Before, I would say an Ashton Martin DB9 because of the James Bond movies. Now, I would say there’s a 5 series BMW I really like. It is truly the ultimate driving machine; it handles well. I have a lot of young people ask what car I drive. I told one group whichever car has gas in it but that didn’t blow over too well. If I had to name my favorite Rolls Royce edition, I would say the Rolls Royce Wraith. It is truly a dream to drive.
STATURE is a lifestyle brand that is dedicated to changing the narrative and breaking stereotypes of African American men. How would you define the word STATURE?
For me, Stature is self-image. You never know who you will affect through interactions professionally or personally. It’s about identifying what is necessary to pass along to the next generation. I am honored that STATURE would consider me as a feature behind the brand. It’s been a pleasure!
Click the links below for more information on BMW and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars of Sterling dealerships :