Lost in the hubbub about healthcare reform, immigration, wars in the Middle East, have been some of the economic successes of the Obama administration. One of those is the assistance provided to the automobile industry. About $80 million in taxpayers’ money was used to bail out GM and Chrysler. The result was a smaller, profitable and more efficient industry. One of the survivors is Al Heggs, now one of the most successful general managers in Arizona.
Like other sectors of the economy, the automobile industry tanked in 2008-9. General Motors and Chrysler filed bankruptcy. “Those were difficult times,” says Heggs, who headed a Houston-based Spring Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram dealership, whose sales dropped by over 50%.
Nationwide, by 2012, the US auto industry was having record sales, employment was up, and profits had tripled since 2008. Heggs, also, came roaring back, developing one of the top Chrysler dealerships.
Heggs was an athlete with ambition; he became the only player from Florida Community College at Jacksonville to play in the NBA (Houston Rockets). He played 13 years of professional basketball and retired in 2003. He started at the bottom or, actually, the front lot as a car salesman. Heggs graduated from the intense 18-month Chrysler’s Dealer Candidate Program in 2012, only one of 10 to complete the program.
Heggs has been General Manager of the highly BBB-rated Superstition Springs Chrysler Jeep Dodge in the Auto Park in Mesa, Arizona., since the end of 2012. “Big Al” has a great smile and, as he says, “while the money is great, what I like best about the auto business is working with all the people.”
Heggs is also one of the few minority dealers. Though minorities make up over 30% of the US population, comprising a big percentage of car buyers, only 5% of dealerships are minority-owned. Access to jobs, training, mentorship, and capital investment are hurdles. Automakers, like Chrysler, are making investments in training and loans. But it still takes talent, large personal financial commitment, and lots of determination to succeed.
Heggs, who used savings from his sports career, has done that, with sales topping $100 million in 2013, and increasing by 20% in 2014. He has hired 70 people since coming to Arizona, and employs a loyal, experienced staff of 120. “The car industry provides great opportunities,” he testifies.
The recovery of the car industry and Heggs’ success in Mesa are good omens for Arizona.