Damon Lester is one of a select group of 49 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 107th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 3, 2024.
The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. The award recognizes the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. Lester was chosen to represent the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“My journey is a testament to unwavering dedication, a passion for advocacy, a love for people, strategic partnerships, and the insatiable thirst for continuous learning and growth,” nominee Lester said. “All these elements collectively steered me to where I stand today.”
Lester received a B.S. from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1994. He launched his automotive industry career at the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD) in 2002, where he was hired as vice president of operations and was named president in 2006, a position he held for more than 15 years. Today, he serves as vice chair of the organization while overseeing his own dealership, Nissan of Bowie, which he acquired in 2021.
He currently also serves on the board of directors for the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association.
“While at NAMAD, I became a prominent voice advocating for diversity in the automotive sector,” Lester said. “My work was primarily directed towards ensuring equitable access and creating meaningful opportunities for minority professionals across various facets of the industry.”
A recognized authority on consumer finance, entrepreneurship, and economic diversity within the auto industry, Lester has received numerous accolades for his leadership and advocacy. He was recently named one of Automotive News’ Notable Champions of Diversity in 2022. Lester has also received recognition from Real Times Media; Extraordinary Is (Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation); Savoy magazine; Carma Foundation; Rainbow PUSH Coalition; and The Network Journal (40 Under Forty Achievement Award); to name a few.
Lester’s notable personal and professional journey is featured in The HistoryMakers, a digital repository for the black experience. This prestigious oral history archive of more than 3,300 videotaped interviews is preserved in the Library of Congress.
After founding Lester Automotive Group and acquiring Nissan of Bowie in 2021, Lester has made a successful transition to entrepreneurship. “I've worked to transform the dealership culture, prioritizing people over profits,” he said. “My most rewarding impact lies in cultivating an environment where employees feel valued, and customers experience unmatched trust and loyalty. By ensuring diversity and pushing for equitable opportunities within our dealership, I've not only driven business success but also fostered community connections.”
He added, “Every time an employee achieves his or her potential or a customer becomes a lifelong fan, I'm reminded of the profound, positive change we've initiated, reinforcing our mission to alter the perception of car dealers.”
And Lester also works to make positive changes in the lives of area youths through his involvement with Bowie-Mitchellville (MD) Diamond Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of the Bowie-Mitchellville (MD) Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
“We encourage the development and leadership training among young males in Prince George’s County; assist in advancement of young men who are disadvantaged; promote the benefits of receiving a college education; and provide mentorship to school-age children in single-parent households,” he said.
Lester also supports the Military Warriors Support Foundation, a group that assists wounded combat veterans in their transition to civilian life, by donating an electric Nissan vehicle to the nonprofit organization annually.
“This group provides critical support, empowering veterans to regain independence and thrive,” he said. “We are proud to be part of its noble mission to honor and aid those who have served our nation.”
Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan will select one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year. Three finalists will receive $5,000 for their favorite charities and the winner will receive $10,000 to give to charity, donated by Ally.
In its 13th year as exclusive sponsor, Ally also will recognize dealer nominees and their community efforts by contributing $1,000 to each nominee’s 501(c)3 charity of choice. Nominees will be recognized on AllyDealerHeroes.com, which highlights the philanthropic contributions and achievements of TIME Dealer of the Year nominees.
“At TIME, we are proud to uphold the decades-long tradition of honoring automotive dealers who make a positive impact and show dedication to their communities through our TIME Dealer of the Year award,” said TIME CEO Jessica Sibley. “We are excited to keep this tradition of applauding these community contributions together with our partners at Ally.”
Doug Timmerman, president of dealer financial services, Ally, said, “Auto dealers nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to not only the industry but to their respective communities through volunteerism, sponsorships, and supporting charitable causes, no matter the market climate. Whether their clients are purchasing a first car or upgrading for a growing family, these selected dealers have successfully extended their relationships beyond the showroom and have been steadfast in driving their communities forward.”
Lester was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by John P. O'Donnell, president and CEO of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association. He and his wife, Angelica, have three children.