McNeill earned a B.S. in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1978. He followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather and entered the family dealership, McNeill Pontiac Datsun in Wilkesboro, as a sales manager after college.
“My automotive experience first started when I was 9 years old,” he remembered. “My dad put me to work at a young age sweeping floors and washing cars.”
His grandfather, M.B. McNeill, opened a Pontiac store in Cricket, North Carolina, in 1939, and his father, Gene McNeill, joined the business in 1954. They moved the operation to Wilkesboro and added the Datsun franchise in 1978, eventually selling the dealership where McNeill learned the ins and outs of the industry in 1982. McNeill also attended a General Motors training program in Flint, Michigan.
In 1983, McNeill and his wife, Connie, purchased a small Toyota store in Wilkesboro, Northwest Toyota, and he became dealer principal and president. “I was 26 years old and became one of the youngest Toyota dealers in the country,” he said. “The timing could not have been luckier because Toyota suddenly began their illustrious climb to become one of the most successful auto manufacturers in the world.”
McNeill grew the business and sold the successful dealership in 2003 because he wanted to travel and to spend more time with his family. But that plan was short-lived, as he missed the car business and purchased a Kia store in High Point, North Carolina, later in that same year. He has since added Hyundai and Genesis in High Point before opening McNeill Nissan in 2015 in Wilkesboro, which today also includes Buick and Chevrolet franchises under the Carolina Automotive Group umbrella. His two sons, Scott and Matt, are part of the family enterprise.
“Looking back at my career, hard work and luck have been important factors in my success,” McNeill said. “Growing up in a small town known for moonshine, NASCAR and the birthplace of Lowe’s home improvement stores, opened my eyes to endless possibilities.”
He credits his two mentors, his father and grandfather, for being role models and showing him that the path to success, both personally and professionally, is built on honesty, integrity and respect. McNeill finds it rewarding to hire young people and individuals with troubled pasts and watch them grow and succeed in life.
Today, he also furthers the industry’s cause by serving on dealer councils for Hyundai and Kia, as well as on the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association. During his tenure on the Board of Directors, McNeill was part of the team that approved North Carolina’s Hometown Heroes program, which recognizes and honors first responders for their bravery and courage in protecting local communities across the state.
McNeill is also on the board of the Wilkes Education Foundation and chairs the group’s largest fundraiser, the annual Hugh Martin Golf Tournament. “I have led this tournament for the last 12 years,” he said. “Proceeds are used to award mini-grants to teachers and scholarships to students in the Wilkes County Schools, for which I participate in reviewing applications and interviewing scholarship candidates.” He also supports the Wilkes County Schools Teacher of the Year program.
“I have strived to make a positive difference in the lives of my family, our employees and our community,” McNeill said. “There is no better feeling than thinking that you helped someone succeed in life.”
McNeill was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Robert Glaser, president of the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association. He and his wife, Connie, have two sons.