Gramm, who is a 1978 graduate of Thomas A. Edison High School in Alexandria, Virginia, sold those vehicles at a Chrysler dealership in Vienna, Virginia, and went on to hone his skills and advance his career at stores in Virginia and Maryland. In 1991, he was named general sales manager of Maryland Motors in Rockville, Maryland, and later rose to the level of vice president.
As Gramm approached the age of 40 and was reflecting on his then 20-year career, he decided he wanted to own his own store. With the support of the dealer principal at Maryland Motors and an associate, David Blum, he acquired his first dealership, Safford Dodge and RV in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 2002.
“I finally realized my dream,” he said. “I commuted three hours per day from Potomac, Maryland, to Fredericksburg to make certain our new store would survive.”
From that single Dodge/RV store in 2002, Safford Automotive Group has expanded to 13 separate dealership locations in Maryland and Virginia, representing 16 brands and employing 840 people.
And to achieve his dream, Gramm put together a very innovative financing strategy. “I got creative, and with hard work, assembled resources to fund the original $5 million dealership,” he said. “To close the deal, I worked in the seller’s office for three months and agreed to 10-year donation to a charity for the homeless totaling $1 million. It was the last step in the process and if I hadn’t done it then, I would still be working for someone else.”
The experience inspired Gramm to help other talented people make that jump from general manager to dealership owner. “Today, 11 of my general managers who want to become dealers themselves own a percentage stake in their stores,” he said. “My philosophy is to offer dealer ownership opportunities as a motivational incentive while creating the chance for them to benefit by becoming entrepreneurs.”
Gramm brings that same creativity and leadership to various organizations. He is a longtime and current board member for the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association, and also served on the board of the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association for 11 years until 2018.
He has consistently participated in many initiatives of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association, including sponsoring technicians for its Technician Apprentice Program and facilitating communications for the Washington, D.C. Auto Show.
As a business leader, Gramm feels it is important to give back to the community. “I have donated to important organizations that support the homeless, health causes and educational institutions,” he said.
He is proud of his partnership with WBOC on the Rising Tide campaign, which supports nonprofit groups of the Delmarva. Some organizations that have benefitted from this initiative include the Joseph House (Salisbury, Maryland); the Samaritan Shelter (Pocomoke City, Maryland); Code Purple (Delaware’s Sussex County and Kent County); and the Cambridge Cold Weather Shelter (Cambridge, Maryland).
In addition, Gramm’s dealerships have collected school supplies for underserved children and winter clothing for the homeless. And he has also helped schools purchase computers and underprivileged families enjoy the holidays.
Gramm 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, Donna, have four children.