Jill Hattan 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. Hattan was chosen to represent the Kansas 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.
“In my constant rebellion against the status quo, I feel proud that I have made Wichita a better place to buy a car through our dealership,” nominee Hattan said. “Putting people first – both my customers and my employees – has always left me feeling accomplished and rewarded.”
Hattan is a third-generation car dealer, but she never had any intention of following the path of her grandfather Don Hattan, who founded the Chevrolet store in 1949, and her father Jim, who shepherded the company from 1976 on. When she graduated from the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1994, she dreamed of being an entrepreneur and owning her own business.
“I worked in the dealership growing up, doing everything from washing cars to answering phones to office work,” she said. “When I came home after college, I began to view our family business through different eyes and was excited by the potential for change and growth.”
Hattan worked in service and began to solicit feedback from customers. When she saw a problem she fixed it, and she found the work to be challenging and rewarding. She was named general manager in 2002 and dealer principal in 2008.
In the last six years, Hattan added a Ford store in Augusta, Kansas, to the mix, as well as a used-car operation and sales dealership to accommodate customers on the west side of Wichita and in Derby Kansas, all under the Don Hattan Dealerships umbrella. Her husband, Ben Thomas, is a partner with her in the business.
“I am proud to have grown our local footprint and substantially increased sales,” she said. “Our original Chevrolet store, which is the longest-standing dealership in Wichita, is incredibly unique, from its family history to the way we treat our customers and employees. And now we have expanded our brand by adding new products and outlets.”
Hattan has always thrived on listening, learning and embracing change, which she attributes to her success. And now she is sharing that business philosophy with her employees through an in-house training program called Emerging Leaders.
“The five-month program consists of weekly courses taught by me and my husband, designed to develop our employees into strong business leaders,” she said. “And it also gives me the chance to develop deep and meaningful relationships with our associates.”
Hattan honors the hometown values that have been a mainstay of her business since its founding, but with her own twist. She wanted women to feel comfortable in the dealership environment, so she launched Ladies Day. Every Tuesday, women who bring their cars in for service are treated to a complimentary massage and/or manicure. This popular initiative has been ongoing since 2005.
Don Hattan Chevrolet has a 75-year history of giving back to the community and Hattan carries on that legacy. She is very involved with Junior Achievement (JA) of Kansas through volunteerism and was recently inducted into the Junior Achievement of Kansas Wichita Business Hall of Fame.
“JA allows business leaders the opportunity to bring lessons of financial literacy, entrepreneurship, or workforce readiness to students who may not learn them otherwise,” she said. “I had the chance to teach an elementary course with JA, and now my employees continue this tradition every year.”
Children are also the focus of the company’s longest running event, Trunk or Treat. For more than 25 years, her dealerships have hosted thousands of families who stop by on Halloween to enjoy a safe and fun trick-or-treating experience.
“We are active members of eight local chambers and involved in seven school districts,” Hattan said. “We host and sponsor more than 250 annual community events in partnership with our chambers, schools, and other local nonprofits, impacting 30,000 kids per year through the school districts alone.”
Other groups she supports include Bridget's Cradles, Wichita State Athletics, Chevy Youth Baseball & Softball/League 42, Chevrolet Everyday Heroes which donates cars to wounded veterans, the American Heart Association and Beauties & Beasts, a dog adoption event for a pet rescue.
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.”
Hattan was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Don McNeely, president of the Kansas Automobile Dealers Association. She and her husband Ben Thomas have four children.