After graduating from Columbus High School in Columbus in 1981, Ernst originally set out for a career in real estate, receiving a GRI (Graduate Realtor Institute) designation from the Randall School of Real Estate in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1982.
By 1986, his father and uncle had asked him to join the family-owned dealership, which was originally founded in 1960 as Ernst Oldsmobile-Cadillac. Ernst accepted and quickly rose through the ranks. He was named dealer principal of the Ernst Auto Group in 2009, which encompasses Ernst Toyota and Ernst Auto Center, a Chevrolet, Buick and GMC store also in Columbus.
“I credit the mentorship of my father and uncle, as well as hard work, a commitment to building strong relationships and giving back to the community for our success,” he said.
An active member of the Nebraska New Car & Truck Dealers Association, Ernst has served as chairman of the board of the organization since 2017 and has also held the office of vice chairman, secretary and treasurer. “The most notable impact I have had as chairman has been our effort to address legislation regarding franchise law surrounding Tesla's proposal to allow manufacturers sell directly to consumers in our state,” he said. “The bill failed to advance as a direct result of our campaign.”
Ernst brings those same leadership skills to his community and is currently on the boards of the Columbus Area United Way, Columbus Public Schools STEM Academy and is chairman of the Genoa Community Bank Board of Directors. He also led the board of Adoption Links Worldwide from 2000 to 2008, an experience that is very close to his heart.
“My nine-year tenure with the organization will always hold special meaning, as I experienced the process of adoption firsthand for both of my children,” he said.
In 2016, Ernst instituted a charity program to award monetary contributions to community-focused organizations in the Columbus area. In addition, the dealership group has an ongoing partnership with the Columbus Community Hospital Foundation since its establishment in 2003, funding projects that improve the quality of life or the residents of Columbus.
A member of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce since 1960, Ernst Auto Group established and has sponsored the chamber’s Ovation Award since 1986, which honors outstanding women in business.
“We were also proud to be recognized by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce as Large Business of the Year in 2002, an award honoring companies with an outstanding reputation for customer and employee satisfaction and a strong commitment to giving back to the community,” Ernst said.
Ernst was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Loy Todd, president and general counsel of the Nebraska New Car & Truck Dealers Association. He and his wife, Michelle, have two children.