John Hiester 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. Hiester was chosen to represent the North Carolina 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.
“The pinnacle of fulfillment for me has been aiding others in realizing their dreams,” nominee Hiester said. “Whether guiding a customer to an ideal car, assisting during unforeseen breakdowns, watching our team surpass their own expectations, or mentoring community leaders and our own employees, it's been a transformative journey.”
Hiester, who earned a two-year diesel technician certificate from the Gordon D. James Career Center in Lordstown, Ohio, started his retail automotive career as a sales consultant at Leith Automotive in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1986. He rose through the ranks to become sales manager and then moved to Daryl Burke Chevrolet in Fuquay-Varina in 1992 in that same capacity.
After 15 years selling cars, Hiester started to question his career path and thought about switching to direct sales. But after shadowing a friend who owned that type of business, he decided to stay the course in the retail automotive industry.
“When thinking it through, I realized that I absolutely love what I do, but I aspired for more,” he said. “I get to work in a job where I interact with hundreds of people and be part of a community that is grateful for the services we provide.”
In 2002, Hiester had the opportunity to buy a small Chevrolet store in Angier, North Carolina, which he purchased with his best customer, a local grading contractor.
“The dealership was on a back road with a gravel lot and had a 1950s-era building with wings on the roof,” he said. “Because I had shaken hands with every customer and kissed every baby that came into my previous place of business, I had built lasting relationships with a customer base that followed me to the new store.”
Today, he is a majority owner of the Hiester Automotive Group, which encompasses four John Hiester-branded dealerships in Fuquay-Varina, Lillington, and Sanford, North Carolina, representing Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram. His two sons-in-law are now part of the family enterprise.
“Mentors, friends, and family are the bedrock of my success,” Hiester said. “And none of my achievements would have been possible without the dedication and expertise of our exceptional employees, whose commitment has propelled the organization's growth and evolution.”
And he is committed to his employees and their personal and professional growth. To that end, he has partnered with Strayer University to subsidize tuition, aligning learning options with avenues for advancement. He has also instituted the Hiester Book Club, a discussion group that brings new ideas and best practices to the forefront, an initiative that was profiled in Automotive News.
Hiester has written two books outlining his successful management philosophy, including Hire Who You Want and Why Jacob Matters. “My growth was spurred by others’ belief in me; now, uplifting others is my greatest reward,” he said.
An active member of NADA, Hiester is currently state PAC chair. He has also served as chair, vice chair, secretary, and treasurer for the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association.
“I was instrumental in creating North Carolina Hometown Heroes for our state association, a program that recognizes and honors first responders,” he said. “We’ve saluted more than 800 police officers, fire personnel, sheriffs, and EMTs in our state since the program’s inception on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.”
On a more local level, Hiester created the Hiester Cares Foundation in 2019, the philanthropic arm of his company, which provides a platform for employees to give back to the community. And he involves his team in deciding where the foundation funds are distributed.
“When starting this venture, we polled everyone within the organization on the most important causes close to their hearts,” he said. “They chose suicide prevention and underprivileged youth.”
The foundation’s annual 5K run directly raises funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. And the company’s annual Stuff-A-Bus event with iHeart Radio Raleigh collected two bus loads of toys for children in need through Toys for Tots. The foundation also supports the local YMCA and Wake County Smart Start, a group that prepares young children for success in school and life.
Another foundation initiative, the Restoration Challenge, was conceived during the pandemic as a way to provide work hours for his mechanics. Hiester’s love for classic cars fueled the idea for teams of mechanics to compete and restore vintage cars to their former glory.
“My team and I procured 14 classic cars and enlisted 14 teams of mechanics from our four dealerships,” he said. “The challenge created tremendous online buzz and was showcased on Danny Koker’s web series, Count’s Kulture.”
The best-restored car was auctioned off with the proceeds going to the winning team’s charity of choice: Military Missions in Action, which assists veterans, members of the military, and their families.
“This creative approach not only served as an employee morale boost, but we found a way to take it further and give back to our community,” Hiester said.
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.”
Hiester 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, Lisa, have two daughters.