(New York, NY, October 18, 2022) – The nomination of John Lee, chairman and owner of Lee Ford Lincoln in Wilson, North Carolina, for the 2023 TIME Dealer of the Year award was announced today by TIME.
Lee is one of a select group of 48 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 106th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Dallas, Texas, on January 27, 2023.
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. Lee was chosen to represent the North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 48 auto dealers nominated for the 54th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of my career is knowing that I have affected the lives of my employees and the people of our community in a positive way,” nominee Lee said. “The greatest rewards in life come from our relationships with people, and this business has provided that opportunity every day.”
Lee is a 1982 graduate of Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, North Carolina, where he earned a B.S. in business administration. His passion for the car business started at a very young age as his father owned a Ford dealership in Elm City, North Carolina.
“I grew up loving that place,” he said. “I would ride my bike there after school to see my dad and to be around the men in the shop, who were like family to me. As soon as I was old enough, I began working there, doing whatever jobs needed to be done.”
While Lee always knew he wanted a career as a car dealer, he never expected that day would come so soon. When he was 20 years old, his father died of lung cancer and Lee returned from Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, where he was originally attending college, to take over the dealership.
“Many times, during the course of my dad’s illness, he told me how important it was that I finish college,” he said. “So rather than drop out, I transferred to a local school to complete my education while running the business in between classes.”
His fiancé, Lynn, also transferred and the two were married three months after his father’s passing. “Together, we struggled to keep the business from going under,” Lee said. “Thanks to the help of Hester Tyson, my father's office manager, we held on and gradually became profitable.”
Today, the Lee Motor Group encompasses nine new-car dealerships in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, representing brands Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Genesis, Hyundai, Kia, Jeep, Lincoln, Nissan and Ram.
“Maybe it was a blessing that I was so young when I started my career because I didn't know any other way to run a business than to work as hard as possible, day and night, with grit and determination to never give up,” he said. “The lessons I learned in those early days gave me the confidence that I could do just about anything I set my mind to, as long as I had good people surrounding me.”
Lee is proud to note that all of his stores have received the highest awards from manufacturers for sales and service. “These achievements would not be possible without a great team,” he said. “Many employees have been with us for decades and watching them grow professionally through the years alongside me is a joy as well as a benefit for our company that cannot be overstated.”
An active member of the state trade associations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, Lee also serves on dealer councils and advertising groups for the manufacturers he represents. He is committed to moving the industry forward and has fulfilled that promise in a very unique way.
When he was moving one of his dealerships in Wilson, Lee donated the former dealership and its property to the adjacent Wilson Community College to use the facilities and equipment for the school’s automotive technology program. The Lee Technology Center is now home to the college’s automotive program as well as a small business center and is expanding to include other hands-on technology spaces.
“When completed, the Lee Technology Center campus will serve more than 400 students annually,” he said. “This is one of the most rewarding projects I have been involved in as I see lives being improved by training young people for today's high-demand jobs and by encouraging entrepreneurship.”
Lee is proud of his long association with Barton College, his alma mater, where he has been a member of the board of trustees for 32 years and served as Chair from 2015-2020. “Barton is not only a major employer in our area but provides a place for young people to receive an excellent liberal arts education,” he said. “It is rewarding to have played a part in the success and growth achieved at Barton.”
He is also committed to the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) and has served on the board of trustees since 2014 and is currently serving in his second term as Chair. The group, which started as an orphanage, provides services to children, families and adults in need in North Carolina, South Carolina and Guatemala.
“Their work aids children and families suffering from abuse, abandonment, neglect and other forms of crisis, as well as disabled adults, at-risk youth, aging adults and much more,” he said. “The ways that BCH impacts lives in our community and state is real and lasting.”
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 12th 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.
“For over 50 years, TIME has been committed to recognizing the impact of automotive dealers on their communities with the TIME Dealer of the Year award," said Edward Felsenthal, editor in chief and CEO, TIME. "We are proud to continue the legacy of honoring these works of service with our partners at Ally.”
Doug Timmerman, president of dealer financial services, Ally, said, “Auto dealers across the country who are nominated for this award each year are committed to not only doing it right and leading in a rapidly changing automotive industry but to strengthening their communities through giving back. The TIME Dealer of the Year program celebrates dealers who are the role models of the retail auto industry for their continuous efforts to lift up and support their employees, customers and communities.”
Lee 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, Lynn, have one daughter.