Ray Catena 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. Catena was chosen to represent the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
Reared in Kearny, New Jersey, Catena was a born entrepreneur who learned the value of a hard day’s work from his grandparents who raised him. In grammar school he would collect spare parts to repair and resell bicycles. At age 12, he bought his first car and sold it for a profit.
“From that point on, I was hooked and knew the automotive business was my destiny. The work ethic and integrity my grandparents instilled in me have served throughout my automotive career” he said.
And that career officially started in 1958 when he opened Towne Auto Sales, a retail used car and wholesale operation in Kearny, at the age of 22. Catena spent the next 18 years honing his knowledge of the automotive industry, which prepared him to move into new-car sales with Ray Catena Chevrolet in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, in 1976. Ray’s wife, Elsie, has worked beside him from the beginning of his career and continues to this day. While his company has grown substantially since 1976, Catena is proud of his reputation for excellent customer service — his motto remains the same: “If you think something is more important than the customer, think again”.
“Over the years, many employees have become an extension of my own family. I am proud of the manner in which they conduct business with honesty and integrity while representing us. It's evident that our associates appreciate how valued they are, and that positive mindset translates into an exceptional customer experience”, nominee Ray Catena said.
Today, the Ray Catena Auto Group, which he founded in 1981, has grown to employ more than 1,100 people, representing luxury brands Mercedes-Benz (3 dealerships), Sprinter, Porsche, Infiniti, Lexus (4 dealerships) Land Rover (2 dealerships), Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and MINI throughout New Jersey and New York. One of Catena’s daughters, a son-in-law, and two grandsons are the next generations representing the family enterprise.
“No matter how much our business has grown, what remains constant is the mutual respect of our customers, manufacturers, vendors, and above all, employees, without whom none of this success would have been possible,” he said.
Catena also feels it is his responsibility as a successful businessperson to give back to employees, customers, and the communities his dealerships serve. “We are dedicated to serving our communities by supporting a wide variety of charitable causes,” he said. To that end, he has a long history of philanthropic giving. Aome of the charities he supports include Tunnel to Towers Foundation, The Wounded Warrior Project, The Seeing Eye, the Boomer Esiason Foundation, Monmouth Conservation Foundation, The Salesian Sisters, Susan G. Komen, Monmouth Park Charity Fund, Infiniti Love for Kids Fighting Cancer, Hackensack Meridian Riverview Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York-Presbyterian Columbia Medical Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Other groups he is proud to support include police, fire and first aid squads throughout New Jersey and New York, Fulfill Food Bank of Monmouth & Ocean Counties, an array of local youth sports teams, Mercy Center, Raine Foundation, Lunch Break, Special Olympics of New Jersey, Tigger Stavola Foundation for mental illness and addiction support, among many others.
Ray is also proud to partner with Brookdale Community College and Universal Technical Institute on the vocational “School to Career Path” for automotive technicians. The programs provide the opportunity for paid internships working side by side with master technicians bridging the gap between theory and practice. After graduation the students have the opportunity to work full time for Ray Catena dealerships, earning bonuses and reimbursement for tools and tuition as they progress.
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.”
Catena was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. He and his wife Elsie have two daughters.