His journey of highs and lows began when Robert Serpentini Jr. fell in love with the car business after landing his first job washing vehicles at a dealership when he was 16 years old. By the time he was 22, he was a first-generation Chevrolet and Buick dealer in Orrville, Ohio.
“Through the early years as a dealer, I knew how to sell a lot of cars,” he said. “And I knew how to establish strong relationships with our team, our customers and Chevrolet.”
His business grew and he added four more dealerships in northeastern Ohio. But in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, Serpentini experienced some bumps in the road.
“I found out that my weakness for details and financial discipline were almost a fatal flaw,” he said. “Luckily, the relationships that I had built over the years paved the way for me to put a comeback plan in place. Navigating through those times made me a better dealer and a better person.”
Today, the Serpentini Auto Group encompasses six Ohio Chevrolet stores in Orrville (also Buick), Tallmadge, Strongsville, Westlake, Medina and Willoughby Hills, and a Nissan store in Pompano Beach, Florida. His two sons, Bobby and Ryan, also work for the family business.
“I try to surround myself with people who have high core values and drive,” he said. “It has never been about me. Our success is always a result of the people on my team. Without them, none of this is possible.”
An active member of the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association, Serpentini was tapped to be the liaison between the Cleveland Auto Show staff and General Motors to promote the brand in an engaging way to ensure a successful event, which helps fund the association’s scholarship program.
Serpentini also worked with Chevy to create an LMA (Local Marketing Association) after ad groups were disbanded by the automaker. “We agreed to form the first LMA in the country and, most importantly, had Chevy agree to allow us to use 20% of our funds for community action,” he said. “This meant each dealer could use 20% of their contributions to put directly back into the community.”
Another way Serpentini gives back is by donating to schools in the areas where his dealerships are located. “I've been able to provide amenities such as new turf for athletic fields, scoreboards and hurdles, as well as donating cars for raffle giveaways,” he said. “Supporting the athletic enrichment of youths builds pride in the schools and creates college opportunities for the students.”
In an effort to help students who missed out on senior events during the pandemic, Serpentini offered the 2020 graduating class of Orrville High School $500 per student to be put toward textbooks for their first semester of college. He also established the Serpentini Chevrolet Buick of Orrville scholarship at the University of Akron Wayne College in Orrville.
“I carry the hard lessons of my mistakes and understand that success is guaranteed to no one,” Serpentini said. “I’m looking forward to watching my sons and our team grow our dealer group further in the future – giving us more opportunity to help our communities.”
Serpentini was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Lou Vitantonio, president of the Greater Cleveland Automobile Dealers’ Association. He has two sons.