Rolen E. Ferris 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. Ferris was chosen to represent the Pennsylvania Automotive Association in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“I find it rewarding to have helped build a world-class automotive group based on the foundation of exceptional customer service,” nominee Ferris said. “I also enjoy advancing the careers of our team members and watching them blossom in their profession – with quite a few becoming millionaires from their success.”
Ferris attended Elmhurst College (now Elmhurst University) in Elmhurst, Illinois. In 1974, at age 18, his automobile career was launched when he secured a position in sales at Volvo Cars Lisle in Lisle, Illinois.
“After my interview, I called the owner of the dealership every day for a week until he hired me,” he said.
And his persistence paid off. “By 1976, I was named the top car salesperson in the Midwest by Volvo and one of the top five for the entire country.”
In 1977, Ferris moved to Laurel Motors, a Mercedes-Benz/BMW store in Westmont, Illinois, where he honed his skills in sales, customer satisfaction, and the luxury auto market.
“I learned that time is the most valuable commodity for luxury car buyers,” he said. “That is why I purchased my own loaner vehicle for my clients while working at Laurel Motors and would pick up and deliver vehicles to customers’ homes.”
That unwavering commitment to his clients is what brought Ferris together with his current partner, Indianapolis 500 champ Bobby Rahal. “I have my job today because I provided exceptional customer service to Bobby and his family,” he said. “When he decided to go into the retail automotive business in 1988, he asked me to be his partner and run the operation.”
Today, the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group encompasses 13 dealership locations in central Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area, representing Acura, BMW, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and Volvo. No matter how many dealerships the group acquires, Ferris stays true to his core values of stellar customer service, fair pricing and honest business practices – all adding up to repeat and referral business, which he believes is the key to his success.
Ferris is also committed to investing in the careers of his employees. “We have sent 10 associates to attend the NADA Academy to prepare them for dealership management,” he said. “And we provide tuition reimbursement for technician training, while assisting apprentice technicians in acquiring the tools needed to become service technicians.”
Dealerships in the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group have received numerous accolades from manufacturers for top sales volume, outstanding customer satisfaction, and overall excellence. And consumers agree, as the dealerships are consistently recognized as Simply the Best by the readers of Harrisburg Magazine in the publication’s annual poll.
An active leader in supporting community organizations and initiatives, Ferris rallies his teams to get involved in charitable drives for toys, coats, clothing and food.
“My mission is to eliminate childhood hunger within the primary market areas of our dealerships" he said. "In the last two years, my wife and I have donated $5.5 million to local food banks with a large portion earmarked to fund special projects that supplies food on weekends and summer breaks for students who are on school lunch programs.”
Groups that have benefitted from these donations are Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, New Hope Ministries, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Greater Washington County Food Bank (a division of Food Helpers).
In addition, the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group supports numerous charities and organizations including local police departments, school districts, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, SoldierStrong, Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra, Autism-Pittsburgh, Hospice of Central Pennsylvania, American Heart Association and Speranza Animal Rescue.
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.”
Ferris was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by John Devlin, president of the Pennsylvania Automotive Association. He and his wife Patricia have one daughter.