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Santosh Viswanathan

Santosh Viswanathan

Willis Ford

Smyrna, Delaware

“It has been most rewarding to support my employees and my customers. To watch employees who thought they could not make it in car sales buy their first home while in my employ is very gratifying to me.”

Viswanathan’s drive to succeed has fueled his career trajectory. “I came to the United States as a foreign student in 1985 from Kuwait,” he said. “My family was in the oil business. In 1991, I became a casualty of the Gulf War and had no access to any money for school. Salisbury University in Maryland threw me a lifeline by offering a reduced tuition.”


Viswanathan graduated from the university in 1992 with a BS in finance management and took a job at a bank before responding to a newspaper ad for a finance position at a Delaware dealership. “The dealer at the time wondered how someone that spoke with an accent and looked like me could make it in the car business,” he said. “I told him that he would only have to pay me one dollar for the first year and that if I couldn't make him any more money than the previous year, we would part ways and he would owe me nothing but one dollar. He hired me and the store did well.”


He then worked in the auto industry in Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and northern Virginia before returning to Delaware and partnering with Bill Willis, his previous boss, at Willis Ford in 2004. Recently, he launched 20 Group Dealer Trades, an online inventory portal for pre-owned autos.


“In 2016, my dealership had challenges in sourcing quality pre-owned vehicles,” he explained. “Rather than let a car age at one dealer’s location, that particular unit could serve as prime inventory at another dealership. I created the platform in 2018 and today have no problem accessing quality pre-owned cars.”


Since 2014, Viswanathan has served as the legislative chair for the Delaware Automobile and Truck Dealers’ Association and as the NADA PAC state chairman for Delaware. “Since taking on the role of legislative chair, I have helped craft one of the most pro-dealer state franchise laws in the country,” he said. “I believe that the dealers in Delaware are in a good place because of it.”


In addition to all of his good works for the retail automotive industry, Viswanathan is also proud of his contributions to local food banks. “I was surprised to hear of the number of students that count their school lunch as their main meal,” he said. “The recession of 2008 prompted middle-income Americans to visit food pantries, and many any of them are our customers. Supporting the food bank is supporting my local community with a broad, impacting stroke.”    


Viswanathan was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Marlene Lynch-Petrylak, executive director of the Delaware Automobile and Truck Dealers’ Association. He and his wife, Bhavana, have three children.