Thad Szott 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. Szott was chosen to represent the Detroit Auto Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“The most rewarding part of my retail automotive career has been the opportunity to create jobs for our community,” nominee Szott said. “We started with just 27 employees and today, our dealerships employ nearly 300 people. By helping these team members grow their professional careers, we have been able to achieve great things together.”
Szott, who earned a B.A. in business from Michigan State University in East Lansing in 1992, started in the auto business at age 15 by picking weeds at the dealership where his father worked. He sold his first car at age 17 at Taylor AMC Jeep Renault in Taylor, Michigan, and knew he wanted a career doing just that.
His father became a dealer in 1988 after many years in the auto business, and Szott joined the family enterprise full-time in 2001. Today, the Szott Auto Group encompasses five dealerships in Metro Detroit representing Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Jeep, Ram and Toyota.
“From picking weeds to now sharing a dealer partnership role with my dad, brother and sister, I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to all facets of dealership operations for 30-plus years,” he said. Two of his children, Cassidy and Shane, are the next generation to join the auto group and carry on the family legacy.
“My dad has been a major influence in my life and my greatest mentor,” Szott said. “His is an amazing American success story, and he has instilled his incredible work ethic into all of us Szott children.”
He also values his dealership family for their unwavering commitment to customer service, a hallmark of his company.
“Our employees are dedicated and best-in-class,” Szott said. “They have helped the entire operation get where it is today.”
An active member of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, where he has served as president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, Szott was named chair of the 2023 North American International Detroit Auto Show. This year’s successful September event included a focus on EVs (electrical vehicles), complete with a new EV Experience indoor track, an Air Mobility Experience featuring a drivable flying car and simulators, a Mobility Global Forum and interactive exhibits from multiple manufacturers.
“Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of the Detroit Auto Show for me is the signature Black-Tie Charity Preview event that year after year raises monies for six children’s charities throughout southeast Michigan,” he said.
In the area of community service, Szott has three core charitable partners: Ronald McDonald House Charities Detroit, Huron Valley Schools and the Joe Kocur Foundation for Children.
The Ronald McDonald Charities holds a special place in his heart. When his son, Shane, became very ill with an infection as a young child, Szott and his wife stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Detroit while Shane was being treated at Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
“It was our refuge, and I experienced firsthand how important it was to have a comforting place to go to while dealing with a child’s serious illness,” he said.
Each year, Szott Auto Group partners with 99.5 WYCD radio to raise funds and awareness for the organization. And Szott’s employees get involved by volunteering to prepare meals for families staying at the House and participating in Jeans and Jersey Days, during which his employees donate money to dress down with Szott matching the funds.
“Through this annual campaign and other major events over the past 20 years, we have raised more than $1 million for this incredible organization,” he said. “We are forever grateful to the Ronald McDonald House and are happy that our wonderful team of employees share in this connection.”
For Huron Valley Schools, Szott contributes to the arts and athletic programs, as well as the Huron Valley Schools Teacher of the Year initiative.
“Recognizing our contributions, two athletic fields in the school district proudly carry the Szott Auto Group name,” he said.
The Joe Kocur Foundation for Children assists needy families and charities by developing family-friendly events that galvanize the community. The Szott Auto Group is proud to support the organization’s signature event, the Celebrity Softball Series, and employees participate by volunteering.
“We promote a culture of volunteerism and charitable giving and are gratified when we see tangible evidence of our efforts in the community,” he said.
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.”
Szott was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association. Szott and his wife Robin have three children.