Thomas Ewald 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. Ewald was chosen to represent the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck 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 aspect of my career is helping others succeed in our industry,” nominee Ewald said. “Being a disciplined leader, an entrepreneur, and a builder of people is my passion – and it has made me a more successful automobile dealer.”
Ewald’s father, Emil, founded the Ewald Automotive Group in 1964 with a single Plymouth store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From an early age, Ewald would visit his father’s dealership and loved the atmosphere.
“In the beginning, I learned all the basic jobs, but over time I built relationships with our employees, our customers, and vendor partners,” he said.
In 1991, he earned a B.B.A. in business management and automotive marketing at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. That same year, Ewald was named new-car sales manager at Ewald's Mayfair Chrysler Plymouth Jeep Eagle, focusing on the Chrysler business.
“Every time I was given a task to make an improvement in an area, I applied what I learned before,” he said. “I also learned early on to be truthful and to follow through with my commitments with everyone, especially myself.”
Ewald steadily rose through the ranks and held various management positions in the dealership group. In 2008, he was named director of variable operations for Ewald Automotive Group. In 2014 he was named dealer principal, managing partner, and chief marketing officer.
Today, he and his brothers Craig and Brian are majority owners of the family enterprise, which includes eight new-car stores in Wisconsin representing brands Buick, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Jeep, Kia, Ram, and Volkswagen, as well as an Airstream dealership.
“I owe a large part of my success to my parents,” Ewald said. “My father taught me the value of a good work ethic and being a good car man. He was tough as nails but always fair. And my mother instilled a deep sense of compassion in me and was my guiding light about life.”
Ewald also credits his success working with his nephews Eric, Brett and Jay Ewald as third-generation partners in the company. “We may have different opinions, but when we leave the table, we will always come to an agreement on making the best decision for our employees, for our customers, and for the company,” he said.
And Ewald creates that same congenial atmosphere within the workplace. “I have been blessed with such great employees who are motivated by our culture,” he said. “We are like a family, all working together to fulfill a passion that started nearly 60 years ago.”
An active member of his local, state, and national dealer associations, Ewald is currently on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association Foundation. He is proud of the foundation’s efforts to inspire students to choose an auto technician career by providing scholarships for technical colleges in Wisconsin.
“We have also retained two award-winning retired high school shop teachers to write a ‘playbook’ that a school can follow to run a successful auto shop curriculum,” he said. “Our work on the board is just beginning to blossom, and now we are reaching into the middle schools to create a greater sense of awareness for technical education opportunities.”
Ewald also lends his leadership to numerous organizations, including the Wisconsin Masonic Center Foundation (current chair of the board), Wisconsin Masonic Home (current board member), Boy Scouts of America Potawatomi Area Council (assistant scout master), area chambers of commerce and high school automotive education programs.
For the Wisconsin Masonic Home, he is proud of his work on Operation Freedom, an initiative to raise money to send veterans residing at Three Pillars Senior Living Community in Dousman, Wisconsin, to Washington, D.C., to see the war memorials.
“Our grassroots effort has raised more than $50,000 to completely cover the costs of flying eligible resident veterans and a guardian on the Wisconsin Stars and Stripes Honor Flight,” he said. And Ewald helped spearhead a promotional campaign that honored the veterans and encouraged youth groups to get involved and pay tribute to local heroes who served our country.
In addition, his company has funded the expansion of a local soccer field in Oconomowoc. “We contributed over $600,000 to fund the project which includes a new sports pavilion for concessions, an office, and fields that accommodate a growing soccer program,” Ewald said.
Other Wisconsin groups Ewald supports include Lake Country Lutheran High School in Hartland, RiverGlen Christian Church in Waukesha, youth sports, reading symposiums, toy drives, local food pantries, blood drives and more.
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.”
Ewald was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by William A. Sepic, president of the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association. He and his wife Michelle have four children.