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"I grew up watching my successful father in the car business. “I learned the importance of persistence, good customer service and valuing loyalty amongst employees."
“I grew up watching my successful father in the car business,” nominee Lee said. “I learned the importance of persistence, good customer service and valuing loyalty amongst employees.”
A 1977 graduate of Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine, Lee earned a B.S. in psychology from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1981. He started selling cars at his family’s dealership in Auburn, Maine, at age 16 and in 1987, he joined the business full-time.
Lee Auto Malls was originally founded by his grandfather, Joseph Lifshitz, as Advance Auto Sales in 1936. Lee’s father, Shepard “Shep” Lee, built the company into one of Maine’s largest dealership groups. Today, Lee Auto Malls boasts 13 new-car franchises and 15 used-car stores, and Lee, who serves as chairman, owns the business with his cousin Don Lee and lifelong friend John Isaacson.
An avid environmentalist, Lee has worked hard to bring critical issues to the forefront. “I felt it was important that Maine have the right to join California in protecting its air, so I was active in trying to raise fuel economy standards in my state and around the country,” he said. “We succeeded and I believe that this has helped reduce asthma rates in Maine.” For his efforts, he received an environmental award from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Lee is also a champion of the working class and immigrants. He successfully supported raising the minimum wage in Maine and fought tirelessly to make that happen. In addition, he has tried to help and protect the new Mainers, recent immigrants. “We just kicked off a Shariah-compliant loan product that should allow religious Muslims to be able to buy cars from us,” he said. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maine recently honored Lee and his family with the Justice Louis Scolnik Award, which is presented to Mainers who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the protection of civil liberties.
Other groups that Lee supports include: ACLU of Maine; Natural Resources Council of Maine; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (Unity, Maine); Portland Museum of Art (Portland, Maine); Maine Jewish Film Festival; The Maine Music Society (Lewiston, Maine); Lewiston/Auburn Islamic Center (Lewiston); Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Boston, Massachusetts); The Salvation Army; Safe Voices (services for victims of domestic violence in various Maine locations); Maine Women’s Fund (transforming the lives of Maine women and girls); and House in the Woods (outdoor retreats for active military and veterans in Lee, Maine).
Lee was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Tom Brown, president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association. He and his wife, Diane, have two children.