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"I am thankful to the people who have been a part of our business success, and proud of the opportunity and career growth that we have been able to provide for them."
“I am thankful to the people who have been a part of our business success, and proud of the opportunity and career growth that we have been able to provide for them,” nominee Sommer said. “My automotive career in our family business has been extremely fulfilling on many different levels.”
A 1974 graduate of Homestead High School in Mequon, Sommer earned a B.A. cum laude in business administration and political science from the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire in Eau Claire in 1978.
Sommer began his automotive career in grade school at his father’s dealership. “I started washing cars with my brother Don before we could drive them,” he said. He eventually progressed to detail work, light mechanical repair and sales after graduating college. “It never occurred to my brother and me to do anything else,” Sommer said. “Our dad's enthusiasm and attitude were contagious. He always had faith in his people, products and future, and I couldn't wait to be a part of that scenario. He had prepared me completely to follow in his path and I was proud to do so.”
Today, Sommer and his brother oversee three franchises, including Subaru, Buick and GMC, with his son and niece representing the next generation of Sommers to enter the family enterprise. “Our business has been consistently profitable through all economic conditions with strong service operations and excellent customer satisfaction and retention,” he said.
He added, “I have had the opportunity to learn business fundamentals from father, Wally Sr., and his dedicated team, one of whom is still our most trusted advisor today. And through a lifetime of working together, my brother Don and I have built a special relationship which has helped us grow as a team to face not only the challenges of this business, but also be humbled and thankful for the success we have achieved.”
With roots in the Mequon area that date back to 1880s, Sommer is deeply committed to the betterment of his community. His company consistently makes donations to area schools and organizations that improve the quality of life for children in the region. As lead sponsor, Sommers Automotive donated $250,000 to upgrade the Homestead High School athletic complex and pavilion at his alma mater. Sommers also has contributed to the Mequon-Thiensville Education Foundation; Lumen Christi Catholic School construction in Mequon; St. Marcus Lutheran School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Journey House in Milwaukee, which empowers families to move out of poverty; and Whitefish Bay Education Foundation.
“We feel it is important to support excellence in education in local school districts, and we believe building faith in the next generations is vital,” Sommer said.
Sommer’s company also supports Portal Inc. in Grafton, Wisconsin, which is dedicated to assisting those living with developmental disabilities; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ozaukee County; Mequon Nature Preserve; Gathering on the Green concerts in Mequon Rotary Park; Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital in Milwaukee; Automobile Dealers Association of Mega Milwaukee’s Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin program; Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure; and Sommer Pavilion in Mequon River Barn Park in honor of his father.
“We have a strong partner with Subaru in our community efforts, and in 2017, Subaru matched donations to two local charities for a total of $100,000 in gifts,” he said.
For his family’s good works throughout their decades in business, Sommer is most proud of receiving the inaugural Pillars of the Community Award from the Mequon Community Foundation in 2012. “It was an especially great honor for me to accept that award and thank all of the team members who have contributed to our success, allowing us to make a positive impact on our community,” he said. “My dad was very active in civic achievement and showed us the significant impact an engaged business can have.” Sommer was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by William A. Sepic, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Automobile & Truck Dealers Association. He and his wife, Debra, have three children and four grandchildren.