Black History: Special Delivery!!
Less than 8% of car dealerships are owned by women. That number is only 1% for the number of dealerships owned by black women. However, women influence over 85% of the auto purchases. Ellenae Fairhurst has made history in Huntsville, AL becoming the first African American woman to own a Lexus dealership. She accomplished this mile stone in the early 1990’s!! A native of Dayton, OH, she started her career in the auto industry as a secretary at Ford Motor Company in 1968 in Detroit, MI. Fairhurst attended Miami University in Ohio. After graduation, she moved to Detroit and began her career with Ford. She had originally been selected to participate in Ford’s management training program but after finding out that she had recently been married, they did not permit her to participate in the management training program. Fairhurst held a number of positions throughout her 17 year tenure with Ford.
In 1988 she opened her first dealership. Fairhurst sought out the opportunity at a time when many corporate professionals were being downsized. Fairhurst became aware of Ford’s dealership training program. She found it very difficult to get information on how she could be considered for participation. However she was supported in her efforts by several African American dealers. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in entering the dealership program at Ford, but was able to enter the dealership training program for Chrysler. Her first Chrysler dealership was it in Fayetteville, NC opened in 1988 was very successful. Fairhurst was able to pay off her dealership in 8 years which is nearly half the time (15 years) that it would normally take to do so. To enter the dealing training program, you had to prove that she had $50k of disposable income. The actual cost of her first dealership was $150k. Ford had an employee stock purchase program which had a company match. Fairhurst participated in this program and was able to use these funds to help fund her efforts to purchase the Chrysler dealership. Most of the remaining funds for the dealership purchase came from severance pay she received after being down-sized from Ford.
Fairhurst believes that most women have an innate ability to be excellent entrepreneurs. Fairhust identifies some of her challenges in owning her first dealership as being lack of access to information and opportunity as well as constantly being told what she could not do. While dealers of color did eventually did make inroads in owning main line dealerships, there was not much progress in owning luxury dealerships. Fairhurst left her Chrysler dealership to come to acquire an Infiniti dealership in Huntsville, AL. This was also a milestone for Fairhurst as she was the first African American woman to acquire an Infiniti car dealership in the 1990’s. She is now the owner both the owner of two luxury dealerships in Alabama (Infiniti and Lexus)
Click the link to hear an interview with Ellenae Fairhurst