Saturday, December 18, 2010

A trip down memory lane

Haley Toyota Certified Center GM Bill Simmons reflects on his life in the car business.

Reprinted with permission from a recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and writer Jon Sealy.

Bill Simmons, General Manager Haley Certified Center

Last month the Richmond Drives crew wheeled over to Haley Toyota Certified Center and met with Bill Simmons, the general manager. He and I sat down in his office to discuss his history in the automotive business, which involved a recent cool twist involving Simmons’ former boss.

Let’s start with your first car.

My first car was a ’72 Chevy Camaro. Mine was a 6-cylinder. My older brother had a Z-28, but when it was my turn my dad had learned his lesson about getting teenagers hot rods. When it came time for me to drive, he thought maybe a hot rod isn’t the best thing. I got the 6-cylinder version of the Camaro. I kept it a long, long time until it finally wouldn’t go anymore.

How did you get into the car business?

I got into the business in September 1978. I was working the night shift in a grocery store. A friend that I went to high school with, his dad was used car manager for a local dealership. On my day off, he’d pay me to drive cars to the auction in Fredericksburg for him, which exposed me to the business. I enjoyed it and here we are today, talking 32 years later.

I started selling cars at Lawrence Dodge on Broad Street. I wanted to work closer to home and for an import dealership, so I went to work for what was then Clover Toyota Mazda, and is now the Haley Toyota Certified Center. I then moved up to finance manager at Dick Strauss Ford. I spent 16 years working for Mr. Strauss — he was my mentor in the car business. I learned an awful lot from him. He told me a long time ago, "Bill, the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary," and that’s my credo. I hope I can go out with the respect that Mr. Strauss went out with when he decided to retire. He wasn’t just our boss, he was our friend and mentor.
In 2005, Haley approached me to manage their Certified Preowned dealership. We worked out a deal and I came to work for them. Here I am managing the dealership I worked at in the early ’80s. Here’s a cool twist: The former owner is a service customer. He drives a Prius and has his car serviced here. When he saw me in his former office, it made for some fun conversation and a trip down memory lane.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I love to golf — I’m a member of Stonehenge country club — and I like to spend time with my family. I’m active in local civics events. This year, for example, the employees of the dealership and me have participated in raising funds for the M.D.A., United Way and the Susan Komen Foundation. We are currently selling Christmas trees here on the lot with a portion of the proceeds being donated to the Chesterfield Colonial Heights Christmas Mother program.

What’s new at the dealership? Anything coming up?

We’re offering some great financing programs. Overall, traditionally used car prices are soft at the auctions at this time of year. We can buy them a little less expensive and we pass those savings along to the customers. So look for our ads in The Times-Dispatch and on our website,, for some great deals on preowned cars and trucks.

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