It’s challenging to get Jim Myers to take credit for much.
He’s a humble man who was raised in St. Petersburg, met his wife at what is now the TradeWinds Island Resort while he was in college and has been with Crown Automotive since 1990.
A champion of education, a mentor and sometimes a father figure to anyone he thinks he can help, he’s not one to express, in great detail, his own accomplishments.
He’s quick to include Dwayne Hawkins, founder and CEO of Crown, his team and his family throughout his story.
Very quickly, it’s apparent that Myers is all about the people. “I’ve always tried to be approachable to people,” he says.
There’s a bit of irony, Myers admits, that he’s been in the car industry for 38 years.
“I’m not a car guy,” he says with a laugh during his interview at his home in Gulfport. “When I was in high school, I had a car where the passenger side was rusted out. So if you wanted to ride with me, you had to sit behind me.”
One of his cars caught fire in the middle of the street and another one, the one he took his wife Melissa on a date with, had a faulty stereo.
“I never dreamed of being in the car business. I always had the worst car of anybody growing up,” he says.
Nonetheless, he’s now president and chief operating officer of one of the largest private companies in Pinellas County and one of the top 100 dealership groups in the U.S.
Crown Automotive had revenue of $1.3 billion in 2019, with 20 dealerships, 24 different franchises and 1,100 employees. “It goes by so quickly,” Myers says. “It’s an interesting business.”
Some could say more interesting than one would like in 2020, but more on that later.
TURN THE IGNITION
Myers says he was supposed to be a teacher but failed to get the memo. Everyone in Myer’s family was either a teacher or a farmer.
Both parents were educators in southeastern Pennsylvania. His family relocated to St. Petersburg when he was 8.
“My folks were at a charity auction and they got a trip to Florida,” he says. “They drove down and they liked it.”
His father worked at, then named, St. Petersburg Junior College and his mother taught at, then named, 16th Street Middle School and later, St. Petersburg High School.
“I still remember the first time coming across the Howard Frankland Bridge and I was amazed how beautiful the water and the sun was,” Myers says.
In addition to education, sports was a big deal in the Myers’ household.
“My dad was also really into sports. He played in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization as a shortstop,” Myers says. “He was a top high school coach in Pennsylvania.”
Basketball and baseball were Myers’ sports of choice at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport. He was even elected to the school’s athletic hall of fame.
The late Congressman Bill Young had recommended him for a scholarship at West Point, but he turned it down.
“At that time I thought I wanted to be in the medical profession. And I really wanted to play basketball and baseball,” Myers says. “I know I made the right decision because I wouldn’t have met my wife if I had taken that scholarship.”
Instead, Myers enrolled at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, receiving a scholarship offer before enrolling.
“It was the perfect place and the perfect time,” Myers says. “God opened that door for me. And that was it for me.”
While Myers was finishing up his sophomore year in college, he was home cruising the beach with one of his friends.
“One night, we went to what was Breckenridge, and now is the Tradewinds,” Myers recalls.
That’s the night he met Melissa, who was visiting the area with her family but lived in Tennessee.
“I remember my senior year at basketball practice, and the coach said, I’m going to give you guys a weekend off, so Melissa had said it was only a three-hour drive to where she was in Tennessee. I tried to go up and visit,” he says. “Well, that was wrong, three hours in and I was still in Georgia in my car that barely went anywhere,” Myers laughs as he tells the story. “I finally made it up there. It was more like six hours. We had a great visit and her folks were super-nice. They brought her down a couple of times to see me play baseball and basketball.”
Now 41 years later, two biological children, two other young men they’ve taken under their wings and two godchildren, they can see the TradeWinds from their back yard.
“I’m proud of my kids,” Myers says.
Myers spent two years using his accounting degree, working as a certified public accountant for Alexander Grant & Co., which is now Grant Thornton.
He was newly married and was traveling all of the time to small towns around Florida and Georgia.
“I didn’t want to travel. We had just gotten married. I didn’t want to be leaving all of the time,” he says.
There was a job opening at Sun West Automotive. Myers was intrigued.
“I didn’t know anything about what I was going to do there. The guy that hired me was another great mentor to me, Millard Ripley. He really taught me the right way to do things in the car business,” he says. “I always tell my kids, when you’re going into business, get with someone who is a really great person. It doesn’t matter if the company is a great company, if the top people are not good people then you really don’t need to be there.”
Myers says he was hooked on the first day. He eventually became a general manager.
“I didn’t know anything about cars, and I still don’t know much,” he says. “But I love it because it’s a people business. To me, the car business is a lot like a team sport, because it’s always changing. You have to always adjust and there’s a competitive aspect to it. You have to get better because everyone else is. It’s very much driven by people, which is good from my standpoint. On a team, everyone has a role and a responsibility in order for the team to succeed.
After partners at Sun West split the company, Myers was recruited by Dwayne Hawkins, founder and CEO of Crown Automotive.
“His right-hand person was retiring so he asked if I wanted to come to work for Crown,” Myers says. “It sounded good to me, and Dwayne was nice, and wanted me to come work with him … so I did.”
Since then, Myers has helped to acquire franchises bringing Acura, Audi, Land Rover, Volvo, Kia, Sprinter and more into the Crown mix.
Under Hawkins’ leadership, Crown is a devoted philanthropic partner to its community.
“Our people like to be proud of being at Crown not just because of the dealership, but because we’re part of something bigger,” Myers says.
The company has been an ongoing partner with Feeding Children Everywhere, often using a showroom to stage a drive and help pack food for kids in need. Since its partnership began, Crown has packaged more than 1 million meals and received a national legacy award from the organization, Myers says.
“It’s one thing to give money to charity, which is great because everyone needs that and it’s important, but it’s another thing to actually take part and serve with them,” Myers says. “We initiated efforts that involve employees, customers and the community.”
When COVID-19 hit, Crown supported local food banks through a GoFundMe campaign.
“It was a good way to help out because the food banks were in need of food big time,” he says.
Perhaps inspired by his educator family, he personally has always felt passionate about supporting education and children.
Myers has been a director with the Pinellas Education Foundation since 2000, in varying roles such as chairman, vice chairman and the Stavros Committee Chairman.
“There are 100,000 kids in our district here in Pinellas. So you have a chance to impact 100,000 kids,” he says.
The Myers family is also passionate about helping their church because it’s a long-term support system, he says.
Myers also tries to be available to mentor, and coach, some of the young men at Crown, professionally and personally.
“We have some great people at Crown that will be the next generation taking over. I like to try to give them as much of my thoughts and experiences. More than they probably want,” he says with a laugh.
Myers likes to enjoy the Tampa Bay area weather by being outside. Water skiing, fishing and paddle boarding make his list of things he enjoys, alongside his dog, Chip.
Jim and Melissa also love their board games and karaoke. It’s all about simple family fun for this homegrown success.
Melissa adds, “I’ll tell you something that might surprise people, everyone thinks he’s so serious but he can make me laugh like no one else can.”
IN TIMES OF CRISIS
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Crown, along with many other if not every business, had to do things a bit differently.
“For me to say it wasn’t scary when COVID happened, I would be misstating the facts because no one really knew what to expect,” Myers says. “But you do realize you’ve been through difficult situations before and if you have the right framework, people and processes, you can feel like you will get through it.”
From the start, Myers and the rest of the Crown leadership team focused on their people.
“We decided early on that our most important aspect was our people. We wanted to invest in them because if you think we were worried about it, what about the people that were living paycheck to paycheck?” Myers says. “Thankfully, our ownership supported this wholeheartedly.”
The company knew they didn’t need as many people coming into work every day, because there weren’t that many people coming in. They set up their departments to be minimally staffed.
And for the people that didn’t need to come in? “We paid them to stay home,” Myers says.
The company also created COVID-19 personal time off. Everybody got 10 days they could use if they felt sick.
“A lot of people feel like they have to come in because if they don’t, they won’t get paid,” he says.
“It went along with a couple of our core values of teamwork and personal growth. We saw it as an example to build our team and be a change agent. I think our team has done that. We had to,” he says.
Crown did not furlough or lay off a single employee due to COVID as of the time of press.
He alludes that all of this is thanks to Hawkins’s leadership and vision with the business.
“Dwayne has built a big empire of dealerships. … He’s been very fearless in his approach,” Myers says.
Myers says his biggest contribution at Crown has been hiring, and coaching, good people and building a good culture, good processes and a good team. He attributes it to his team mentality that started with sports. “Everyone has a part to play. It’s never just one person,” he adds. ♦