How Jim Moran turned JM Family Enterprises into a $15 billion company

The first shipment of Toyotas arrives in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1969. The creation of Southeast Toyota Distributors would launch JM Family Enterprises as one of the largest automotive companies in the world.

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In 1966, Jim Moran moved to Florida expecting to die. Two years later, he signed the biggest deal of his life and started phase two of his automotive career.

Fifty years later, the company he created, JM Family Enterprises Inc., is a $15.1 billion diversified automotive conglomerate with more than 4,200 employees across North America. It is anchored by Southeast Toyota Distributors, the world’s largest independent distributor of Toyota vehicles and the business that launched Moran’s empire in October 1968.

JM Family Enterprises CEO Brent Burns today describes Moran as “the ultimate car guy” who figured out that the enterprise’s success would hinge on how each unit of the conglomerate could help one another and its customers.

“We’ve built each one of our companies around the business model [that] we measure our success around the success of our business partners,” Burns said.

In addition to Southeast Toyota, Moran’s legacy company also is made up of JM&A Group, a leading independent F&I product provider; World Omni Financial Corp., a diversified financial services company with subsidiaries Southeast Toyota Finance and DataScan; and Margate, Fla., dealership JM Lexus.

Moran was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2005. In 2006, Moran’s personal net worth as estimated by Forbes was $2.4 billion. He died in 2007 at age 88.

Moran: Started out pumping gas

‘The Courtesy Man’

Before securing the Toyota deal that would launch one of the largest automotive companies in the world, Moran already had made a name for himself in the industry. In Chicago during the Great Depression, the young Moran pumped gas for several years before borrowing $360 to purchase a gas station in 1939. He began selling used cars at the station four years later.

From there, Moran purchased a Hudson dealership in 1946, which became the largest Hudson franchise in the country. Ten years after that, Moran was awarded a Ford franchise. That dealership was named Courtesy Ford.

Moran is widely touted as the first dealer in America to advertise cars on TV with live commercials, which brought him local acclaim. Known as “Jim Moran the Courtesy Man,” Moran also hosted his own variety shows, “The Courtesy Hour” and “Barn Dance,” and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1961.

But in 1966, Moran was diagnosed with skin cancer. After two surgeries and doctors’ estimates that he had just three years to live, Moran moved to South Florida.

Even then, he didn’t slow down.

In February 1968, “the Courtesy Man” was awarded a Pontiac franchise and opened Jim Moran’s Pontiac City in Homestead, Fla. It relocated to Hollywood, Fla., in 1970 as JM Pontiac, and it was the largest Pontiac dealership in the country until it was sold in 1994.

And then that October, Moran signed the partnership with Toyota Motor Corp. to independently import and sell Toyota vehicles in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas. At the time, the Japanese automaker was selling about 70,000 cars a year in America.

The resulting company, Southeast Toyota, helped the Japanese brand significantly expand its reach in the U.S. It began with 42 stores and now has 177 dealerships in the five-state region. They account for nearly 20 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold in the U.S., according to the company.

Moran is credited with creating the Toyotathon sales event and with showing Toyota how to set up and run dealer advertising associations, start a captive finance company, sell extended warranties and even operate a port option facility.

Moran’s path to success had its stumbles. He fought and lost several lawsuits in the 1980s and settled others out of court. The reasons behind those suits ranged from claims that Moran was loading unwanted port-installed options on cars to accusations of discrimination against black and Jewish dealers.

Outside these lawsuits, Moran pleaded guilty to a charge of income tax evasion, a conviction he resolved through community service.

A Southeast Toyota vehicle is worked on at port. The company began with 42 stores and now has 177 dealerships in a five-state region.

Community service

In 1984, as part of that community service, he founded the Youth Automotive Training Center, a privately funded school that offers free basic automotive repair training, GED and academic preparation and life skills development for at-risk young people.

JM Family continues to be community-minded today. To commemorate the establishment of Southeast Toyota, the company is donating $300,000 to charities local to its various operations — in the Florida cities of Deerfield Beach and Jacksonville; the Georgia cities of Commerce and Alpharetta; Mobile, Ala.; and St. Louis. The donations will be broken into $50,000 chunks and will be announced throughout the year.

In 1996, upon being named a winner of the Horatio Alger Award, Moran said in a video produced by the Horatio Alger Association that he approached managing his multibillion-dollar company with the same attitude he had at the beginning of his career.

“I’m still the gas station attendant,” Moran said. “I kind of run my business the same way. I’m a hands-on guy. I have to work. I have to work hard. I’ve been doing it all my life. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t do it.”

Lindsay Chappell contributed to this report.

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