PLEASANTON VALLEY, Calif. — Inder Dosanjh admits that as a kid he didn't even know how to check the oil on his family's car.
| Inder Dosanjh|
It's an interesting confession for a man who has been in the automotive industry for the past 25 years. But it highlights what Dosanjh did know — and what became more apparent to him once he embarked on his career: that ambition, focus and a challenge were all that he needed to be successful.
That would probably account for Dosanjh's rise from auto mechanic to management to his recent series of acquisitions of seven car dealerships in the Northern California, which last year did a combined total of approximately $350 million in sales. Most recently, Dosanjh was one of 14 dealers in the country elected to the board of directors of the General Motors Minority Dealers Association.
"When I wake up I still sometimes forget that I'm the owner now," said Dosanjh.
In Dosanjh's case that could be because he is determined to keep those memories fresh — so fresh that they can continually inform how he runs his business and deals with his employees. "When I was a mechanic my main complaint was that I felt I wasn't in the loop," said Dosanjh. "Everyone when they wake up in the morning wants to do something productive, to be part of the decision making. I treat everyone with respect and I get my employees very involved."
So when Dosanjh's most recent purchase, Chevrolet Cadillac of Oakland, had a rough year in 2004, Dosanjh got all the employees in the dealership together and told them exactly what was going on and that everyone needed to work hard.
Sales and revenues are now up 75 percent. "They came through," said Dosanjh.
For Dosanjh, coming through is high praise. As an immigrant, who was once on his own at the age of 17, he is well aware of the value of doing what needs to be done.
Dosanjh's family left Punjab in 1976. They went to England but he decided to come to the United States. He had done a year of college at Punjab University and he continued at Modesto Junior College and then Stanislau State College in California where he majored in computer science.
By 1978, Dosanjh said he was in desperate need of a job and with rampant inflation and a terrible job market, he was lucky enough to find work for $8 an hour as an auto mechanic at Central Valley Automotive, a dealership and repair shop in Modesto.
But Dosanjh saw an opportunity in the state's new law, which required cars to have "smog" checks done by a mechanic with a certified smog license. Dosanjh became the shop's only licensed smog mechanic and was able to up his salary to $10 an hour.
His first promotion came quickly to shop foreman and then service manager. By 1984, he was the fixed operation director, a title he held for nine years until he left to become the general manager of the Alfred Matthews Cadillac and GMC Dealership.
In 1997, one of Central Valley Automotive's three partners died and the remaining two partners remembered Dosanjh. They asked him to return to the company as a partner.
It was Dosanjh's first taste of ownership and he liked it. Within six years, he sold the dealership and bought Saturn dealerships in Pleasanton and in Concord. "I wanted to go out on my own," he said. Another Saturn dealership became available in Honolulu, Hawaii — a location Dosanjh calls the best in the country — and based on the performance of his other Saturn dealerships, Dosanjh was awarded the Honolulu dealership.
Less than six months later, Dosanjh presented General Motors with a business plan to open a Hummer dealership and Saab dealership in Pleasanton. The company liked what it saw and gave Dosanjh the go ahead. Sales at the Hummer dealership are now among the top 15 in the country and Dosanjh was selected by General Motors to be one of five Hummer dealers in the country to sit on a Hummer "think tank."
In June 2004, less than a year and a half after Dosanjh had bought the first two Saturn dealerships, he acquired his sixth and seventh dealerships, Chevrolet Cadillac of Oakland and GMC Pontiac Buick of Oakland. This time, Dosanjh said he went for one of the toughest markets in the state because of what he calls its "challenging" location. Both dealerships are now profitable after a rough first year.
Recently, Dosanjh acquired 10 acres between San Francisco and Oakland near the Bay Bridge. Within the next three years he plans to relocate the Oakland dealerships to this site, a move that would make them one of the largest dealerships in the Bay area.
Dosanjh insists that he is taking a break now from his near breathless dealership buying spree of the past two-and-a-half years. "I want to build these teams up over the next five years and get them to be more productive and efficient," he said.
He intends to be involved in the General Motors Minority Dealers Association, a position that involves meeting with upper level General Motor's management ensuring that minority dealers get fair treatment as well as helping out other minority dealership owners.
For Dosanjh, the position is fitting considering his journey in the industry.
"I never imagined this when I came to America," he said. "If I could get a job for $1,000 a month [I thought] that would be good. In a million years I never thought it would be like this."