November 20, 2014

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A Champion of Entrepreneurs: Jim Moran

Lynda Keever | 6/1/2007


Lynda Keever
Florida entrepreneurs lost a good friend with the passing of Jim Moran on April 24. Most widely known as a billionaire car dealer and major philanthropist, Mr. Moran also was a champion of entrepreneurship who was committed to helping others on the way up. He died at age 88 in Hillsboro Beach. (His obituary can be read here.)

I met Mr. Moran in 1996 at the first annual awards presentation of the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship, where Wayne Huizenga, another legendary entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Moran's, gave the keynote speech.

The program that day was truly a celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. Huizenga, who knew Mr. Moran since their early days in business, summed up that spirit by saying, "Only in America could someone like Jim go from selling soda pops at a sandlot baseball game to being a mechanic to owning the gas station to being the only auto dealer on the cover of Time magazine."

Mr. Moran's story is an inspiration. He was born in Chicago. His parents were Irish and German immigrants. His father died early on, and Jim began cleaning floors, waiting tables and pumping gas at a service station to help support his mother and sister.

At 21, he borrowed $360 to purchase a Sinclair gas station. "I worked at that gas station from 6:30 in the morning until 11 at night, seven days a week, 365 days a year," Mr. Moran said. With his keen marketing sense, he started mailing penny postcards to all of his customers "thanking them for doing business with us."

He began selling used cars at that station four years later and became known in Chicago as "Jim Moran the Courtesy Man." He went on to become the No. 1 Hudson dealer in the country, the first ever to advertise new and used cars on television and the No. 1 Ford dealer in the world.

At age 46, Mr. Moran was diagnosed with cancer and told he had six months to a year to live. He moved to Florida, where he fought a difficult battle with the disease and then returned to his passion of selling cars.

That passion paid off: In 1968, he founded automotive distributor JM Family Enterprises. The Deerfield Beach-based company's flagship subsidiary, Southeast Toyota Distributors, is the world's largest independent distributor of Toyota vehicles, and Mr. Moran remained active in the company until he died. His daughter, Pat Moran, held various management positions, including CEO, in the privately held company and served as chairman from 2003 until her retirement last January.

There are so many charitable causes that Mr. Moran and his wife, Jan, assisted -- too many to list here -- but the one I'm most familiar with is the JMI Institute for Global Entrepreneurship based at Florida State University's College of Business. He founded JMI to help entrepreneurs make their businesses better, and the institute's services were all provided at no charge. Since 1995, JMI has directly assisted more than 4,000 entrepreneurs.

Jerry Osteryoung, executive director of JMI, worked with Mr. Moran for 12 years and had this to say about Mr. Moran's commitment to the program: "A lot of wealthy donors give money to charitable causes and then just walk away. This was not the Jim Moran way. While he did give the money, he had high expectations of how these funds were to be spent in order to maximize their impact on people in need. Whenever JMI needed something, he was always there to help."\

Mr. Moran often stated his belief that "the future belongs to those who prepare for it." He prepared for his future and tried every day to help others prepare for theirs. That is a legacy we can all aspire to.

Tags: Publisher's column, North Central

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