By Rochelle Moore
Times Staff Writer
John Lee was recognized for his leadership in business, the community and support of Barton College as the 2011 recipient of the Business Leadership Award.
Lee, the owner of Lee Automotive Management, received the seventh annual award from the Wilson-Barton Partnership on the campus of Barton College Thursday.
"John has worked tirelessly for the betterment of our community and continues to lead by example," said Bruce Beasley, president of the Wilson Chamber of Commerce. "I know you can all agree this man represents the best of Wilson, a man who you can truly say has made Wilson a better place to live and work."
The Business Leadership Award is given each year to someone who has made significant contributions to business, exhibits strong leadership qualities and is community-minded. The Wilson-Business Partnership's annual dinner also supports Barton College business students with scholarships through sponsorships and proceeds from a portion of ticket sales.
Lee has been a supporter of Barton College, its athletic programs and serves on the Barton College Board of Trustees.
His career with the Lee Motor Co. started at age 20 when he worked as a salesman and became a minority owner in the business, in 1980. After graduating from Barton College with a bachelor's degree in business administration, he acquired sole ownership of the business, in 1984.
The Lee Motor Co. has been in continuous operation as a Ford and Lincoln dealership since 1953 and has expanded by adding Nissan, Hyundai and Kia to its dealerships. The company, with its base in Wilson, has dealerships in three states and annual sales of $200 million.
Lee's nephew, James Powell, a friend of 30 years, David Ruth, and the company's vice president, Timothy Varnell, shared stories about Lee and how he set an example in business and every day life.
"I've known John for 26 years," Varnell said. "John always takes time to make everyone he comes in contact with feel special. He has given me and many others who are here tonight a chance to grow and excel in their businesses. What I admire most about John is his ability to make something happen. I've seen it time and time again."
Lee's involvement in the business community is far-reaching. He is a past member of BB&T's Wilson Advisory Board, the Greenfield School Board of Trustees and the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club council. He is past-president of the Wilson County Heart Association and has been involved in the United Way of Wilson campaign and as honorary co-chair of the Eastern Campaign for the Baptist Children's Homes of North Carolina.
"Words cannot express my appreciation," Lee said. "It has been my privilege and honor to serve this community and this great place. I've had so much help along the way to this moment in my life.
"Your generosity tonight is helping to opening doors for our students here to learn and become what they are capable of becoming."
Barton College business students, Lindsey Harper and Zebulon Whitehurst, also spoke after being named the 2011 recipients of scholarships honoring Lee.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 265-7818 Friday, September 23, 2011 wilsontimes.com page 5A
Times Staff Writer
The Story of Lee Motor GroupDoing Business the Right Way Since 1953!
Hello everyone. My name is John Lee and I'm Chairman of Lee Motor Group, headquartered in Wilson, North Carolina. I'd like to welcome you to our website and take a moment to share with you the rich history of our company and our family of dealerships.
In 1953, Lee Motor Company was founded by my father, James L. Lee. I'm proud to say my dad was a veteran of World War II and after his service in the Navy, he became involved in the car business. Because he was determined and worked hard and had the support of the community, he thrived, and he enjoyed being a part of the automotive industry for the rest of his life.
Dad started his career in 1946 when he worked in the Ford manufacturing plant in Norfolk, Virginia. He worked hard, eventually becoming a Zone Manager, and he started calling on Ford dealers all over North Carolina. In 1951, he went to work directly with the Ford franchise dealers in Windsor and later in Plymouth, North Carolina. In 1953 with a $5000 stake and a dream, he and my mother purchased the Ford dealership in Elm City and went into business for themselves. This dealership was later relocated to the corner of Ward Blvd. and US 301 in Wilson, North Carolina - the same place you'll find us today!
In 1980, life changed very suddenly and dramatically when Dad passed away, and at the age of 20, I took over the day to day operations of Lee Motor Company. At the same time, I was finishing my sophomore year in college. In addition to that, my wife and I were married just three months later (and we'll soon celebrate our 30th anniversary). In 1982, along with my wife, I graduated from Atlantic Christian College, now Barton College, in Wilson, North Carolina.
Our company and our country struggled through a vicious recession that lasted through the middle of the 1980?s, but as the smoke cleared, we were still standing. Over the next three decades, we purchased and sold several dealerships, and I'm proud to say we helped several store managers become owners in their own right.
Along the way, we opened Lee Nissan in Wilson in 1982, Lee Hyundai in Fayetteville in 1988, Kia Country in Charleston, South Carolina in 2003 and in Savannah, Georgia in 2004, and Lee Kia of Greenville (NC) and LaGrange Kia in LaGrange, GA in 2010.
In 1988, Lee Hyundai became the 3rd largest Hyundai dealer in the U.S., retailing over 3000 vehicles. Today, our Hyundai store is also the #1 volume store in North Carolina. Our Kia store is the #1 volume store in Georgia.
Lee Motor Group has deep roots in our community. Our organization sponsors the Wilson Youth Soccer League and the Scholar Athlete of the Week. We also help support area schools and local causes. We proudly support Barton College, area Rotary Clubs, area churches, the Humane Society, law enforcement organizations, emergency services, the Red Cross, the Juvenile Diabetes and Cystic Fibrosis Foundations, and others. We also assist with area fund drives to help raise money for various worthy causes. We provide good paying jobs to our employees who live in this area. Many of our employees have worked here for decades, and are your friends and neighbors.
This is what some of our customers have to say about our employees and the quality of their buying experience at Lee Motor Company:
"I like dealing with kind and courteous salespeople."
"Larry is always friendly and helpful."
"We recommend your dealership to friends."
"You staff worked hard to find what I was looking for."
"My salesperson was very pleasant and not pushy! I liked his attitude."
"You have a first class organization and I've been treated exceptionally at every visit."
" I am proud to do business with you."
Folks, we've been doing business this way - THE RIGHT WAY - since 1953 and we welcome the opportunity to help you with your next vehicle purchase.
Thank you for taking the time to visit us online. We have a dedicated internet staff to help you with every facet of the purchase process, plus any of your parts and service needs. As you look through our site, I hope you'll see the pride we take in our dealership. As we near the end of our sixth decade of operations, our business model is still the same - to exceed our customers' expectations in every facet of our business. We're committed to making each and every customer's experience as pleasant and convenient as possible, and as always, doing business the right way since 1953!
Lee Motor Group - Doing Business the Right Way since 1953!
- John Lee, Chairman
- Tim Varnell, President
BUSINESS will continue to go where invited and remain where appreciated.
REPUTATIONS will continue to be made by many acts and be lost by one.
PEOPLE will go right on preferring to do business with friends.
GO-GIVERS will become the best go-getters.
THE "EXTRA MILE" will have no traffic jams.
PERFORMANCE will continue to outsell promises.
ENTHUSIASM will be as contagious as ever.
KNOW-HOW will surpass guess-how.
TRUST, not tricks, will keep customers loyal.
QUALITY will be prized as a precious possession.
The Ten Cannots
1. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
2. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
3. You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
4. You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
5. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.
6. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
7. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
8. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
9. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
10. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.
- Attributed to Abraham Lincoln