Buick GMC Dealer Jenell Ross Shares Her Family’s Diversity Story

Jenell Ross is a widely recognized local and national advocate for diversity and minority entrepreneurs.
For generations, General Motors has valued a diverse dealer network that embraces the unique needs of local customers across the United States. It was this commitment that led GM to launch its first minority dealer assistance program in 1972.

The late Bob Ross, founder and president of Bob Ross Buick GMC in Centerville, Ohio, was a member of the first GM Minority Dealer Development (GM MDD) class. Today, his daughter, Jenell Ross, president, Bob Ross Automotive Group, continues his legacy of commitment to customers and community.

Jenell Ross is a widely recognized local and national advocate for diversity and minority entrepreneurs. She is the only second-generation African American female-franchised automobile dealership owner in the U.S., and was the first African American woman elected to chair the American International Automobile Dealers Association (AIADA).

She is on the boards of many non-profits throughout the Dayton area, and honors her late mother’s battle with cancer by extensively promoting local efforts to support breast cancer awareness and research.

During a recent interview, Jenell shared her thoughts on the importance of a diverse dealer network, her family’s legacy, and the importance of lifelong learning.

Tell us about your family. How did they inspire you?

My father was in the first GM MDD class, and as one of the first minority auto dealers in the United States, my parents experienced many firsts. Today, it’s easy for some to take diversity for granted and forget how many obstacles they must have overcome in the mid 1970s. As I have faced challenges, including the serious impact of the most recent recession on our customers throughout the Dayton, Ohio region, it inspires me to remember the serious challenges that they overcame to start our business.

Mary Barra recently said that the auto industry will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50. Diversity and the changing demographics of our country will be a huge part of this change. How can a diverse dealer network help automakers better understand their customers?

I’ve seen a considerable change in my 18 years of dealership management. In the past, our typical customer was a male member of a suburban white household. Today, our customers are a melting pot of tech-savvy consumers from diverse backgrounds.

Since our dealer group has promoted diversity since its inception, this change in our community has made the diversity of our team an even greater asset. Although we share Mary Barra’s opinion that this pace of change will continue, we are confident that our team’s ongoing commitment to treat every customer with genuine respect and integrity will stand the test of time.

How have GM’s dealer assistance programs helped you manage and grow your business?

Without the creation of the GM MDD program, our dealer group would not exist today, so we definitely appreciate their early support of our family and minority dealers across the country. I also appreciate the ongoing opportunities for education, networking and benchmarking.

I attended the GM Dealer Management training program in 1995, and I still use some of what I learned from that training today. The 20 Groups, Minority Dealer Advisory Council and GM Women’s Retail Network have also provided some great opportunities to network with other dealers and share best practices.

Like many other businesses, the retention of good talent is always a huge key to our ongoing success. In the future, we are hoping to take advantage of the GM Women’s Retail Network Drive to Succeed Scholarship program, which focuses on scholarships for young women pursuing careers in automotive retailing, to train the next generation of leaders for our company.

What advice would you give to aspiring minority entrepreneurs—both in the automotive industry and generally?

I worked part time at the dealership when I was young, and sometimes it was difficult to absorb all of the information necessary to stay ahead of the latest auto industry trends. So, when my parents would reassure me that “they didn’t know the answer to everything” and reinforced the value of lifelong learning, it helped me overcome a lot of hurdles early in my career.

Knowledge is power, and that cannot be taken away from you. Learn everything you can about the industry you want to pursue, and get involved in the industry associations and familiarize yourself with the industry players. There will always be people who tell you no, but a willingness to learn and grow will help you overcome this.