Laval Perry became one of the country's leading African-American car dealers by following a philosophy he learned while playing college basketball in Detroit, Michigan. "In order to get ready for the NBA Finals you've got to have some players, you've got to have a coach and you've got to have a good franchise," he told the Michigan Chronicle. "Well, we have a good franchise, I consider myself a good coach and now we're starting to get good players. You put those ingredients together and it produces a winning team."
Drawn to Cars as a Child
Laval Perry spent his formative years in Detroit where he attended the city's prestigious Cass Technical High School. Growing up in the Motor City had an impact on young Perry. "I've always had a passion for cars," he told the Michigan Chronicle. "As a youngster I can recall going to the auto shows at Cobo Hall and getting lost because I would get so caught up in the cars." After graduating in 1972, Perry entered the University of Detroit as a mechanical engineering major. He succeeded both academically and athletically. In the classroom, he became president of his engineering class. On the basketball court, he was captain of his university basketball team during his junior year. The next year, the team went on to the NCAA tournament under famed coach Dick Vitale, who later became a top NBA coach and commentator for ESPN.
In 1977, shortly after earning his engineering degree, Perry entered the automotive industry as a product design engineer for Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. While juggling a work schedule that included establishing guidelines and testing procedures for instrument panels and bumpers, he attended classes at University of Detroit in order to earn a Master's of Business Administration (MBA) by 1982. Two years later, Perry was ready to step out on his own. He founded and became the president and CEO of DTP Trans, Inc., a successful concrete manufacturing and asphalt hauling company.
Perry's true entrepreneurial calling was to come in 1987, when he enrolled in the Dealer Development Program at Ford, a program designed to promote minority ownership of car dealerships. "The program has been a great stepping stone for minority dealers," Perry told the Michigan Chronicle. "To get into one of these operations takes millions of dollars." He continued, "It's a great program because it gives you an opportunity to display your talents. We can compete in any area, just given the opportunity." Perry acquired ownership rights of his first dealership, All American Ford located in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1988. As president, Perry built All American into one of the most successful dealerships north of Detroit. Eleven years later he bought one of the largest independent Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in Michigan and named it All American Lincoln-Mercury. By 2000 the two dealerships combined with the trucking company were pulling in sales of over $60 million.
Made Success a Family Affair
In 2004 Perry became president, though not owner, of All American Ford Lincoln-Mercury in Big Rapids, Michigan. Two years later, he moved into the Detroit market by purchasing a Ford dealership located in a ritzy suburb of the Motor City. He completely revamped the $40 million a year dealership and renamed it Bloomfield Ford. "That's going to make a major statement, that we are about excellence, giving our customers a place where they can feel comfortable while they are getting their car repaired or when they are in the process of buying a new car," Perry told the Michigan Chronicle. Commenting on Perry's success as a car dealer, a Ford regional operations manager told the Michigan Chronicle, "He's a great leader. People enjoy working for him. He has a team spirit and is very competitive and very caring." He continued, "The one common trait of all his dealerships has been the close-knit family atmosphere and the loyalty. That's a trait of all successful business people."
Perry also found a formula for success for his own family. With wife Patricia Lucas, a Detroit dentist, he raised five exceptional children. "At a young age they instilled such high expectations for ourselves on and off the court," son Laval Perry Jr. recalled to The Detroit Free Press. "My dad always said, use your brain and do your best, that's all you can do." Though each of their children was athletically inclined, the Perry-Lucas family insisted on academics first. "We had the Lucas-Perry eligibility rule," Perry told The Detroit Free Press. "If they didn't get a 3.0 or better, they weren't playing [sports]." In addition, the children had mandatory tutors in the summer. "It was the norm," Laval Jr. told The Detroit Free Press. "People were like: ‘You have tutors?’ and I was like: ‘Yeah. Doesn't everyone have to do their school work in the summertime?’" The extra efforts paid off with the first four of Perry's children earning college scholarships by 2007.
In addition to work and family, Perry stayed very active as a volunteer, particularly with organizations that encouraged and promoted minority car dealerships. He has served as president of the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association, held various offices in the Ford Motor Minority Dealers Association, and been a board member for the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he has sat on various panels at the annual Detroit Auto Show, coming full circle to the very place that once inspired his automotive dreams.
At a Glance …
Born in 195(?) in Genesee, MI; married: Pat Lucas; four children. Education: University of Detroit, BA, mechanical engineering, 1977; University of Detroit, MBA, 1982.
Career: Ford Motor Company, product design engineer, Detroit, MI, 1977-84; DTP Trans Inc., president and founder, 1984-; All American Ford, president and owner, Saginaw, MI, 1988-; All American Lincoln-Mercury, owner and president, Saginaw, MI, 1999-; All American Ford Lincoln-Mercury, president, Big Rapids, MI, 2003-05; Bloomfield Ford, owner and president, 2004-.
Memberships: Michigan Automobile Dealers Association, various offices, 1988-; Ford Motor Minority Dealer Association (FMMDA), various offices, 1988-; Greater Michigan Ford Dealer Advertising Fund Association (GMFDAF), various offices 1998-; Ferris Foundation, board member.
Awards: Northwood University, Golden Plate Award, 2001.
Addresses: Office—Bloomfield Ford, 1845 S. Telegraph Rd., Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302.
Crain's Detroit Business, December 20, 2004.
Detroit Free Press, March 18, 2007.
Michigan Chronicle, October 4, 2005.
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