For years and years, car dealerships were usually owned by families who had very little chance of changing manufacturer restrictions or demands.
In his nearly two decades as the chief executive and chairman of AutoNation, Mike Jackson is credited with changing that — and showing that a large, publicly traded company can make it in the business of selling cars.
On Wednesday, Mr. Jackson, 69, announced that he would step down as chief executive next year, ending one of the longest leadership tenures among Fortune 500 executives.
Although AutoNation has run into headwinds as the auto market has softened after its 2016 peak, it is the country’s largest chain of car dealerships and the leading seller of brands including Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota.
“He’s the pioneer,” said Wes Lutz, owner of a Chrysler Dodge Jeep franchise in Jackson, Mich., and chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. “If it weren’t for Mike Jackson, Warren Buffett wouldn’t be in auto retail.”
The AutoNation board has begun a search for a successor. Mr. Jackson, who will stay on as chairman, is abstaining from the process. The new chief executive will most likely take the helm in the first half of 2019.
In an interview, Mr. Jackson said he remained “fully engaged” in the business. “I’m still running AutoNation as chairman, C.E.O. and president, building the brand,” he said. “It is all-consuming.”
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