As Auto Trends with JeffCars.com continues our Black History Month themed shows, focusing on the intersection of race and sports, we are honored to share the story of how Hammerin’ Henry Louis Aaron became BMW’s first black dealer.
When Henry Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record on April 8, 1974, hitting the career-winning 715-home run, one might have assumed that he would no longer be facing opposition and still need to prove himself nearly a quarter of a century later.
However, the world-class athlete and successful businessman was about to embark upon a brand-new venture, where he would find himself again in the hairs of the crossfire.
Aaron, the barrier breaker, whom many thought would have been enjoying retirement, was about to thread rough roads again. This time, however, instead of facing fans who despised him, during his baseball days, the first time auto dealer would encounter brushback from some within the black dealer community and white businessmen.
When many learned that the baseball icon, who was in his mid-sixties, was being awarded a BMW dealership, it sent shock waves through the business community. Many could not understand why someone without dealership experience was being awarded a premium store – especially the black dealers – who had yearned for years to break through the dealership ceiling, acquiring a luxury import store.
In fact, it was reported that the late Sheila Vaden-Williams, who was the executive director of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD), was surprised that the baseball icon was on BMW’s radar, being that the organization that she led typically served as the point person for all of the carmakers, supplying them with viable candidates for available dealership opportunities.
While many of the black dealers, had already had access to the keys to own such American luxury makes, as Cadillac and Lincoln, the dealers, just like consumers, yearned to have the keys to unlock the luxury imports doors, which was the pinnacle of success, especially a German new car franchise.
With the exception of Mercedes-Benz, which had approved Bob Ross, as their first and only black dealer in the late seventies, no other black business dealer had been granted access to the class of car buyers, who could afford to buy such vehicles, which in turn would mean more money added to the dealers’ bottom line.
Ironically, at the same BMW was making history, the new luxury car brands from Infiniti and Lexus were also making groundbreaking appointments, too, with their first round of black dealers.
Conversely, unlike both BMW and Mercedes-Benz, the Japanese luxury brands were still relatively new. And unlike BMW and with their first appointment, the Japanese brands selected automobile dealers with an established track record. Both Infiniti and Lexus had only been around for about ten years.
Join us as Sidney Barron, a long-time business partner and a close friend of Aaron’s, as he talks one-on-one with Auto Trends with JeffCars.com. Barron, who was Aaron’s first general manager, when the BMW store broke ground, currently serves as the only black general manager for the ultra-luxury Bentley brand.
According to Barron, Hank Aaron is an extremely astute and successful businessman from his days when he retired from baseball when he acquired Arby’s franchises in Milwaukee to when he moved back to Atlanta buying Popeyes, Church’s Chicken and Krispy Kreme franchises. Barron says, “his biggest skill is looking at the way he played baseball he always assembled a team around him that helped him succeed in whatever he did.”
In a wide-ranging conversation Barron discusses everything from how the baseball icon made BMW’s shortlist to how the appointment of the German luxury automaker black dealers had strong ties to South Africa’s apartheid to how they won the respect of the dealer community to why Aaron finally dissolved his portfolio of automotive franchises, which also included Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mini, Jaguar and Land Rover, after only a short, but highly successful seven-year stint as a dealer.
Furthermore, Barron also shares how the area in which Hank Aaron BMW was located became known as ‘black auto dealer row’ in the United States.
To Tune In:
To hear the conversation, tune in to Auto Trends with JeffCars.com, on Friday, February 29 at 12:00 p.m. ET on SiriusXM Channel 141. Encore broadcasts can be heard on Sunday, March 1 and Monday, March 2 at 12:00 p.m. ET and 1:30 p.m. ET, respectively.
To hear the show for free, listen at 12 PM ET Saturdays on Pine Bluff, Arkansas’ 89.7 FM. The show is available online, accessing hot897pb.com.
The show airs at 1:00 PM ET Sundays on Tallahassee, Florida’s 90.5 FM.
To find out about additional shows, visit JeffCars.com.