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Moak: diversity in auto brands, community involvement

Jackson — Automobile dealer Paul Moak believes in diversity. He says offering more brands gives more diversity in a very competitive market. The dealerships he heads sell Hondas, Volvos, Subarus, Pontiacs, Buicks and GMC trucks.

“That gives us a wider breadth and depth. Each one appeals to a different set,” he said. “We don’t put all our eggs in one basket, and we have a lot of baskets.”

There’s been a Moak in the automobile business in Jackson since Moak’s dad started working with a Pontiac dealership on State Street in 1951. As a youngster, Moak worked other places because his dad wouldn’t let him work in the dealership. “He didn’t want to place pressure on me to join the business,” he says. “He believed if you’re not happy in what you’re doing, it will show up sooner or later.”

But in 1971, after graduation from the University of Mississippi, Moak joined the business and worked with his dad for a number of years. He started in the accounting department, then moved to the sales force and later to management. “It was a wonderful experience,” he said. “My dad stepped away from making day-to-day decisions, and we worked side by side. He let me fall on my face many times.”

The dealerships have 130 employees. Through the years the businesses have grown and acquired additional property on State Street, at the I-55 High Street exit, at the corner of I-55 and Steed Road in Ridgeland, and in Canton. “It was more than a little leap when we located on the Ridgeland property,” he recalls. “At that time there were a lot of rooftops there and not much development.”

Splitting (and sharing) his time

The 56-year-old multi-dealership president tries to be in every location most every day. He spends time working with managers solving problems and pondering how the business can improve. “I enjoy that interaction,” he said. “We have folks who’ve worked for us a long time, and I like to think I’m a consensus builder. It’s a slower way of making decisions but I’m not dictatorial. That’s not me. I think of myself as a coach.”

He also likes the business part of selling automobiles, not necessarily the numbers, but all the aspects of running several businesses. If he could change something it would be to sell a lot more cars. “I’d like to have people lined up,” he says with a laugh, “but it’s a very competitive industry. There’s a greater capacity to produce cars than the demand for them. Every dealer tries to increase his piece of the pie.”

Moak is the current president of the Mississippi Automobile Dealers Association, an organization he’s also served as secretary and twice as a director. He’s seen cars become better built, requiring fewer repairs under warranty and taking less service to maintain.

“We’ve seen a steady decline of repairs under warranty with General Motors products. That’s one indicator. Also, we used to do more frequent tune-ups. Now cars run 40,000 to 50,000 miles before tune-ups,” he said. “Every component has benefited. The safety aspect is very good among all the improvements too. I’m really referring to the industry and not any particular brand.”

Tires are better made, too. In some cases the dealerships take cars back on trade-ins that still have the original tires.

He says he hasn’t seen any lemons lately either. “That’s rare,” he said. “There’s so much technology on cars that problems can be resolved.”

Long involved in a multitude of community projects, Moak has diversity there, too. “In all honesty, every dollar this business takes in comes out of someone’s pocket in this community,” he said. “If you’re going to take from the community, you should be a part of making that community better.”

He’s hesitant to choose favorites, but says as a group those organizations that work with kids and with curing diseases are the ones that give him a lot of satisfaction. “I have comfort from being involved with those and like seeing them influence kids,” he said.

His hometown matters to him. He was born in Jackson and graduated from Murrah High School in 1967. He and his wife, Jeanne, live there, as do his mother and her parents. He’s known his wife, the former Jeanne Howie, since second grade and delivered her parents’ newspaper.

“We will see some positive things for Jackson in the future. There are brighter days ahead,” he said. “There are challenges but the question is how we’ll deal with them. We don’t need to look back and throw rocks.”

An Eagle Scout, Moak is involved with Boy Scouts, the Northside YMCA, Junior Achievement, Willowood Developmental Center and Jackson Academy.

He has also given much of his time to Mississippi College, presently serving on the board of trustees, as well as Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, the Salvation Army, United Way and First Baptist Church.

Moak has received numerous automobile dealership awards including the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award’s top five finalists in the nation in 2000.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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