Just months before the first day of law school at the University of Tennessee, Brad Cobb abruptly changed the course of his career.
Instead of taking a job as a clerk in preparation for practicing law, Mr. Cobb decided to sell cars.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “I got into UT and was going to go there in the fall. ... and I was going to go do what I thought was be a clerk.”
It turned out, Mr. Cobb said, that he would be more of an errand boy making $7 an hour.
“So my dad said, ‘Why don’t you go sell cars for Nelson (Bowers); that way you can make some money for school,’” he said.
That summer turned into a career, and once he made the decision, he was hooked.
“It affords you the ability to meet tons of people — it’s fun,” he said. “You’ve got a customer that is coming to you by their own choice. You’re not knocking on doors, they’re coming to you. You’ve got a great product, and when they leave, they are very, very happy.”
That was 15 years ago, and Mr. Cobb started selling Saturns at a Chattanooga dealership owned by Mr. Bowers.
* Name: Brad Cobb
* Age: 39
* Position: Oversees operations of four auto dealerships and three body shops in the Chattanooga area
* Education: Graduated from the McCallie School in 1986 and from the University of Richmond in 1990
* Personal: Married to wife, Courtney; three children
In mid-April, Mr. Cobb, 39, went from managing Toyota of Cleveland to overseeing the operations of four automobile dealerships and three body shops in the Chattanooga area.
The businesses are owned by a group of partners — including Mr. Cobb — led by Mr. Bowers, his mentor and father-in-law. Mr. Bowers was a founding member of Sonic Automotive Inc., one of the largest automotive retailers in the United States, and owns the Toyota and Honda dealerships in Cleveland and Volkswagen and Audi stores in Chattanooga.
“I learned from one of the best car men in Chattanooga — of course, I’m biased, but Nelson Bowers, he taught me so much about taking care of the customer,” Mr. Cobb said. “I learned early on: The customer is always right. If you take care of the customer, they’ll take care of you.”
Jeffrey C. Rachor, one-time president of Sonic Automotive and former chief executive of auto supply chain Pep Boys, has known Mr. Cobb for about 13 years, since they worked closely together in the Nelson Bowers’ automobile dealers group.
“He is absolutely an up-and-comer; he is an excellent gifted, young businessman,” Mr. Rachor said.
Beyond his professional achievements, Mr. Rachor said, Mr. Cobb also is involved in the community and is devoted to his wife, Courtney, and their three children.
life’s balancing act
“One of the things I really admire about Brad is his ability to balance all of those different priorities in his life,” he said. “It is his exceptional energy, work ethic and drive that enables him to juggle all those balls and really excel both professionally and personally.”
Mr. Cobb graduated from McCallie School in 1986. He graduated from the University of Richmond in Virginia in 1990 with degrees in business economics and French with a minor in communications. After floating around working at other jobs, he returned to Chattanooga with plans to go to law school.
He now works directly under Mr. Bowers and runs the general operations for the businesses in the area.
But he started as a car salesman and worked his way up, quickly moving to management at the Toyota dealership in Cleveland. He was the general manager of that dealership for more than 10 years until the recent shift into upper management.
His responsibilities have included overseeing the construction of a roughly 20,000 square-foot Volkswagen facility and a new 6,000-square-foot Audi store, both of which have been completed. The group also just completed construction of a 50,000-square-foot Toyota facility in Cleveland.
In his new role over the dealerships, Mr. Cobb said he hopes to get the dealerships and body shops more streamlined and running more efficiently so he can focus on growing the business.