* Age: 28
* Business: BMW of Chattanooga
* Job: general manager
* Education: McNeese State University; Lake Charles, Louisiana
In just a few short years, Rob Dale has gone from washing cars at a car dealership in Birmingham, Alabama, to running one of Chattanooga's premiere luxury car dealerships.
Dale, 28, is the general manager at BMW of Chattanooga, one of four area dealerships operated by the Sonic Automotive chain. Sonic, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, has more than 100 dealerships across 14 states including Nissan of Cleveland (Tennessee), Nissan of Chattanooga East and Economy Honda.
The company hand-picked Dale out of college, where he played football for the McNeese State Cowboys, to join their management training program. The former behavioral-science major has advanced quickly, working at eight dealerships in five years. His jobs have included stints in Birmingham, Nashville, Houston and Chattanooga.
"The (Sonic training) program tries to focus things so you get the equivalent 20 years of experience in a short time," Dale explains. "There used to be that saying, "patience is a virtue," but I think that's winding down."
Dale credits his success in business to his parents. His mother, Laura Dale, a neuroscientist and attorney, taught him discipline and focus, he said, while his gregarious father, Rob Dale, taught him people skills. Meanwhile, being a student athlete helped him with endurance (he works 70-hour weeks) and goal-setting.
Dale, who has been in Chattanooga almost a year, acknowledges that recent turnover in the GM position at BMW Chattanooga has been a challenge for the dealership. As a result, he is making an effort to become the face of the business. New radio spots encourage customers to ask for him personally when they visit the BMW dealership to receive instant discounts on vehicles.
"I want people to know me. I want to be accessible," he says. " When I first got here we were a little tarnished. I think I was the fifth GM in seven years."
Dale is also leading a push to get BMW Chattanooga more involved in community service projects. Charities which have, or will, receive help from the dealership include the Pink! gala to benefit the MaryEllen Locher Breast Center at CHI Memorial., the St. Jude Dream Home fund-raiser supporting the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, and Habitat for Humanity to provide affordable housing.
"I like Chattanooga a lot," says Dale. "When you inherit a dealership it can give you a perception about a city. It seems Chattanooga is about the largest city you can get, that still has that 'small town' feel."
Dale says BMW is working hard to offer more economical models to grow its customer base. The dealership is also working to improve customer service by installing a pick-up and delivery service for customers who need repairs or regular maintenance on their vehicles.
"I'm not leaving here until Chattanooga is happy with us," Dale says. "I want people to know we've got good management and we are moving in the right direction."