The Real Deal

For Tom Dolan, it’s always been about leaving a legacy
by Karen Nielsen
July/August 2016
The Real Deal
Power Players
The Dolan Auto Group management team includes (from left) COO Ryon Walters, CEO Ryan Dolan, Tom Dolan and General Manager Brady Dolan, pictured at Dolan Lexus in Reno.
When Tom Dolan first started working in sales at the Toyota dealership, the store was ranked No. 14 in the Reno market. Out of 14 dealerships. The building had one bathroom, you had to move nine cars just to show one, and the space was so small that on Saturdays everyone was working on top of each other.

But it was fun, he remembers.

That was 34 years ago. Today, Dolan Toyota is housed at the same location on auto row, but in a $28 million, 300,000-square-foot facility that takes up a full city block. Since the remodel in 2009, it’s captured nearly 20 percent market share moving nearly 600 new and used cars a month.

Many people ask why he built the most expensive dealership in the area.

“I wanted to leave a legacy of having the nicest dealerships in Reno,” says Dolan, who owns four other dealerships in town, including a newly renovated Lexus store that commands over 30 percent of the luxury market in Reno.

With recent health issues that led to a lung transplant and double bypass surgery in January, Dolan is fortunate to have his two sons, Ryan (right) and Brady (center), at the helm. Ryan, 39, became CEO in 2010 and Brady, 31, is the general manager. The boys, along with family friend and COO Ryon Walters, have proven to be formidable leaders. Dolan, who will likely never fully retire, is giving them the freedom to adapt the dealership to a changing demographic of customers and employees.

“I like that they have the initiative to get something done,” he says. “I always told them if they don’t bring something to the table, I don’t need them. They always came with good ideas, and 90 percent of the things they brought to me worked.”

Dolan admits it was never his intention for his kids to work in the business, and he wouldn’t even entertain the idea until they graduated from college, and learned the ropes from the bottom up.

“In the old days it was hard,” he says. “It’s just a different hard now.”
 
Change of Plans

Dolan started off on a different career path, working as a state juvenile parole officer for three years while attending the University of Nevada, Reno. He took a job in insurance sales after graduation and caught the attention of his roommate’s dad, Don Weir Sr., who owned Reno Dodge.

“He said anybody that would sell him that much insurance should go to work for him,” says Dolan, who from 1975-1982 advanced his way from sales to finance manager and sales manager to GM at Carson City Dodge-Chrysler and Reno Dodge.

In 1984, he bought a 10 percent share in Reno Toyota and eventually took full ownership. Other franchises began asking him to take on their stores and he had a knack for turning them around. His business model, if he has one, is pretty straightforward: “I’m not smart, so I had to work hard. When a problem came up, I addressed the problem. When an opportunity crept in, I addressed the opportunity.”

Jeff Bracken, group vice president and GM of Lexus, has known Tom Dolan for 17 years. He says Dolan’s “bigger than life” personality and ability to stay true to himself have been key drivers for his success.

“Tom genuinely cares for people—his family, his employees, his customers, his business partners and, of course, his community,” Bracken says. “A handshake isn't quite enough for Tom—you'll always get that big bear hug from him.”

Dolan is a shoot-from-the-cuff kind of guy. He’s self-deprecating and witty, so this next statement shouldn’t be a surprise. Even though he was buying up franchises, he knew better than to overload the Toyota store. “It’s the bull with the fuzzy nuts,” an expression Ryan says his dad has used for over 25 years. Translation: It’s the top priority.


It’s All About the People

A good reputation and taking care of people—employees, customers and the community—also are incredibly important. Dolan Auto Group has donated more than $2 million to local charities, focusing primarily on children and the elderly.

“Giving back to the community is the No. 1 thing we do,” Dolan says. “I wanted to do that all my life. The best compliment I can have is when somebody says thanks for helping the kids and the people of Reno.”

His boys are continuing the trend, as evidenced by the giving wall in the dealership, which displays an impressive array of thank-you messages.

With nearly 300 employees at Toyota—and a total of about 500 at Dolan Auto Group—Dolan has grown his employee base considerably. But he says a fun environment and good people will always make the company.

“I always try to make sure everybody’s happy and their families are taken care of,” he says. “If a dealer has good people working for him, that says it all.”
 

Community Roots
‘Giving back to the community is the No. 1 thing we do,’ Tom Dolan says of the more than $2 million he’s donated. The giving wall at the dealership displays thank-you messages from area school children.

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