January 19, 2015 — AutoNation announced late last week that its President & COO Mike Maroone is retiring on February 3 and is leaving his board position in April of this year. Mike Jackson, AutoNation’s chairman and chief executive officer will assume the role of company president while Bill Berman, currently vice president of sales, was named COO.
Maroone, 61, has been with AutoNation for 18 years and has been the number two man for the last 15 years. Together with Jackson, the two of them have built the dealer group into the nation’s top automotive retailer with approximately 250 dealerships generating close to $19 billion a year in revenue.
Judging from the texts and emails I received about the news, the surprise announcement left people wondering if there was a bigger story at play. The reality is, there isn’t. Maroone has been planning his retirement for a while now. In fact, there was speculation, and even reliable rumors that he was thinking about retiring as early as 2008. But the recession hit and Maroone stayed on to help through the turbulent period.
Today, AutoNation is firing on all cylinders and is in the midst of a year long roll out of its Smart Choice Express initiative which provides customers the ability to complete the entire car purchase online.
Although, the timing of the announcement caught people by surprise, AutoNation had begun putting the pieces in place in 2014 to prepare for the transition this year. In the fall of last year, the company promoted Bill Berman to senior vice president of sales and brought him to AutoNation’s headquarters in Fort Lauderdale to learn the COO position from Maroone. Berman began his career with AutoNation in 2006 as the general manager of Smythe European in Califronia. He also served as president of AutoNation’s Northern California market, and since 2008, president of the group’s Western Region.
Meanwhile, Jackson, who is 65, signed an agreement last week to stay on as AutoNation’s top executive for another five years through 2019, while taking on the additional role of president.
There’s no word on what Maroone has planned next, but we can speculate. He’s a young 61 with the financial flexibility to do just about anything. I suspect we’ll be seeing more of him in the future. It’s no secret in South Florida that he is friends with Jeb Bush, who is giving serious consideration at making a run at the White House in 2016. Is it too far-fetched to speculate about a possible White House Chief of Staff position? There is precedent — Thomas “Mack” McLarty, an Arkansas car dealer and business leader, became President Bill Clinton’s first White House Chief of Staff in 1992.
Maroone’s automotive career began at his family’s Ford dealership in upstate New York before becoming the general manager of the family’s first dealership in Florida in 1977. Over the next 20 years, Maroone grew the business to nine dealerships which then merged with AutoNation in 1997. Two years later, he was named president and COO of the group. His career the last several years includes a long list of well-deserved honors, including being named by Automotive News as one of the industry’s Top 50 Visionary Dealers of all time. Other awards include Florida Atlantic’s Entrepreneur of the Year and being elected to Nova Southeastern University’s Entrepreneur Hall of Fame. He also received the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Boca Raton Concours D’ Elegance.