October 30, 2014 — Sadly, the automotive industry lost one of its shining lights this week when Joe Herman passed away early in the morning on Wednesday October 29.
His career spanned more than 40 years, beginning with selling cars at Shrewsbury Volkswagen in New Jersey and ending on the other coast in Vancouver, WA as the Executive Vice President for the Kuni Automotive Group.
Joe was talented, had vision and a true passion for the retail automotive business. Following leadership roles at World Wide Volkswagen, Corp., Porsche Audi Eastern, Porsche Audi Manhattan, and Herman + Miller Porsche Audi, Joe spearheaded the creation of one of the nation’s first consolidated dealer groups — US Auto Group.
In the early 1990’s, he served as the COO and Executive Vice President for EMCO/United Auto Group, which later became the Penske Automotive Group. He then spent nearly eight years as President and CEO of the Planet-Potamkin Automotive Group before joining Group 1 Automotive as its Senior Vice President of Operations.
Joe’s last stop was the Kuni Automotive Group in Vancouver, WA. He joined the company as its COO in 2010 and helped double its annual revenue from under $500 million to more than $1 billion by improving operations while adding several stores through acquisitions.
His career reached the highest levels of success, but his legacy – and it is a real legacy – extends beyond a list of accomplishments or titles. It’s all of the lives he touched and influenced over the course of his career. Joe directly oversaw the operations of more than 215 dealerships across the country. Employees, colleagues, vendors and manufacturers have all felt his mark. He had a unique trait – he truly got pleasure from helping others succeed.
I first encountered Joe on the phone in early September 2005. At the time, he was Senior Vice President of operations for Group 1 Automotive. I was interviewing him for a story I was writing about the group’s recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina. He tried to downplay his role but it was evident his leadership had helped get supplies into the devastated areas in Houston and New Orleans.
A steadily growing friendship ensued the next several years. As he was to so many others, he was more than a friend; he became a mentor pushing me to follow a dream. Over the last couple of years, we became closer, often texting or talking on the phone multiple times a week. His insight into life and business was invaluable.
At the end of 2013 Joe was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When he called me to tell me the news, we talked about what his approach would be. He made it clear he intended to fight hard no matter the outcome. And if the outcome ended badly, then just maybe his medical team could develop research or data from his fight that could help others live.
With the help of his wife Kathryn, his son Christopher and daughter Rebecca, and Greg Goodwin, the CEO at Kuni, Joe fought hard and courageously for nearly a year. In the end, Joe died as he lived – selflessly, courageously and with integrity. For those that knew him, his passing leaves a void that will not be filled.
Goodbye Dear Friend, we will miss you terribly.