Growing up in Cicero, Jim M'Lady had anything but a privileged life. Coming from a working class background, he worked hard growing up and had a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Marine Corps in 1967, stationed at Keson near the demilitarized zone.
Little did M'Lady know that he would visit Vietnam and Cambodia years later, this time as a tourist going back to where he was stationed, as well as other areas made infamous by the Vietnam War. What made it all possible was the hard work he put into the ensuing 40-plus years that he began initially as a salesman at Bill Jacobs Chevrolet in Joliet.
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After working his way up to sales manager and general manager, M'Lady owned a number of dealerships, culminating in the purchase of M'Lady Nissan in 1992. M'Lady Nissan is currently the No. 1 Nissan store in Illinois as well a top seller in the six-state Midwest regional. It is 45th in sales in the nation.
How did you get into the automobile business?
"I thought I would give it a try because I was stumbling around a lot and I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my life. It worked and I realized I liked what I was doing, so I just kept striving for more and more.
"From the time I was 14 or 15, my father kept getting me odd jobs such as tree trimming, driving a truck, and every time I did one of those, I knew I didn't like it. I didn't like any of my jobs. It just seemed like I was a natural at the automobile business. If you work hard and have the intestinal fortitude, you can get ahead."
What is your business philosophy?
"You have to work almost every hour of every day. Fortunately, I have a good core of people who have worked for me for a long time, some as long as 25 years, some 15, and I would say at least three-quarters who have worked 10 years and longer. This staff enables me to get out and do other things for the dealership. I jump in and do things when I am here.
"I really believe I try to treat people the way they want to be treated. If people work hard, I will work with them. I take the managers out for dinner, I take out the girls in the office. I am always doing things to show my appreciation. That's how you keep people loyal."
What is the most significant development in the way the automobile business has changed in the last few years?
"It's the business development center. Right now we are where we were with the Internet 10-12 years ago, kind of stumbling through things. That's why we sent our Internet manager along with our operations manager to a business development boot camp and class to learn how to put this all together. The business development center is more than just Internet; it's live chat and follow-up phone calls. In May, we sold 115 cars alone through inquiries from the business development center. You have to be organized."
What do you like about this business?
"It's still fun to this day. It's the competition. You still have to work things out with the customers. You need to be flexible as you have all different kinds of people working for you.
"There's nothing here that says you have to go by the book. I don't get involved with the customers (on a daily basis), but if it's a severe enough problem, and sometimes those things happen, then I will. My phone is a direct line so customers can always reach me.
"This business has probably enabled me to have a lifestyle that I like, but it's not that much different than if you meet the right people in life and work hard."
What was done during the recent remodeling of your facility?
"We had new fascia put in to match Nissan's exterior plan for all of their dealerships. The entire showroom was gutted, so we had our salespeople working out of a trailer for three months, which was tough.
"We constructed a whole new service driveway and facility. There's a new waiting room and a kids' play area and we offer free Wi-Fi. We have a dedicated area for the business development center and our offices are being reconfigured.
"We started the remodeling in December 2011, with the public areas taking about five months to complete. We will probably have a re-grand opening in late July or early August."
What Nissan models do you like?
"The 2013 Altima will be totally redesigned, but across the board there are no slouches in the Nissan lineup. We have the Leaf, the all-electric car that has caught on. It's a good product with lots of features.
"A good program that we have is our Payment Partner program where, if you refer a customer to us who buys a car, we will make the first payment up to $500 on your next purchase. Also, if you keep the M'Lady sticker or the license plate bracket on your car, you will get the use of a loaner car when you come in for service. Our service department runs like a Timex watch because the people we have working here have been with us for so long."
How does M'Lady Nissan contribute to the community?
"We donate to Home of the Sparrow, a local women's shelter. We donated money and a vehicle and I have donated time to help them. We also donate to numerous youth baseball, hockey and football teams."
What do you like to do in your spare time?
"I like to keep fit. I play racquetball at least twice a week, and work out with a personal trainer two to three times per week. I play tennis and I mountain bike. I also like to travel a lot."