Men of steel
A surprising number of Puget Sound alumni are in the new-car business
By Mary Boone
If you’ve bought a car in the Northwest lately, chances are good that the person on the other side of the negotiation table was a fellow alum. An impressive number of former Loggers work at, manage or own dealerships selling everything from Kias to Cadillacs, Buicks to BMWs.
Ray Wasson ’66 sold his Buick-Cadillac dealership in Aberdeen last year after 32 years in the business. His college roommate, Jim Clary ’67, is president of Bud Clary Auto Group in Longview, Wash. Both entered family businesses after college.
“Back when we got out of school there weren’t the kind of choices there are today,” says Wasson. “Especially in small towns around here, if your dad was a logger, there was a pretty good chance you’d grow up to be a logger. If your dad was a butcher, he’d probably bring you into that business. My dad happened to be a car dealer ... so I became a car dealer. It was a career that served me well for a lot of years.”
Clary recalls interviewing for jobs as college drew to a close back in 1967.
“My dad had a Chevrolet dealership,” says Clary. “He called me up before graduation and asked me if I had a job yet. He told me if I wanted to go back to Longview to temporarily work for the dealership I could.”
“Temporarily” turned out to be 33 years—and counting. Clary bought out his father and has purchased three additional car stores since then; he now has 120 employees in three locations.
“It’s been a very satisfying career for me,” says Clary. “Every day is interesting. I have two sons in college now, and it’s pretty certain they’ll both be buying car stores when they graduate. They grew up around it, like a lot of us did … It just gets in your blood.”
Titus Will Automotive Group has been a family business since Leon Titus and James W. Will founded it in 1938. Now, Titus and Will family members and Puget Sound alumni fill the company’s management roster.
Graham Tash ’79 (his wife is Leon Titus’ granddaughter) is president of Titus Will Ford-Toyota in Tacoma. Jamie Will ’69 is president of Titus Will Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Cadillac in Olympia. Five other Titus Will staff members are alumni or current students of Puget Sound: Dick Tessemier ’81, Greg Anderson ’97, Trevor Will ’97, Eric Goodman ’01 and Kristopher Cambra ’03.
“There must be something in the water at Puget Sound. That or it’s just an interesting coincidence that so many of us went into the car business,” laughs Tash. “Seriously, the business education I received there prepared me for the kind of decisions we have to make everyday in this field.”
Jamie Will says the automotive field continues to be a good one for young people who want to get ahead in the business world.
“You still hear stories all the time about guys who started washing cars and they’ve worked their way up to a management position,” he says. “This is a field where, if you’re willing to work hard, you have the potential to make some good money.”
Hugh Hall ’78 admits it was the lure of a good salary that drew him to the automotive business.
“I had a lot of debt when I got out of school,” says Hall, who now owns Performance Jeep-Nissan in Everett, Wash. “I started looking around and asked myself, where could I make the most money possible to pay off my debt as quick as possible.
“For me it was all about money,” he says. “Fortunately, it’s turned out to be something I’ve really enjoyed and I’m sure I’ll continue to find interesting for the rest of my career.”