Written by The Business Journal Staff
Jay Gill, CEO
Gill Auto Group
What we do: We sell and service new and used vehicles consisting of six dealerships and representing 11 brands from Central to Northern California to Hawaii.
Education: B.S., industrial technology, Fresno State
Family: Wife, two boys ages 14 and 18
Tell us a little about your path to success, Jay.
After graduating from college I worked as a process control engineer in Silicon Valley in 1989, but didn’t care for the traffic and kept contemplating returning to the Valley to become an entrepreneur. Started out as a used car operation in Downtown Fresno (925 N. Abbey St) with an SBA loan of $216,0000. Grew my business to two locations the following year and was able to acquire my first new car franchise in 2003 in Tranquility (Gill Chevrolet). Thereafter, we kept growing through a good team of employees and a lot of hard work. Today we have 250 employees within the Gill Auto Group organization.
What made you decide to get into the car business, Jay?
I think it was mostly by chance. I used to buy and sell cars when I was in college for a nice profit and had always wanted to have my own business, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Tell us a little about your farming and hotel ventures, Jay.
My philosophy has always been to run toward opportunities that people were running from. Case in point, in 2002 when farming was not doing well, I saw farming as an opportunity, a time to make deals. Since my father worked on a farm for most of his life, I wanted to give something back so he could call it his own. Today my father runs all my farming operations of about 900 acres, of which we are farming approximately 750 acres actively.
In 2009 and 2010 the real estate market collapsed, banks were taking back hotels, rates were very high and I was noticing friends experiencing success in this type of business, so I thought the timing was right to diversify. I bought my hotel in Rancho Cordova at the end of 2011 and since have doubled our annual revenue.
You were recently featured on an episode of CNBC’s “Blue Collar Millionaires.” How did that come about, Jay?
The Fresno MBDA (Minority Business Development Agency) submitted my story to CNBC. At first I was very reluctant to do the show as I wasn’t looking for any publicity, but I was convinced by friends and my managers to possibly inspire others who had dreams of growing a new business.
What has been the reaction to your TV appearance, Jay?
I truly believe now that it was a good move since the response from people all over the country has been positive. The stories people are sending me about how I’ve inspired them are quite humbling.
How important was the Small Business Administration in the start of your career, Jay?
Very important. Without the SBA in 1996 I don’t think I could have had a chance to raise the capital necessary to start my business.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs, Jay?
Stay the course. Never give up if you believe in what you are doing. Out of 100 people, only one will actually have the tenacity not to give up. The other 99 will quit. You must be that 1 percent to succeed. No one — not the government, not the politicians — will make your life better. Only you can do that, and that is where the focus needs to be. The journey will be hard and frustrating at times but if you stick with it, it will be all worth it.
What was the best advice you ever received, Jay?
To do your job you have to go through the motions, but to do better than anyone else you have to be emotionally involved.
Did you have a mentor who helped you throughout your career?
I believe that there were many people in business that influenced me. I was fortunate to have them in my life so I was able to tap into their knowledge.
What was your very first job, Jay?
Chopping weeds in the cotton fields of Fresno County.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Jaynm?
I love to travel and explore new places. I love sports. My favorite thing is to keep on top of my game, which is to look for the next deal. That is my passion.