BRACK: Talking with the person behind the many Jim Ellis auto dealerships

(Part one of a two-part series)

By Elliott Brack, editor and publisher |  Drive off I-285 toward Atlanta on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, and immediately there is a host of Jim Ellis auto dealerships, to eight all, bunched together. Over in Cobb County, there are four more Jim Ellis dealerships, and another in Buford, for a total of 13 in all, with 12 brands.  (Click here to see all dealerships).

So people ask, “Who is Jim Ellis?”

He’s a tall, lean, angular relatively quiet fellow, now 85, who grew up in Southwest Dekalb County, who still goes into his office at the VW dealership in Chamblee each day from his home in Jones Creek.

Today the group of dealerships has over 1,050 employees, and sells 1,000 new and 1,000 used cars a month. Associated with him in the organization are his children.

Jim Ellis’s career has been a spectacularly upward one, from growing up on a farm off Bouldercrest Road, never having electric lights or other conveniences in his home until he was age 11. His first work was plowing a mule on the family farm, and milking cows. He’s always worked and energetically enjoyed it. All during his schooling, he had various jobs….paper route, dairy route, roofing houses, later trading used cars one at a time, moving furniture, selling real estate.

Ellis

Meanwhile, when in high school, he was a big-strapping athlete, a tackle on the football team at Roosevelt High, who earned a scholarship to West Georgia College. There he was captain of the football team, and pitched and played first base on the baseball team.

Then came greetings from the Draft Board, just as the Korean War was beginning. But before going into the Army, he got married in 1953 to that cross-town West Fulton high co-ed he had met on Daytona Beach, Billie Sammons. They’ve been married now for 63 years.

Jim’s eight week boot camp was at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Then the Army picked a group to train as Advanced Infantry for eight extra weeks at Fort Jackson in night fighting, and planned to send the entire group to Korea. During this advanced training, the food was “left over C rations, powered eggs and horse meat from World War I,” Jim says. “I went from 240 pounds to 175 pounds and I’ve been near that same weight ever since.”

However, about that time the Army recognized that Jim had experience on IBM machines on one of his many jobs, and pulled him and another fellow out of the Infantry unit to train at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana on specialized equipment. From this he was assigned eventually to Fort McPherson. He was the company orderly, and got permission to live off base with his new wife.

After the Army, he was still working different jobs, but went to Georgia State University from 6 p.m. till 11 p.m. three days a week, taking three courses, and graduating in two years.

After college, trained in accounting, he worked with Lance Foods, and when they wanted to move him to Charlotte, he switched to Firestone. Later he joined General Motors on Memorial Drive as an accountant. GM sent him to several specialized auto schools. While at GM, he was, on weekends, in real estate, building cash to go into business for himself.

All along, Jim has had a plan of action. “You take one step at a time, after setting objectives and goal, then start another plan when you complete that goal. The minute you quite growing, it’s the first step toward failure.”

Soon Jim Ellis was thinking of going out on his own. Read about that in Part 2 of this series soon.