How Damon Lester is Leveling the Auto Dealer Playing Field

Damon Lester’s phone typically starts ringing at 7:30 a.m. And it keeps ringing until after 10:00 p.m.

Since taking the steering wheel of the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers in 2006, Lester has become the face of the group that advocates for people of color who own dealerships.

It’s a busy gig. By nine o’clock on a recent morning, he had spoken to a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration executive, a congressional staffer, a dealer and a prospective dealership buyer. Later, he attended two Capitol Hill meetings, one of them with his group’s lobbyist. He also took  a long call about his association’s annual conference scheduled for mid July in Miami Beach.

“Mine is definitely a 24 hours a day job,” says Lester. “Of the 18,000 new automobile dealerships in the United States, only 1,128 are owned by an ethnic minority. People of color buy 30 percent of the cars in this country, but own only about 6 percent of the car dealerships. So, there’s a lot to be done.”

Based in Largo, Maryland, the association was founded in 1980 to promote “diversity and inclusion in all aspects of the automotive industry,” according to its website. The organization lobbied then-President Jimmy Carter to assist minority dealers in the wake of the 1979 government bailout of Chrysler.

As head of this nonprofit, Lester’s mandate is to increase the number of dealers of color and ensure that those who enter this ultra-competitive business have an equal opportunity to thrive and prosper. He has met with the president and testified before Congress on behalf of his constituency.

“Damon is very passionate and dedicated about representing NAMAD and all of its dealer members, vendor and manufacturer partners,” says Jenell R. Ross, president of the Bob Ross Auto Group in Dayton, Ohio. “He is a true advocate [for] our industry.”

Lester, 43, wasn’t particularly interested in the auto industry before joining the association’s staff in 2002. He was more interested in accounting, which was the West Philadelphia native’s major at Temple University. His first accounting job was with Black-owned Milligan & Company, LLC, in Philadelphia, where founder John Milligan took him under his wing. Three years later, Lester moved to the accounting firm of Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman in Bethesda, Maryland. The firm audited the minority auto dealers’ association.

Lester joined the association in 2002 as vice president of operations. He became president in 2006, succeeding the late Sheila Vaden-Williams.

Source: Ebony

scroll to top