Armed with a degree in economics from the University of Colorado Boulder, Bob Ghent planned to become a ski bum.
Then reality set in.
Today, he’s the owner of Ghent Chevrolet Cadillac in Greeley. He still skis, but he’s in a business where “no two days are ever the same. That keeps you challenged and makes it fun,” Ghent said.
Ghent is a third-generation automobile dealer in northern Colorado. His grandfather opened a Ford store in Fort Collins in 1942. Ghent’s father owned a Ford Lincoln Mercury Jeep store in Fort Collins when he offered to send the younger Ghent to a dealer academy run by the National Automobile Dealers Association in McLean, Va. He liked it so much he decided to make a career out of it.
Ghent bought into his father’s business initially and then bought a Chevrolet dealership in Greeley in 1988. Two years later he built the facility that still houses the dealership, which today includes Cadillac. He has 65 employees.
The business has grown about 20 percent in the last few years, but it was tough going for a while before that.
Hit hard by the economic downturn in 2008, General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2009 and began closing dealerships “left and right” – more than 1,100 across the country, including Colorado – while discontinuing such brands as Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn. Fortunately for Ghent, GM retained Chevrolet and Cadillac as two of its core brands.
“I second-guessed a lot back then,” Ghent recalled. “I had to cut back several areas to make it through, though we didn’t really lay people off.”
Looking back, Ghent says, “when you face adversity, if you can make it through, quite often you come out stronger on the other side. It took some perseverance and some tough conversations. But it’s been better than I could have imagined. I’m so thankful to still be here.”
Ghent Motors has been named a Time Magazine Quality Dealer of the Year in Colorado, a Cadillac and Chevrolet Mark of Excellence Dealer and ranks among Northern Colorado Business Report’s Mercury 100 fastest-growing companies.
He credits his “great employees” and “loyal customers” for the company’s success. And along with that success is what he calls his “responsibility” to give back to the community. Ghent Motors contributes time and money to a variety of organizations including United Way, American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Club of Weld County, the Greeley Chamber of Commerce and the Weld County Food Bank. On any given Sunday, Ghent and his employees can be spotted cleaning a stretch of Highway 34. The company donates iPads to the Weld County School District’s AVID program for at-risk students.
With the economic crisis behind him, Ghent says the challenges today lie in the regulations that have made the auto business more complicated. “That’s a huge change over years ago. Some are good for the consumer. Some are just an extra burden.”
Whether Ghent will hand down his business to the next generation is still up in the air. His daughter and son have both graduated from Greeley West High School and are now in college. “They have some interest in joining the business. But I couldn’t tell you yet whether it’s a burning desire.”