MARIETTA — Valery Voyles, president and CEO of Ed Voyles Automotive Group, works at her father’s desk in her office as a tribute to the late Ed Voyles, who founded the auto dealership in Marietta in 1970.
Her father, who had been in the used car business since the end of World War II, moved the family from East Point to Marietta to open the original Oldsmobile dealership on Cobb Parkway. His timing was fortuitous: Just after he opened the business, plans for Cumberland Mall were announced, and the area began to grow exponentially.
Valery Voyles’ office is located on the second story of the original dealership’s 22-acre campus at 2103 Cobb Parkway, near Windy Hill Road, now home to Ed Voyles Honda. The auto group’s second Cobb location, at 789 Cobb Parkway, carries Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.
Valery Voyles, who married at the age of 17, did not attend college. After having children, she used her six-foot frame to become a model before joining her father in the family business at the age of 30.
Ed Voyles died in 2004, six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer and just six months after the death of Valery Voyles’ mother, Dora. Valery Voyles was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer at the time.
“I wore a wig to both of their funerals,” she said.
After her father’s death, she sprung into action despite her own battle with cancer.
“I took as much time as I could (to recover), but I also knew there were things that needed to be done,” Voyles said. Assuming the role of president and CEO, she began to make her own mark on the company.
“I felt like I needed to build my own executive team,” she said.
She says she learned many things from her father.
“He was a great mentor,” Voyles said. “He would be the first to call you down on something, but in a gentle way.”
According to Voyles, her father never owned a calculator or a computer and relied on his brain and talkative personality to build the family business.
“He was great with math,” she said.
Within a year of becoming CEO, she purchased Marietta Jeep, then four years later, Marietta Dodge. She built her own management team and in December 2011 branched outside of Cobb, buying a Kia dealership in Chamblee.
Today, with three campuses, the automotive group sells Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Ram and Acura cars and employs 500 people.
She is not shy about telling the male industry leaders her perspective as a woman.
“It took me a long time to convince Honda that women don’t want sissy cars,” Voyles said. “I tell my managers, ‘The cosmetic mirror in the visor is not the first thing we want to see.’”
Voyles was the first woman to chair the national dealer council for Acura.
The recession forced the company to lay off between 10 and 15 percent of the workforce, but many of those workers have been rehired, Voyles said.
“I was fortunate that my dad was very frugal and was well-capitalized,” Voyles said.
She said that after a flat year in 2007, sales have risen every year since. The automotive group sold 6,000 new and 4,200 used cars in 2011, grossing $365 million. To date in 2012, the company is outpacing last year’s numbers in units and profitability. Based on current numbers, she believes they will sell 8,000 new and 4,800 used cars this year.
“The older I get, the more frugal (like my father) I become,” Voyles said. “I put money back into the business at the end of the year to give us the ability to grow. When I was younger, I had financial problems, and I never want to be in that position again.”
But Alana Shepherd, secretary of the board of trustees for the Shepherd Center Foundation, said Voyles is anything but frugal in her support of the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“She has been a valued supporter for many years and never fails to attend and support all events,” Shepherd said. “Our third floor gym for ‘Day Program and Beyond Therapy’ was given in honor of her parents, Dora and Ed Voyles. She is very generous with her time as well as resources.”
Voyles said the company’s success can’t be measured based solely on the bottom line.
“I found out it’s not the things that make you happy. It is having a good business and being close to your employees and associates and empowering them to do good things,” Voyles said. “We’ve been around 65 years. … We don’t manage by the quarterly profits, and we want to be around for a long time.”
* Full Name: Valery Voyles
* Title: President & CEO
* Age: 55
* Education/Year Graduated: High school, 1974
* Family: Husband, Rob Jordan; children, Jessica and Chase Singleton, stepchildren Trey, Taylor and Sean Jordan
* First Job: Model
* Best Job: Current job
* Lesson Learned the Hard Way: The economy always swings both ways … be prepared
* Advice to the Next Generation: Get your education