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David Perkins represents the fourth generation in his family to work in the automobile industry in Colorado Springs. The 32-year-old Cheyenne Mountain High School graduate took over as president of the award-winning Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealership in Motor City three years ago. Perkins now oversees the family empire his great-grandfather helped create in the 1940s. Since following in his father’s footsteps, he has been striving to embody the company’s mission statement -— to “create raving fans of every customer by providing them an exceptional customer experience in an honest and uncompromising manner.”

Perkins spoke with the Business Journal this week about his ever-changing industry and why the Pikes Peak region is one of the best places to live — and sell cars.

How did you end up in this position and what are your responsibilities?

Three years ago, my dad went from president to chairman of [Perkins Motor Company], which freed him up to pursue other things he’s interested in. That’s when I took over as president.

I oversee day-to-day operations and help set long-term goals — where we want to be at the end of this year, at the end of next year and 10 years down the line. Then I help the management team set a path to get there.

Did you grow up around car dealerships?

Somewhat. They’ve always been there. We weren’t here every weekend as kids picking weeds, but I have been around it and even worked here for a summer in college selling cars.

In the back of my mind I figured this would be the direction I’d take. I have two older brothers and a younger sister, and they didn’t show a real desire to get involved. I figured this was mine for the choosing if I wanted to go down this path. From the outside it’s an opportunity most people wouldn’t have. … The auto industry isn’t always the most appealing, especially from the inside. But for someone my age coming along, most people wouldn’t have this opportunity.

What are your goals as president?

Starting out it was just learning the business, but now I’m involved in setting direction and keeping us at the forefront of where the industry is going. Over the last 20 years it’s seen a bunch of change and is one of the most influenced industries by the Internet. … There have been a lot of benefits to the Internet, … but it’s also been tough. You’re now competing for a customer that can shop nationwide, not just up and down the street. You have to figure out how to appeal to every buyer out there.

How do you do that?

[Laughs] I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

I think one way is surrounding myself with the right people — those who are willing to be open to what other industries are doing and bring that into how we operate. We look at successful automotive stores — CarMax for example. How did they get to where they are and what can we take from that?

What are your favorite things about the industry?

It’s constantly changing and improving. You don’t get bored. … We’re not coming in and filling a niche where we don’t have any competition. It’s a cutthroat industry. If you fall behind on something, it can be tough to catch up. … It’s challenging, but fun.

How do you see the industry changing over the next few decades?

For us, the question is how much of the industry will go online and how much will remain brick-and-mortar. Do we need a big open field somewhere where we can store a bunch of cars and when someone orders one we can throw it on a truck?

We have to analyze all that while determining how much we need to build and expand and bring people to us. Right now it’s a mixture [of online and in-person], but people still have to get their car serviced and there’s still a lot of paperwork involved in car buying, as well as questions from customers.

How is the automotive market in Colorado Springs?

The military definitely impacts it a great deal. In ’09 and 2010, the auto industry here didn’t take near the hit that everywhere else did. In ’09 we picked up Chrysler/Jeep and there was a [revenue] boost from that, but we’ve continued to grow every year and a lot of that is due to the military. Whenever government cuts are mentioned we see a decrease in business. Government contractors here are in the same boat and are affected as well.

How has the economy affected business lately?

Well, ’09 was a fairly tumultuous time in the auto industry, with GM and Chrysler going through bankruptcy. A lot of dealers did not come out of it. But because of [the recession] we were able to pick up the Chrysler and Jeep franchises. We’ve seen steady growth in sales volume and on our service side every year.

Talk about your company’s college tuition program.

We’re in an industry that, no surprise to anybody, doesn’t have the best reputation. We’ve always tried to operate differently. We want to be a driver of change of that perception.

Internally, to do that you have to have the right people. … A happy employee will treat a customer better than one who is upset. … We strive to offer things to our employees that they can’t get elsewhere.

We partnered with Chrysler and Strayer University and the first round of classes for employees began in January.

We offer all employees a free college education, from an undergraduate degree to a master’s degree. It’s all covered, classes and books.

From the first day you’re hired you’re eligible to start taking classes. We’ve even taken it a step further and offer pretty much the same program to the families of employees.

What’s your favorite thing about the community?

Growing up here, it’s been fun to see the growth and improvement.

There’s been a lot of positive change that would make my generation -— younger generations — want to live and work here. But from my perspective, I don’t want this to be another Denver. Hopefully as we grow we can create our own identity.

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