A top Southwest Florida car dealer sees a bright future
Frank H. Galeana sits in his office overlooking a 25-acre plot of gleaming cars. With an inventory that embraces both American and foreign makes, the company’s vice president can be content that the Galeana Automotive Group remains strong. Founded by his father, Frank, in the ’70s, the company has grown from humble beginnings to become an undeniably profitable car dealership. With additional branches in Georgia and the company’s spiritual home, Van Dyke Dodge in Warren, Michigan, the father of two can’t be blamed for moments of contentment. However, don’t let the Michigan native’s upbeat nature fool you. Beneath the bonhomie lies a gritty determination to continue in the footsteps of his father and continue a car dealership that remains the envy of his competitors.
“I’m not a tenacious business man,” admits Galeana. “I’m looking forward to the future of this company, but you can’t rest on your laurels. Complacency is something I never want to befriend.”
Galeana junior is perhaps more adept than the majority of dealership owners in adapting to the vagaries of the motor industry thanks in large part to his father, whose business acumen and philosophy remain at the heart of the company to this day. “My father passed in 2010,” says Galeana. “His strength, in my opinion, was that he would silently press his brilliance upon others. He made little suggestions, planted the seeds, and let ideas grow.
“More than anything, my father allowed managers to be managers,” says Galeana. “He would be there for them if there was a problem, but he would remind his managers that, ‘This is your baby, so take care of it.’ He achieved a great deal with a degree of longevity and loyalty from his staff that I’ve never witnessed in any other company. That’s what makes the Galeana company so successful.”
A chip off the old (engine) block, Galeana became fascinated with his father’s business and from an early age was smitten with the auto industry. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do since I was ten years old,” he explains. “I would go and work with my father and I loved it. He always made his job seem exciting and brand new. His working days were never the same.”
However, the Galeana company, for all its success, had to overcome intolerance and racist attitudes, as Galeana explains. “My dad had a lot of difficulties setting up businesses in general when he was starting out, overcoming possible racism,” says Galeana.
Frank H. Galeana continues to steer the successful
group of auto dealerships his father founded.
“He was from Mexico City, and his mother was from Puerto Rico, so he had Latin blood. At the time, Latinos were not as esteemed as they are now. A lot of people thought he was Italian, and he never fought that attitude in the beginning.”
After serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Galeana started his career with Ford in the mid-1950s. Nearly two decades later, which included a stint heading up Ford’s interests in Spain and Africa, his desire to become his own boss had hit a stumbling block. “My father wanted to be a dealer with Ford” but didn’t get that opportunity, says Galeana. “So eventually he . . . went to the Chrysler Corporation, who offered him a business deal.
“His difficulty was securing his first franchise,” explains Galeana. “But by the mid-70s he owned Van Dyke Dodge in Warren. After that, he never looked back and continued to be successful for the rest of his life.”
Among the many accomplishments Galeana senior achieved throughout his life were a nomination for the 1972 TIME Magazine Dealer of the Year Award and playing a none-too-small part in helping the Chrysler Corporation obtain its first government loan. When the Chrysler Corporation Loan Guarantee Act of 1979 was signed by President Carter in 1980, Galeana was in the Oval Office to witness the occasion.
But Galeana’s life possessed a dedication to his local community. Speaking of his father’s spiritual and philanthropic nature, his son explains the deep commitment to the Fort Myers community for which his father became renowned. “My father would give anyone the shirt off his back if he felt they would better themselves through his actions,” he says. “But he wouldn’t give you his shirt if he felt it was just going to be used in a fraudulent way.
“A few years ago, he had reached a point in his life when he wanted to start giving back to the community,” Galeana continues, “and he asked me to find a charity he felt was credible and would utilize his donations in the most efficient way.” From those initial inquiries, Galeana and his father’s wife, Jerry, discovered the Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice to be the perfect fit.
“I like to call them the ‘silent saints,’” says Galeana. “They don’t go tooting their horn. If you’re willing to help yourself, they are willing to help you. My father shared that philosophy, and now I’m continuing his legacy, because he truly believed that charity makes a positive difference to those in need in the local community.”
Galeana Automotive Group, Fort Myers, galeanachryslerdodge jeep.com, 888-875-8612 Ken Haggerty is a regular correspondent for the Sarasota HeraldTribune. A Maine native, he also spent many years as a journalist in London, working as an editor and writer on a broad range of sport and lifestyle magazines.