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Lithia goes the extra mile in community commitment

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Lithia Motors has been dedicated to making communities better places to live, work and play for 75 years, and earns the 2021 Dean’s Award for Family Business Leadership.

May 1, 2021

2021 Dean’s Award for Family Business Leadership

By Rebecca Barrett

Lithia Motors has been dedicated to making communities better places to live, work and play for 75 years.

From its beginning as a lone auto dealership in a small town in Southern Oregon to growing to become a Fortune 500 company with 17,000 employees and more than 250 locations in 22 states, Lithia has been led by three generations of the DeBoer family.

Father and son founders Walt and Sid DeBoer were family men who valued customers and relationships. Bryan DeBoer, Sid’s middle son, grew up working in the family business and has continued the humble, head-down approach to the family business.

Lithia’s success depends on its employees, from service technicians to the group of vice-presidents.

“Without their skills, energy and inspiration, we would not be where we are today,” said Bryan DeBoer, CEO and President. “We strive to maintain a friendly, professional environment where employees feel comfortable and valued.”

For exhibiting excellence in business practices, a strong family focus and a commitment to the community, Lithia Motors is honored as the 2021 Dean’s Award for Family Business Leadership.

Lithia recognizes the importance of giving its leaders autonomy to make local decisions for their stores and teams, fostering an entrepreneurial, high-performance culture and developing leaders from within.

“We are not a top-down company,” Bryan DeBoer explained. “We recognize that local leaders know their communities, customers and employees best and we put our trust in their individual business acumen.”

That approach applies to Lithia’s commitment to communities.

“We are committed to creating value in the communities around the country where we operate by supporting initiatives that strengthen them through local giving, sponsored events and volunteerism,” Bryan DeBoer said. “That is why we empower individual dealerships to manage their community involvement at the local level.”

Many locations have long-term, ongoing partnerships with nonprofit organizations.

“Our commitment runs deep and goes beyond just writing a check,” DeBoer said. “We are often advocating for causes throughout the year, holding donation drives and volunteer events.” An example is Lithia4Kids, a home office initiative providing community grants to support nonprofits that are dedicated to providing safe spaces for youth to learn and play, while building resiliency and providing enriching experiences.

The Sid & Karen DeBoer Foundation, a supporting organization of the Oregon Community Foundation, provides grants to improve the lives of Oregonians. The DeBoer’s philanthropy helped to build the YMCA Camp at Lake of the Woods.

Lithia is also recognized for leading sustainability practices in the automotive industry. Lithia’s GreenCars initiatives encourage consumers to pursue and explore planet-conscious transportation solutions. On Earth Day this year, Lithia introduced the new GreenKids Program where dealerships partner with local high schools on educational opportunities to increase awareness and knowledge of sustainable vehicles. Lithia even created a home-grown electric vehicle charging network.

“We are going the extra mile in achieving this sustainability public education goal,” Bryan DeBoer said.

Lithia is also a major sponsor of local events and programs, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pear Blossom Festival, Southern Oregon University Student Athletics and Southern Oregon Women’s Leadership Conference.

Bryan DeBoer still lives in the same small town as his father and grandfather, promoting the values they exemplified and paving the road for Lithia’s ongoing success and growth.

See how Lithia locations are involved in their communities in the 2020 Corporate Responsibility Report.

Lithia Motors history

Sid DeBoer grew up working in the auto dealership his father Walt DeBoer opened in Ashland in 1946. Walt was known for valuing customer relationships, and local residents would stop in for a cup of coffee. In 1968, after Walt’s sudden death, Sid, took over the dealership. He was unsure whether he could run the business alone. Remembering his father’s dedication to service and community, Sid persevered—selling 35 cars that first month following his father’s death.

Lithia’s story emphasizes that the future is often determined by how we responds to setbacks. “You can’t just move on from tragedy,” Sid recalls from that pivotal time. “You must get stronger from it.”

Buoyed by the confidence in that first month’s effort, Sid embraced the challenges and rewards of the auto industry. Finding strength, Sid worked hard to expand Lithia Motors.

By 1996, Lithia Motors, Inc., had expanded to six dealerships in Southern Oregon, employing more than 200 local residents. Sid and his partner decided to take the company public that year — a herculean effort as Lithia annual revenues were only $146 million, smaller than many individual dealership locations today.

Committed to keeping the company loyal to its southern Oregon roots, one of Sid’s main reasons for going public was to provide growth opportunities for his store leaders. Next, Sid expanded Lithia’s reach into other states.

In 2012, Sid’s son, Bryan, succeeded him as CEO and President and has continued Lithia’s forward-thinking strategy for growth. Bryan began the company’s quest to gain a material share of personal transportation. During his tenure, Bryan has guided the company to impressive Fortune 500 positions—including No. 252 in 2020, No. 4 for 10-year total shareholder return, and No. 6 for 10-7ear earnings per share growth. And Lithia Motors has grown from $2.7 billion to over $13 billion in annual revenue.

Sid DeBoer serves as chairman of Lithia’s Board of Directors. Mark DeBoer, Sid’s son and Bryan’s brother, is Vice President of Real Estate. And Bryan’s daughter, Alex DeBoer, is a recruiter in the Portland office, representing the fourth generation to work in the family business.

About the awards

Every year since 1988, the Center for Family Enterprise (formerly the Austin Family Business Program) recognizes family businesses who exemplify the values we hope to foster in the work we do in the College of Business: harmony, generational development, leadership and growth.

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