Originally created 11/05/01

Auto group owner started early in life



If running a car lot seems as natural to Greg Hodges as eating or breathing, it's because he's been working around dealerships since he was 14.

Mr. Hodges, the manager of Augusta's fastest-growing auto group, got his start in the business as a gofer at a Honda dealership in Charleston, S.C., owned by Edward Stokes.

"He was pretty much my mentors," Mr. Hodges said.

He became a sales manager at 23 after learning the ropes in the service and parts department. The next year he was promoted to general manager, but it wasn't long before he started looking for his next challenge.

"I went to Edward - I was about 26 or 27 - and told him I wanted my own dealership someday," Mr. Hodges recalled. "He said that he would help me."

His pledge came through in the late 1980s when Honda established Acura, its luxury car division. Mr. Stokes applied for an Acura franchise and were initially approved for a location in Greenville, S.C. But at the last minute the carmaker decided it wanted the dealership in Augusta.

Mr. Stokes gave Mr. Hodges the opportunity he was looking for. Mr. Hodges quickly went to work coming up with half the cash needed to start the new dealership.

"(Edward) told me basically that I needed to sell my house, my motorcycle and all my toys to get as much money as I could," Mr. Hodges said. "He said I could pay him back down the road."

The rest - as anyone who drives down Gordon Highway knows - is history.

Mr. Hodges and his Charleston partners opened the Acura dealership in 1988. Since then, their auto group has expanded to include Mitsubishi, Saturn, Kia and Honda dealerships.

"It was tough at first," Mr. Hodges said. "I didn't really know people here. If it hadn't been for the Acura brand drawing the customers in, it might not have worked out."

Mr. Hodges ran the dealership on a shoestring budget during the early days. He even renovated the dealership's second floor into an apartment for his family so he could keep his own salary low.

He still lives in the apartment, even though his cluster of dealerships has prospered. The 2,000-square-foot apartment provides him a convenient way to work late when needed. Or if his work day is too hectic, he only needs to walk out the back door of his office and up a stairwell for a temporary respite.

He also likes being able to walk across Gordon Highway to his favorite gym, Mass Construction, for a session with his personal trainer.

"I'm addicted to working out," Mr. Hodges said.

As one of the area's most civic and politically active businessmen, Mr. Hodges' off time is as action-packed as his work week.

A trained auctioneer, the 45-year-old car dealer can often be found volunteering at a charity auction. Mr. Hodges is also a member of the Uptown Kiwanis Club and the institutional review board of St. Joseph Hospital.

When he's running his network of six dealerships or sponsoring a community event, Mr. Hodges unwinds by playing with one of his "toys." Among them are a Harley-Davidson cruiser, a Honda dirt bike and a hot-air balloon.

An avid aviation enthusiast, Mr. Hodges is a licensed commercial pilot who co-owns an airplane and a helicopter. And if he's not flying planes, Mr. Hodges, a skilled parachutist, is usually jumping out of them.

Along with a handful of other dealerships, Mr. Hodges' Gordon Highway cluster comprises a car lot district referred to as the "Motor Mile." While the momentum has shifted toward the high-growth areas of the city's northwest side, Mr. Hodges remains one of south Richmond County's most visible spokesmen.

He most recently has been lobbying for the creation of a tax-free "enterprise zone" around the vacant Regency Mall to stimulate new economic growth.

"This market has been very good to us," he said. "We're just trying to help bring some business back to the area."

VITALS

Name: Greg L. Hodges

Title: President of Stokes-Hodges Auto Group

Born: July 12, 1956, Portsmouth, Va.

Family: Wife, Jan, two children

Education: Garret High School, North Charleston, S.C.

History: Born to a naval cryptographer, Mr. Hodges lived at bases in Alaska, Panama, the South Pacific and the Philippines before settling in Charleston at age 13. He took an after-school job at a dealership owned by the Stokes family of Charleston and continued there until after high school, eventually working his way up to a management position. In 1988, he and the Stokes family formed a 50-50 partnership to open an Acura dealership in Augusta. They added several more dealerships to their holdings during the next several years, including Mitsubishi, Saturn and Honda.

Civic: Uptown Kiwanis Club, St. Joseph Hospital institutional review board, Augusta Futurity board member, March of Dimes board member

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com.