Long before JM Family Enterprises, Inc. was recognized as a world leader in the automotive business, Jim Moran had already made a significant impact in the industry and in the South Florida community. With a career that spanned more than six decades, Jim was truly an automotive pioneer. Before his passing on April 24, 2007, Jim's lifetime achievements were recognized by his 1996 Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Award and his 2005 induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame, the single greatest honor in the international motor vehicle industry.
Born on August 8, 1918, Jim's career started as a young man who had very little money, but he made up for it with a lot of hard work and a strong desire to succeed. In 1939, after saving every penny he could, he put together $360 to purchase a Sinclair gas station that soon became the largest volume outlet in Chicago. After serving his country in World War II, Jim returned to Chicago and sold his first car - a used 1936 Ford Coupe - for $275 that he had reconditioned himself. A whole new world opened up for him that day.
From that first used car sold at the Sinclair station, Jim began to build an amazing chronicle of achievements in the automobile industry. By 1946, Jim had established a Hudson dealership in Chicago Heights, Illinois. His success there brought him an opportunity to expand near downtown Chicago, and in 1948, he celebrated the grand opening of Courtesy Motors, named to symbolize the way he wanted his customers treated. It became the largest in sales volume within one year. Jim's desire for innovation and customer satisfaction led him to become the first auto dealer to successfully offer cars for sale on television and appear in his own live commercials — quite an accomplishment in 1948.
His sales topped several million dollars by the time he turned 30 and with a knack for showmanship, his commercials made him a celebrity throughout the Chicago area where he was recognized as TV's "Jim Moran the Courtesy Man." He sponsored three live shows a week, handling the master of ceremony duties and all the live commercials himself. Jim was the first to present a full-length movie on television in 1949, even though the critics said nobody would watch. The Courtesy Hour and The Old Red Barn Dance became big hits and received TV Forecast awards for every year they were on TV. His weekly variety shows provided another outlet for the sleek new and reconditioned cars he was selling at Courtesy Motors.
He was also the first to equip his cars with seat belts, at no charge to the customer. Even with the responsibilities of owning the dealership, for years Jim personally sold more than 1,800 cars annually — an extraordinary average of five cars every day of the year! Jim even established the first "on the spot" new car delivery system that allowed customers to drive away in their new cars within 30 minutes of the purchase.
Jim started reconditioning cars in the late 1940s and became the first dealer to offer a clearly written and understandable warranty on used cars and called it the "Courtesy 100% Unconditional Guarantee." After the Courtesy Conditioning Assembly Line at Courtesy Motors opened in 1949, the facility reconditioned as many as 800 cars a month. Each car would move along an assembly line for individual steps in the reconditioning process — brakes, generators, starters, motor tune-up, tires, batteries and a final inspection — before going to the lot for sale. The assembly line was housed in a 60,000 square foot building and had 71 people working in it.
Jim remained with Hudson until 1955 when he launched Courtesy Ford. Within 30 days it became the world's largest Ford dealership. Jim became a regular presence on TV during the 1950s and 1960s, and in addition to his television time, he also promoted his dealership by sponsoring the Lake Michigan Swim Challenge, an annual open water endurance swim across the lake.
At 46, Jim was diagnosed with cancer and told he had six months to a year to live. He "retired" to Florida and fought a difficult battle with the disease. Jim luckily beat the 10% chance he was given to survive and returned to his passion of selling cars. He opened Jim Moran's Pontiac City in Homestead in 1968. In 1970, Jim was awarded the franchise for the Pontiac dealership in Hollywood, which became JM Pontiac and for the next 20 years was the largest Pontiac dealership in the world.
Jim came to a crossroads that would change his life when he was approached by Toyota Motor Sales with the possibility of distributing Toyotas. He was impressed with the quality after his first test-drive in a Corona RT-52 Coupe in early 1968. At a preliminary meeting with the Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Company, Seisi Kato, in Miami, Mr. Kato questioned Jim, asking, "What would you do, Moran-san, if I shipped you 10,000 cars?" To this question he replied instinctively, "I'd sell them." On October 26, 1968, during his first visit to Japan, Jim was awarded the franchise to distribute Toyotas, and Southeast Toyota Distributors (SET) was born. Other automotive-related businesses followed, including parent company JM Family Enterprises - one of the largest, most innovative and diversified companies in the automotive industry today.
In 1969, Southeast Toyota had 42 dealers in a five-state region and revolutionized the automobile industry with the introduction of the 33-ASR Teletype, the first computer network in the automotive industry to link dealers with the distributorship.
With Jim’s determination to move the company forward, by 1970, SET had grown to 71 dealers and registered a sharp increase in sales in the first quarter, achieving an import market penetration of 8.1% and bringing sales expectations to 20,000 Toyotas for the year. Southeast Toyota’s record-breaking sales propelled Toyota in 1975 above Volkswagen for the first time in the United States. In 1982, Jim celebrated when the SET distributorship and its then 151 dealers sold their 1 millionth Toyota.
TLC (Tender Loving Care) Corporation – later becoming JM&A Group — was established in 1978 to offer extended service contracts to SET customers.
In 1981, World Omni Financial Corp. was formed and became the first captive automotive finance company for an import car company.
The Toyota tradition continued with the growth of Lexus, a luxury car born from a discussion between Dr. S. Toyoda and Jim Moran in 1984. JM Lexus, established in 1989, quickly became the #1 Lexus dealership in the United States.
Visit JM Family’s web site to learn more about the company and its history.
From 1994-1996, Jim wrote his autobiography Jim Moran: The Courtesy Man. In his own words, "I did not want to write this book, thinking who would want to read it, and was extremely reluctant to do so. I resisted writing it for over five years. Some of my family and some of my very best friends - including Bob Barnett - insisted on it. Dr. Toyoda asked me to write it and to do so with an eye toward making it a movie. While I respect him greatly, I spent more of my life interrupting movies for commercials than doing things that would make my life an exciting Hollywood script.
As I see it, there's not much in my life that people would really want to read about. There have been ups and downs and not much action. I'm lucky to have spent nearly my whole life in a business I really like. Almost all people who hate their work fail at it. Some people love their work and still do badly at it because they don't know how to maintain balance.
What finally swayed me to write this book was feeling the obligation to write our book and not my book - a chronicle of the great people whom I've had a chance to work with over the years, especially those at JM Family Enterprises and Southeast Toyota. It's my deep hope that "our book" will document some of the most memorable contributions which our people have made to the evolution of the American automobile industry — and those contributions by the people I work with have been many."