PITTSFIELD — George Haddad is the third-generation owner of one of Berkshire County's largest auto dealerships, but his father and grandfather originally didn't want him to join the family business. George was going to be a doctor instead.
So, Haddad pursued that path until his sophomore year at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, Vt., when he struggled with organic chemistry. He changed his major to business administration, joined what is now Haddad Dealerships of the Berkshires after graduating from college, and has helped it grow and expand.
Haddad, which started as a Pontiac dealership in Pittsfield in the 1920s, now operates four dealerships and a collision repair center.
We met with Haddad recently to talk about why he loves to sell cars, why he left medicine behind and the internet's effect on the car business.
Q: Why did you follow your father and grandfather into the business?
A: I was going to be a doctor. My father struggled a little bit in business and said, "Don't get involved in this; do something else." I said, "OK."
I sold my first car when I was 15, and I liked it, and he kept saying, "Be a doctor." And I got into school, and me and organic chemistry just didn't see eye to eye.
Q: What happened?
A: This is the funny part of the story. The first exam, it was with a 10-point scale and I ended up with an 89. I said, "OK, I'm going to be good," because if you pass organic chemistry and you're really good at it, it's like your indoctrination to becoming a doctor.
The next exam, they had a 25-point scale and I got a 59. With the scale. I mean, I would pull all-nighters studying. The next exam had a 25-point scale and I got a 55. So, I ended up with the first "D" in my life. And I said, "Dad, I'm done." He said, "OK."
Q: He wasn't upset?
A: No, because I worked [at the dealership] during the summers, and he liked that I sold cars. I was 15 years old. I rode in the back seat because I couldn't drive, and I sold five cars in a week. It was great. Maybe it was because people thought that I was this innocent little kid, I don't know.
Q: Did you do anything else?
A: I'd go to work in service, writing service tickets. They wouldn't let me fix cars. I tried that for like a day, but I put in stuff backward. You can't do that. ... I did parts. I used to wash cars. I used to have to clean the dealership. ... He made me do everything. I give him credit.
Q: Did doing everything help make your decision to join the family business easier?
A: When you're working and reconditioning and washing cars and stuff, you're working with everybody else. ... And my father made me get a job when I was in college, so I had to work for other people. I had to learn what it was like to work with other people. I think that's very important.
I wouldn't want to be the kid — and I've seen it in a lot of other businesses — where the kid comes in and he's the next CEO a week later. And he's never worked for anybody else. He doesn't know how to treat people or how to expect to be treated and what people's expectations are. They walk in and they don't know what they're doing. ... I made my two kids get a job.
Q: Do you think they're going to follow you into the business?
A: You know what, I'll be happy with whatever they want to do. I just want them to be happy.
Q: (George's grandfather, also named George Haddad, started the dealership after emigrating to the United States from Lebanon.) Do you know why he came here?
A: No, I think relatives were here. It was for a better life. ... I've got to give my grandfather a lot of credit. He came over here with an eighth grade education, took care of his mother, who had physical problems and was in a wheelchair, ran a grocery store, bought a grocery store, then sold it.
Then he got involved in used cars and bought this little used-car lot; I think with the [late] Bob Quatrocchi's father. [Quatrocchi was the longtime owner of Pete's Motors on East Street, which Haddad bought in 2010]. Then he had the opportunity to get the Pontiac dealership on West Street. That's how he started.
Q: How did you end up with the Toyota franchise?
A: As my father [Louis Haddad] told me, he was talking to one of his friends [in 1970] and he said "Louie, you should get that Toyota franchise, it's an up-and-coming car."
Q: That must be the biggest seller among all your models?
A: It's the biggest-selling car in Berkshire County.
Q: I guess getting the Toyota franchise is one of those things where ...
A: It's a stroke of luck. There's no other way to put it. A little intuition. I give [his father] a lot of credit for taking a chance instead of saying, "Who's ever going to want to buy this car?"
Q: As the third-generation owner of a family business, do you feel a responsibility to what came before?
A: I think that it's an honor, and I consider myself very lucky that I had the opportunity to go into this business and make it better. The bigger obligation that I have is to 220 [employees] and their families.
Q: Why do you think auto dealers have traditionally gotten a bad rap?
A: A long time ago, car dealers were car dealers. You didn't know what you were buying. Manufacturers were just rolling out cars. ... There was no regulation. ... Then you had people patching these used cars together. So, it was maybe a little like the wild, wild West when cars first came out. Now, we're pretty regulated.
Are there probably bad dealers? Sure. But, in Berkshire County, there are not. They might be my competitors, but they're all good people.
Q: How has the internet changed the car business?
A: It's broadened the car business. A customer can see where they can get a deal a whole lot easier and negotiate a whole lot easier. ... It's made it more transparent for a customer, and a lot easier for a customer to feel like they got a good deal. ...
The other thing that it's done is broaden our markets. For example, we took in a truck that was a diesel. Around here, a person's not going to need a diesel. So, we took it in, put it on the internet, and a guy drove three hours up here because it was something he wanted.
Q: Doesn't the internet increase the competition because there are so many online car sites out there?
A: Yeah, but it's OK. I mean, it just makes us better, and we've got to make sure we're good.