The nomination of H. Lehman Franklin, dealer principal at Franklin Toyota in Statesboro, Georgia, for the 2024 TIME Dealer of the Year award was announced Thursday by TIME.
Franklin is one of a select group of 49 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 107th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 3, 2024.
The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. The award recognizes the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. Franklin was chosen to represent the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 49 auto dealers nominated for the 55th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“Our workplace is more than a business; it’s a platform for nurturing talent and fostering community,” nominee Franklin said “This ethos doesn’t just stay within our walls – it enriches the broader community, making it a better place to live, work, and raise a family. To me, this is the ultimate reward.”
A 1997 graduate of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, where he earned a degree in business administration, Franklin received an M.B.A. from Georgia Southern University in Statesboro in 2002.
After returning from missionary work in South America and Europe in 2011, he came back to his family’s dealership, originally founded by his grandfather and where he had worked during school breaks, to launch his full-time retail automotive career.
Franklin started in sales and then moved to finance, service, and accounting, learning the ins and outs of the business. With a critical eye, he came up with creative ideas to move the business forward, like adding an Allstate insurance agency in-house for customer convenience and additional revenue. Franklin also completed management training programs through Toyota and the NADA Academy in preparation for his role as general manager.
Today, Franklin is dealer principal of the Franklin Automotive Group, which encompasses Franklin Toyota and Franklin Chevrolet, a Chevrolet, Buick, and GMC store, also in Statesboro.
“In today’s competitive landscape, individual success is an extension of a collective effort,” he said. “As a third-generation dealer, I owe much, if not all, to the groundwork laid by my grandfather and uncle. Their relentless commitment has propelled the dealership to its current standing.”
Franklin oversaw a $1 million renovation of the Toyota store that completely reimagined the customer and employee experience. Enhancements include EV (electric vehicle) charging stations; energy-efficient LED lighting; café amenities; customer lounge with entertainment center, as well as mechanical updates and more comfortable workspaces for employees.
“But at the core of our dealership’s competitive edge is one irreplaceable asset: our people,” he said. “My grandfather always said to hire people smarter than yourself and to always take care of your employees. This wisdom has been a cornerstone of my leadership style.”
Franklin is equally committed to furthering his industry and has served on the board of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association since 2015, currently leading the board as chair. One of the most critical issues he tackled was the threat to Georgia’s traditional dealer franchise system from companies attempting to sell vehicles directly to consumers.
“I was fortunate to be able to play a part in guiding our collective actions and educating state legislators about the essential role that new-car dealers play in the economy and community,” he said. “Thanks to our efforts, we successfully preserved the integrity of the dealership model in Georgia.”
Franklin’s civic and community activities touch all aspects of local life. He is proud of his company’s contribution to the Georgia Police K9 Foundation, an organization that protects and serves active and retired law enforcement K9s.
“Our full-fledged financial backing of the local K9 program has been crucial to public safety,” he said. “We’ve taken responsibility for everything from the dogs’ training to their equipment, ensuring this essential aspect of community safety thrives.”
Franklin has also worked with The United Way, by hosting annual toy drives to bring holiday cheer to the children.
In the area of education, he sponsors college scholarships, supports high school athletics, and hands-on training for technical schools. In collaboration with Ogeechee Technical College in Statesboro, Franklin is currently hosting two exchange students from Germany in his service department to shadow his technicians as part of their educational journey.
He also supported numerous charities and sponsors many local events, including the Statesboro Music Festival; Fixing the Boro (pet rescue and spay/neuter clinic); Bulloch County Historical Society; Statesboro Jaycees; Brooklet Peanut Festival; Freedom Through Recovery; Catie’s Gathering (supports CURE Childhood Cancer); and many others.
Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan will select one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year. Three finalists will receive $5,000 for their favorite charities and the winner will receive $10,000 to give to charity, donated by Ally.
In its 13th year as exclusive sponsor, Ally also will recognize dealer nominees and their community efforts by contributing $1,000 to each nominee’s 501(c)3 charity of choice. Nominees will be recognized on AllyDealerHeroes.com, which highlights the philanthropic contributions and achievements of TIME Dealer of the Year nominees.
“At TIME, we are proud to uphold the decades-long tradition of honoring automotive dealers who make a positive impact and show dedication to their communities through our TIME Dealer of the Year award,” said TIME CEO Jessica Sibley. “We are excited to keep this tradition of applauding these community contributions together with our partners at Ally.”
Doug Timmerman, president of dealer financial services, Ally, said, “Auto dealers nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to not only the industry but to their respective communities through volunteerism, sponsorships, and supporting charitable causes, no matter the market climate. Whether their clients are purchasing a first car or upgrading for a growing family, these selected dealers have successfully extended their relationships beyond the showroom and have been steadfast in driving their communities forward.”
Franklin was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Lea Kirschner, president and CEO of the Georgia Automobile Dealers Association. His wife’s name is Lorie.