Pub. 61 2020-2021 Issue 4


Annette Sykora – Industry Leader, Family Dealership Icon

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This story appears in the
Dealers’ Choice Magazine – Pub. 61 2020-2021 Issue 4

Twenty-five years ago, when the consolidation of franchised automobile dealerships was running rampant throughout the country, many industry ‘experts’ predicted the demise of family-owned car dealerships.

Publicly held dealerships, Wall Street investors, the family office concept, etc., were to be the wave of the future with family-owned stores, principally those in rural Texas, left to be roadkill. Well, none of that happened, and Texas family-owned dealerships have thrived during these nearly three decades since the first stores went public. In fact, over half of the Texas locations with franchised new vehicle dealerships are in towns with less than 15,000 population.

Rural dealerships are essential to farm and ranch country, to our oil and gas infrastructure, and to the millions of Texans outside our cities who would be abandoned without franchised dealers upon whom they depend to get to work, to school, to the doctor, to visit their families and to worship.

One family that reflects this service to Texas is the Sykora family of Levelland, Slaton, Plainview, and West.

Franchised dealers are like George Bailey in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. You can’t imagine what would have happened in the 300 cities and towns of our state if franchised dealers had not been part of the bedrock of those communities, providing jobs, tax revenue, transportation, and support for every essential institution in those markets.

Certainly, Levelland, Slaton, West and now Plainview, Texas would be very different places without the leadership and support of the Smith and then Sykora families.
In 1951, Bill H. Smith moved his family to Slaton, Texas, and started Slaton Motor Company. Smith had previously worked for Ford and quickly fell in love with the car business. He had the charisma of a true salesman, and the Slaton Motor Company was a success!

By 1965, Bill’s son, Steve Smith, was actively involved in the store. In 1966 the father and son moved from their original downtown location to 1700 W. Division and renamed the family business “Smith Ford.” The Slaton store remains at this address today.
In 1982, Steve’s daughter, Annette began working full-time at Smith Ford and in 1989, she became the General Manager. Meanwhile, in the small town of West, Texas, Patrick Sykora was earning his stripes at the family dealership, Sykora Family Ford. In 1997, Annette and Pat were married and became partners in the Slaton dealership.

The year 1999 brought expansion to two locations, Slaton and Levelland. The name was changed to “Smith South Plains” to reflect the family business which would now serve a large part of the south plains area. Both locations are open today with full operations in Levelland and used car sales and service in Slaton. Pat and Annette still take an active role in the business as owners/operators.

To further expand their footprint in the Texas high plains, the family will soon open a new Ford dealership in Plainview. The family atmosphere lives on as three of their five children and one son-in-law have joined the business and are actively involved in operating the dealerships. Daughter Nicole Campbell came to work in the Levelland store upon graduation from Texas Tech University. Today she is the Marketing and Business Development Director for all three dealerships, and her husband, Tell, is the Fixed Operations Director in Levelland. The youngest of the five children, Ryan Sykora, is a student at Texas Tech and works at the Slaton dealership while he finishes his degree. Son Holden Sykora will be the General Sales Manager of the Plainview dealership when it opens in August.

When you have been in business in the same area for almost 70 years, franchised dealers like the Smiths and Sikora’s have contributed countless hours and dollars supporting towns and institutions throughout their markets. But beyond that, Annette Sykora decided 22 years ago to become materially active in the leadership of NADA. At the encouragement of her mentor, industry giant Sam Pack, Annette stood for election for the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Board of Directors in 1999. Winning easily, Annette began an extraordinary journey through the chain of command at NADA that continues today. Her leadership was recognized at the national level with several key committee appointments, including the esteemed NADA Executive Committee, which eventually led to the NADA Board electing Annette to the chairmanship in 2008.

In that position, Annette traveled the world representing 18,000 franchised new vehicle dealers throughout the country. Among her many stops along the way, Annette presented a significant check to New Orleans Saints’ quarterback and fellow Texan, Drew Brees, on behalf of NADA for Hurricane Katrina relief. She shared the NADA stage with two U.S. presidents and addressed the NADA memberships on numerous occasions, reporting on the affairs of NADA and the industry. Most significantly, Annette Sykora has been the only chairman of NADA to be front and center representing all franchised dealers in the bankruptcy hearings of the House Financial Services Committee. Her efforts and those of others eventually resulted in a federal bailout that preserved thousands of jobs and saved the automobile industry in this country. The government loans were soon repaid, and the industry is sound and solvent again today.

Former NADA President Peter Welch has this to say about Annette Sykora and her leadership of the national association: “Every dealer I know has a great sense of community and embraces their community as part and parcel of their business. The thing that is extraordinary about Annette is that the entire country is her community. She has worked tirelessly through NADA to improve not only the substance and image of dealers, but also a multitude of communities in which they operate. Through her chairmanship of the NADA Foundation, countless dealership employees who have been the beneficiaries of the Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund have found a friend in Annette during their time of desperate need. Her compassion, energy and dedication are unparalleled.”

From the cotton fields of the Texas panhandle to the halls of Congress, Annette Sykora has made a difference for franchised dealers across the nation. She continues today as Chairwoman of the NADA Charitable Foundation and reflects the remarkable stewardship of every Texas franchised dealer in caring for their fellow man.

Annette and Pat Sykora say it best as they relate the mission of their organization:

“When we peel back the layers of what our company stands for – we just keep finding “family” at the heart of it all. Above all the givens (top-notch quality, convenient service, etc.), when it comes down to it, we’re just families serving families.

“This dealership is a tried-and-true, four-generations-deep, family business. But beyond our literal family, we hire with a family mindset which means our entire team is welcomed into the fold. Then, at the end of the day, we each go home to our own families, knowing we gave it our all to support them best.

“To tie it all together, these layers of family really have one goal in mind. We want you safe on the road with peace of mind knowing we’re always here to serve you. So, what’s our vision? Families serving families. Simple as that.”