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Iconic Auto Dealer and Entrepreneur Dies at 85

November 27, 2012

Cecil Van Tuyl
Cecil Van Tuyl

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Cecil Van Tuyl, founder of the nation's largest privately owned auto dealership group, passed away on Nov. 20 in Kansas City, Mo.

Van Tuyl was born and raised on a small farm in La Cygne, Kan. After enjoying success in the used-car business, he opened his first new car franchise in 1955, a Chevrolet dealership in Kansas City, Mo. This was the beginning of a remarkable career by a visionary leader who had a passion for cars, a rare business acumen and a gift for picking talent.

He became a pioneer in the auto industry by acquiring multiple dealerships and hiring talented managers and making them minority partners in the business. His son, Larry, joined him in 1971 and together their unique partnership model enabled them to grow the Van Tuyl Group into the automotive retail business that it is today. 

Van Tuyl was well known for his Midwestern work ethic, magnetic smile, piercing blue eyes and firm hand shake. Known as simply "Van" to his friends, his business philosophy centered around his passionate belief in the development of people. His well-known mantra, "People, People, People" can still be heard daily in the dealerships. Van Tuyl used to say, "The better people you surround yourself with, the better you are going to do for yourself and for your consumers."

Van Tuyl was married to his wife Ruby for 64 years. He enjoyed time with his children, Paula and Larry, his five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. 

He treasured the special relationship and business partnership he had with his son, Larry. Van Tuyl was quoted as saying, "I could have never, never grown this way had it not been for my son." His son Larry replied, "Honestly, my dad started it. He had all the ideas, he was the people guy and had the vision. All I've tried to do is follow through. I've been really fortunate to be in the same business with my dad and have us get along and respect each other the way we do."

Van also was an avid sportsman who loved hunting, fishing, and the outdoors. He especially enjoyed hosting the annual bird hunts with his partners in Mitchell, S.D. He was able to attend this year's event just weeks ago, a tradition he cherished.

The longtime dealer touched thousands of lives and his sincere interest in mentoring others. "Cecil represented the best of the auto industry … a driven entrepreneurial spirit and a deep desire to assist everyone he knew to succeed. The business lost a great man today," said Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager of Toyota.

"It's not overstating matters to say that Cecil Van Tuyl was a true legend in the world of automotive retailing," said Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America. "From the very day he opened his first store, a Chevrolet franchise, nearly 60 years ago, he was an exemplary dealer and an exemplary human being as well, one who will be dearly missed."             

Alan Mulally, Ford Motor Company president and CEO, shared, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Van Tuyl family. Cecil was a valued member of our One Ford team and we are grateful for his leadership, partnership and friendship."

 

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