Gregory Jackson was the first Black auto dealer to surpass the billion-dollar revenue mark and he wants his family to carry on the success

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 27, 2024 6:08 AM EDT
Gregory Jackson. Photo credit: Prestige Automotive Group

Gregory Jackson was looking for a new venture as after falling out of love with his cookie business. He entered the General Motors Minority Training Leadership Academy armed with the skills and funding to seek a new entrepreneurial challenge within the automobile industry. Powered by mentorship and a loan, he launched the Prestige Automotive Group and purchased his first dealership in 1993. It quickly grew and Jackson became the first African American auto dealer to generate $1 billion in annual revenues.

Jackson began his entrepreneurial career as a child, delivering newspapers door-to-door for the Detroit Free Press. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Morris Brown College in Atlanta and a master’s degree in finance and marketing from Atlanta University’s Graduate School of Business. After graduation, Jackson worked for the tax and consulting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co. He then became controller of Stroh’s Transportation, a division of the former Stroh’s Brewery Company. Jackson decided to launch a gourmet cookie venture called Kastellton Company while at Stroh’s.

“I have been on an entrepreneurial track since I was 10 years old. I was the kid in the neighborhood who was always working.  Whatever odd job was out there, I was that kid to do it. The people who were my heroes in my neighborhood were the people who owned businesses. They were the ones I idolized growing up.  They talked a different talk, one of independence, and I was attracted to that type of talk,” Jackson said of how he was inspired to pursue entrepreneurship.

Alongside his business partner, Jackson grew the Kastellton Company into eight cookie stores inside malls and department stores in and around Detroit. The business had a factory where it manufactured cookie dough for J.L. Hudson’s Department Stores. He was one of the first African-Americans to have a concession selling cookies at Detroit Metro Airport. However, the public became more health-conscious and less interested in pricey treats prompting Jackson to restrategize.

He entered the GM Minority Dealer Training program where he learned skills necessary to thrive in the automobile industry. Jackson then learned the business by working for several dealerships in a wide array of jobs. With money from the mentorship program and his life savings, he was able to purchase his first dealership in 1993. Although GM gave him up to seven years to pay off the loan, Jackson paid it off in seven months by putting every extra penny toward loan payments.

Once Jackson took control of the dealership, he increased sales and doubled profits in the first year of operations. The success of his first dealership provided the necessary capital to secure the next one. He added a second dealership two years later and began a buying spree spanning 12 years. Jackson’s hard work and dedication to quality service allowed him to purchase 18 dealerships and 28 franchises over the years.

In 2005, Prestige Automotive Group grossed $1.67 billion and had profits of over $1 billion for about a decade. Jackson became the first African American auto dealer and owner of the fourth Black-owned company to generate $1 billion in annual revenues. Jackson credits his business success to providing customers with personalized attention, hiring the right people, willingness to learn, and an affinity toward work. Prestige Automotive Group currently owns two dealerships and generates around $400 million in annual sales.

In addition to selling cars, Jackson has joint business ventures in Beijing and Wuhu, China, independently producing tea-based beverages and organic milk. He has established Michigan-based Jackson Asset Management to house his holdings. The Jackson Land Holding LLC team oversees the construction, development, and ongoing maintenance of real estate and apartment and commercial complexes in Detroit and Florida and notably owns the storied Lafayette Towers in downtown Detroit. His Wink Entertainment owns and manages The Copper Ridge Golf Course in Davison, Michigan, one of only a handful of golf courses in America owned and operated by African-Americans.

Jackson is now focused on creating a succession plan. He is guiding Prestige through a stabilization period, strengthening the management team and preparing his family members to be future leaders of the company. As he arranges to hand over leadership, Jackson is making his successors aware of the challenges and opportunities the retail automobile industry presents.

“I have several nieces and nephews, in addition to my children, who have expressed an interest in the business and are already working here in some capacity. They are all college students right now. I’m hoping that four or five of them actually decide to come into the business. A lot of my efforts are geared around how I prepare my daughter and son. I see my nieces and nephews as future dealers, future chief financial officers, and future vice presidents. But they all will have to earn it,” Jackson said of his succession plan for Prestige Automotive Group.