The story of William F Pickard: How to build a $500 million company after early failures

BY Preta Peace Namasaba January 29, 2024 6:10 AM EDT
William F. Pickard. Photo credit: NBMBAA

Having grown up in Michigan, a state built by America’s automotive ingenuity, it is only fair that William F. Pickard made his fortune in the industry. He went into that world because of his parents who worked on the assembly line at General Motors. Pickard has since put together the $500 million Global Automotive Alliance where he serves as Executive Chairman.

Young Pickard struggled with schoolwork but was able to reach his potential with the encouragement of an English teacher. He credits this teacher as his first mentor and the person who introduced him to the importance of helping others. Pickard earned both his bachelor’s from the Western Michigan University and master’s degree from the the University of Michigan. Subsequently, he obtained a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in 1971.

He began his career as the director of education at the Cleveland Urban League in 1965 and served as executive director two years later. He held several professorial positions at institutions in southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio. Pickard decided to leverage his business and investment skills and embarked on a precarious entrepreneurial journey.

In 1971, Pickard purchased his first McDonald’s franchise in the Detroit area, expanding to own several franchises. As part of an ownership drive, he purchased Regal Plastics Company which specialized in producing plastic moldings used in automobile parts. He then took over as president of the newly founded Bearwood Management Company in 1987.

His business endeavors and bevy of acquisitions earned Pickard a reputation and he was appointed as the first Chairman of the African Development Foundation which was established under President Ronald Reagan. He would also be appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Trade Policy by President George H.W. Bush.

All this while, Pickard had been investing in car dealerships, albeit unsuccessfully. But a lunch with Henry Ford II changed the trajectory of Pickard’s fortunes. Pickard took the advice of the preeminent automotive mogul on the need for Black suppliers and consequently, Pickard switched to the automotive supply industry.

The results of the switch was Pickard’s partnership with automobile interior parts maker Grupo Antolin Primera on one hand, and the founding of ARD Logistics on the other. ARD specializes in assembly, freight and logistics services for multinational firms. Additionally, he helped create Vitec LLC in 1999, to provide logistics services to municipal vehicle fleets.

He also became an investor with MGM Grand, Inc. for the construction of a Detroit casino. When Pickard gained 51 percent ownership of the six firms where he was involved, he consolidated his investments under the name Global Automotive Alliance (GAA). There are now three firms under the GAA belt, all with business in manufacturing and supply chain management.

By 2004, the Global Automotive Alliance was employing over 1200 people and had sales of $235 million. GAA has since generated more than $5 billion dollars in sales and has expanded to eight plants in the U.S. and Canada since its founding. It serves prominent corporations such as Boeing, Mercedes Benz, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Delphi, Starbucks, and Home, among others.

Pickard has continued with his acquisitions and investment in diverse ventures. He was part of a group that funded Real Times Media, LLC and purchased The Chicago Defender and other Black-owned newspapers. He also became the director of Asset Acceptance Capitol Corporation in 2004 and currently serves as Co-Managing Partner, MGM Grand Detroit Casino and CEO, Bearwood Management Company.

Presently, Pickard is developing a new generation of entrepreneurs and has authored a book that offers insight into building a culture of excellence.

He was awarded Michiganian of the Year for his business success, civic leadership and philanthropy in 2001. In terms of his philanthropic endeavors, Pickard has donated over $1 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC and over $3 million to Western Michigan University.