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Steve Landers is a businessman and philanthropist from Benton (Saline County) who founded Arkansas’s largest chain of automotive dealerships. In 2004, Landers Auto Sales, Inc., had the highest reported revenue among car dealers in the state according to business analysts Dun & Bradstreet.
Steve Landers was born in Benton on September 23, 1953, to Bob and Bonnie Landers. He has two brothers. Reportedly, when Landers was five years old, he would walk to the Benton Courier office to buy newspapers using his allowance; he bought them for three cents each and then sold them on the street for five cents each. As a young man, he attended livestock and automotive auctions with his maternal step-grandfather, who taught him the art of buying, trading, and selling for profit. At the age of twelve, Landers began working at a gas station in Benton, and by the time he was fourteen, he was washing cars at a local Oldsmobile dealership, earning $1.00 an hour; he also washed dishes at a local restaurant.
In 1970, Landers was working at a hardware store in Benton. That year, he got engaged to his longtime girlfriend, Sandra Lynn (Sandy) McMahan, and obtained a permit to sell cars at a dealership in Little Rock (Pulaski County). He was one of eleven new salesmen hired that year. After two months, he was the only one left. In 1971, Landers graduated from Benton High School. However, because his grades were so low, he was given a “blank” diploma and forced to attend summer school.
Landers married Sandy McHahan on July 12, 1972; the Landerses had two sons.
Also in 1972, Landers took a substantial pay cut when he went to work at a dealership where his father was working, for a salary of $300 a week. After a year learning from his father, Landers traded his salary for a commission-based income. When he sold enough cars to earn a $300 check, matching his former salary, the general manager refused to pay him. In protest, Steve and Bob Landers decided to quit and start their own business. Together, they founded what became Landers Auto Group. The first Landers dealership opened in Benton in 1972. Steve and Bob Landers were the only employees for the first three years; Landers handled both sales and purchasing, while his father handled the books and operations of the store.
In 1977, John Landers, Steve’s cousin, partnered with him and his father at the dealership. John had been president of Colonial Bakery in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. John handled the books, while Steve and Bob sold cars. By 1989, the business’s reputation had grown to such an extent that automotive giant Chrysler sent a representative to Landers in Benton. The meeting resulted in their first official franchise, which opened on Military Avenue in Benton. That location soon sold more Jeeps than any other dealership in the state.
By the early 1990s, Landers Auto Group included three separate dealerships selling six different brands of automobiles. The company was named the number-one Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealer by the Chrysler Corporation in 1993, 1995, and 1996. In 1995, the Landers Auto Group was sold to the United Auto Group (UAG) for $40 million.
In 1998, Roger Penske purchased the United Auto Group and offered to make Steve Landers president of the south-central U.S. region. Landers accepted and began reporting directly to Penske, being in charge of operations and acquisitions in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, and Louisiana in addition to every UAG Chrysler dealership in the United States and Puerto Rico. In August 2003, he stepped down as president of the division and later purchased a Toyota dealership from Penske.
In 2005, Landers Auto Group partnered with Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, formerly of North Point Auto Group in Little Rock. Under the new Landers-McLarty banner, Landers authorized the purchase of another twenty dealerships. One of them was a Ford dealership located in northwestern Arkansas that also sold motor homes. After Hurricane Katrina struck that year, Landers sold motor homes to displaced families.
Landers is CEO of the Steve Landers Auto Group, which includes all dealerships under the Landers name in Arkansas. He also has a partial interest in McClarty Automotive. In addition to his automotive dealerships, he is involved in the horse-racing community. In 2016, he was appointed to the Arkansas Racing Commission. Once a week during football season each year, KATV’s sports staff selects a student athlete to receive the Landers Award and scholarship, which is given to a high school athlete for exemplifying “the spirit of courage and dedication that all student athletes must master to be the best in the State.” The Steve Landers Family Foundation also funds various charitable works throughout Arkansas.
For additional information:
Vision, Donald James. Steve Landers: Master Dealmaker. N.p.: 2016.
Cody Lynn Berry
Last Updated 10/13/2017
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