As a young girl during a time when most women pursued careers such as homemakers, school teachers, and nurses, Jeanne Grubbs had already decided she wanted to own her own business. Following her father’s encouragement and having the support of her husband and lifetime business partner, her childhood dream – and unwavering determination – enabled her to achieve her goals and become a legendary automobile dealer. March is National Women’s History Month, with the theme “Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business,” and Edgemere, an SQLC community, recognizes resident Jeanne Grubbs who, among many accomplishments, became Nissan’s first female new auto dealer in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area – thus also making her one of America’s first female dealers.
“My father took me to his office where he did bookwork every Saturday, and I was a very curious child,” said Jeanne, who was raised in East Dallas. “One time, I sat in the company president’s chair and told my father I wanted to own and manage my own business. He replied, ‘You can do anything that you set your heart to, but do your best – and you must love what you do.’”
Most young men were taken aback when Jeanne told them she intended to pursue a business career, but then she met George Grubbs when they were students at Southern Methodist University. When her future husband discovered Jeanne aspired to be a business owner, he replied, “I think that’s wonderful. That’s what I want to do. We’ll make a great team.”
After dating for a year and a half, Jeanne and George married in 1949, marking the beginning of a strong marriage and a very successful business partnership. With the goal of owning a new car dealership in the Dallas area, they began by selling used cars in Dallas from 1949 to 1956 – first from their apartment, then from 15 spaces rented on a used car lot, and later on a lot they rented on Ross Avenue. But to open a new car dealership required a lot of capital and, on the advice of one of George’s professors at SMU, they moved to Roswell, N.M., in 1956. Living in a trailer home on the back of their used car lot, George and Jeanne ran the business together and saved, waiting for the right opportunity. Jeanne said, “My husband pushed me forward, making sure I knew everything. George always told me I could do anything he could do. He would go to Dallas to buy cars, and I would run the car lot myself. He was a great partner and teacher.” By day they sold cars, but those days were long. George washed cars early in the morning and polished them at night. Their young son, George Jr., also pitched in, already learning the ropes, too. It was truly a family business.
The Grubbs reached their goal of owning a new car dealership when, in 1965, they got the opportunity to buy a Volkswagen dealership in Roswell. But they also yearned to return to Texas and be closer to family in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, and thus they seized the opportunity in 1968 to buy a Volkswagen dealership in Waco from a retiring owner. While in Waco, encouraged by her husband and mentored by a Baylor University professor and friend, Jeanne honed her skills in management, including recognizing potential in people others might pass over and coaching many of them on to lead very successful careers. In 1971, son George Jr. was fresh out of college and was selected to open a dealership in Corpus Christi.
In 1977, the Grubbs family reached their ultimate goal – to own an automobile dealership in the Dallas/Fort Worth area – when they were awarded a Datsun (now Nissan) dealership in Bedford. George Sr. and George Jr. sold their respective dealerships, becoming partners. By this time, younger son Eric was a high school student washing cars and performing other chores during summers. Later, after graduating from SMU, Eric joined the family business full time. The family was now united, living in the same area and working together.
Although Jeanne had already achieved her childhood goal of business ownership, the pinnacle of her own personal career growth occurred in the early 1980s when she applied for and was appointed as dealer of the Nissan store in Bedford which the family already owned. Jeanne said, “You can own a dealership and hire a qualified, top manager, but becoming an operating dealer – the highest management position in the dealership – requires the manufacturer’s approval. When the family was opening other new dealerships, I applied for the Nissan dealer position. I could hardly wait to go to work. They had high standards and watched me closely. After a short time of proving myself, I was approved. Nissan told me I was the first woman dealer in the Dallas/Fort Worth area they had appointed.”
Jeanne and George always said they would work in the business as long as they could do so together, which lasted until he became ill in 2002. After caring for him for several years at home, Jeanne’s sons encouraged her to move to Edgemere in independent living and her husband moved to skilled nursing at The Plaza, the community’s health services neighborhood. Jeanne was at George’s side from early morning until late at night, and she actively did all she could to care for him with help from Edgemere’s team. With Jeanne faithfully at his side, George Grubbs Sr. passed away in 2012. They were partners in life and in business for 62 years.
With sons Eric, George Jr. and grandson George III now at the helm, today the customer-focused business includes Grubbs Nissan on Airport Freeway in Bedford, which was the original Datsun dealership, as well as Grubbs Infiniti on State Highway 114 in Grapevine, the largest Infiniti dealership in the United States. Although retired from the automobile business, Jeanne admits she still keeps tabs on the business.
“With my father, my husband, and now my sons and other family members in the business, I’ve been very blessed. I give my mother credit for teaching me the rewards of hard work, discipline and the Bible. I loved what I did and looked forward to going to work every morning,” said Jeanne, whose large family includes five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. “After George became ill, I was further blessed by my long-time church family at Prestonwood Baptist Church, as well as the excellent care by the staff at Edgemere to my husband and me. These were blessings for me during a difficult time with my husband’s illness. After George passed, I had to turn a new chapter in my life. I decided Edgemere is my home and where I want to be. I’ve made many new friends here. This is a most wonderful place to live.”
“Without question, Jeanne Grubbs must be at the top of any list of accomplished business women in Texas,” said Luis Argote, executive director of Edgemere. “The ideals upon which she and her husband managed their automobile dealerships are exactly in line with our guiding principles at Edgemere, which include providing extraordinary service, being attentive to every detail and hiring and developing great talent. I have no doubt whatsoever that Jeanne Grubbs can successfully run any business, right now, if she wants to do so.”