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Northwood vests esteemed auto group owner with honorary degree

May 14, 2024

The CEO and owner of Feldman Auto Group is the newest inductee of the Northwood University Gallery of Distinction.

Jay S. Feldman of Feldman Auto Group — a leading automotive enterprise with 19 dealerships in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana — was bestowed an honorary doctorate Saturday during one of two commencement ceremonies Northwood University held to honor 530 graduates.

The honorary doctorate is Northwood University’s highest award for an individual who has meaningfully contributed to society. Feldman joins the ranks of the other exceptional men and women Northwood has vested with honorary degrees over the past 60 years in the Northwood University Gallery of Distinction.

In a packed Riepma Arena Saturday, Feldman used his keynote to share his journey, starting when he was a failing, underperforming K-12 student.

“I hated school, and my performance showed it,” he said. “I was bored, and I was failing.”

At age 15, he enrolled in an alternative school. Thanks to illuminating tests, a supportive principal, extra tutoring, and confidence, Feldman turned things around academically — he even skipped the eleventh grade.

He decided to attend Northwood University because of its automotive programs. His father was an automotive dealer, and Feldman knew he had a huge passion for the car business. At Northwood, Feldman excelled thanks to great professors, friends, and an outstanding curriculum. He graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1992. Following graduation, Feldman further honed his expertise by completing his studies at the NADA Dealer Academy. He then joined Feldman dealerships full-time in 1993. He has since demonstrated an exemplary trajectory of professional growth, rising to the rank of dealer operator of Jay Chevrolet in 1996. In 2008, he founded Feldman Automotive Inc. Under his leadership, the group has thrived financially, maintained robust relationships with manufacturers, and achieved high customer satisfaction.

Feldman’s proven performance led to his dealerships being designated as open points in New Hudson by Chevrolet and Hyundai, which opened in 2005 and 2009, respectively. Under his stewardship, the group has expanded its operations to include several new dealerships, notably introducing his first Ford franchise, Feldman Ford of Detroit.

In 2018, Jay forged a new partnership with actor Mark Wahlberg, co-owning six dealerships, including Airstream, in Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio. Most recently, in 2023, Feldman Auto Group expanded further by opening a new dealership in Muncie, Indiana.

His success was not without its challenges, including the 2008 financial crisis, the 2020 COVID pandemic, and the ongoing electrification of the automotive industry. Current challenges include middle-class buyers’ affordability, high inflation, and overregulation.

But he urged graduates not to view things despairingly.

“Never assume something that is hopelessly broken is beyond repair,” he said, noting that many of the Feldman Auto Group’s acquisitions included broken dealerships that were bought and turned around.

Other advice imparted during Feldman’s keynote included:

• “Look for opportunities in unexpected places.”

• “Do something every day that scares you … that’s how you will become more confident in your ability to take risks.”

• “Fail once in a while — you’ll learn something.”

• “No one can love what you do more than you, and if you love it, the money will follow.”

• Follow up with people you meet — send thank-you notes and emails. You never know when you’ll meet someone who will have a profound effect on your life.”

• Read “Traction: Get a Grip on your Business” by Gino Wickman.

Lastly, Feldman encouraged graduates to give back to their communities.

“By giving back, you’ll feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and purpose,” he stated.

Feldman’s generosity, time, and talents include serving as a board member of Tunnel to Towers in New York. He is integral to the Feldman Automotive Children’s Miracle Celebrity Invitational, hosted by the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation in Detroit, which has raised over $6 million for the Children’s Miracle Network.

Dr. Kristin Stehouwer, academic vice president and provost, described Feldman as a leader, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and champion for freedom.

“He embodies the values of his alma mater,” Stehouwer added.

In closing, Feldman expressed gratitude to Northwood University for the honorary doctorate, an exceptional education, lasting friendships, and important mentors.

“I’m proud to congratulate the Northwood Class of 2024,” he concluded.

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