PERSONAL JOURNEY: Businesswoman to be recognized for service to others

Jenell Ross to be honored at Centerville-Washington Foundation Founder Event.

When Jenell Ross of Centerville was growing up, she was surrounded by cars. Her father, Robert P. Ross, Sr. was chosen to participate in General Motors’ first Minority Dealer Academy in 1974 and was approved to own an automobile dealer after graduating. He ended up being the first African American to own an International Harvester franchise and a Mercedes-Benz dealer.

Like her father, Ross started working at the dealership as a teenager and not only learned about selling cars, but also about the importance of community service, which both her parents believed was “part of the car business.”

On Oct. 6, the Centerville-Washington Foundation will honor Ross with its Founders Award. The foundation has a goal of “helping people, helping our community,” and is honoring Ross for “exemplifying community services to others.”

“My grandparents were very involved in civil rights and fundraising in Richmond, Indiana,” Ross said. “And my parents had specific charities they supported. Remaining involved in the community honors my parents.”

After her father passed away in 1997, Ross took over leadership of the Bob Ross Auto Group, which includes the Centerville based Mercedes-Benz and Bob Ross Buick GMC dealers. Ross’ mother, Norma J. Ross and her brother, Robert Ross, Jr. worked with her to continue her father’s legacy in Dayton.

“I always wanted to go into the car dealership but didn’t think it would happen so quickly,” Ross said. “My dad’s death was sudden, and he was only 62 years old.”

Ross, at age 27, had to go to work the day after her father passed and comfort the staff, while reassuring them that the business would keep moving forward.

“I was afraid everyone would quit,” Ross said. “But the opposite happened.”

Several long-term employees helped her learn her way around and taught her about developing relationships, including General Manager Tom Downs. She learned how to bring the team together without coming up with unnecessary mandates.

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“I’m very hands-on and I also allow my managers to manage,” Ross said. “I realized then how most of our management team had extensive knowledge and expertise in automotive retail. One thing that is very important to me is to earn their respect, and for all team members to have respect for one another.”

Ross said she learned a lot from both her parents and said she is grateful to have been able to work directly with them. Norma Ross passed away from breast cancer in in 2010 and Ross took over the role of president of the dealership group at that time. She also wanted to come up with a way to support the breast cancer cause, to honor her mother’s memory.

“My goddaughters came up with ‘Pink Ribbon Driven,’ because we are in the auto business,” Ross said. “And we should all be driven to find a cure for breast cancer.”

Ross calls her work with breast cancer awareness and research her “side job,” and she is driven to raise as much money as she can to find a cure for the disease that took her mother. Pink Ribbon Driven was created for the Norma J. Ross Memorial Foundation and has created merchandise like pins, pullovers, hats and T-shirts that visitors to the dealerships can buy to show their support for breast cancer awareness and research. The campaign has raised $300,000 to support the American Cancer Society and $800,000 for the Norma J. Ross Foundation since its inception.

“Prevention is our major focus now, along with assisting women, especially the underserved,” Ross said.

Though Ross has received numerous awards over the years, she is proudest of those that honor her dedication to serving the Miami Valley community.

“What I like about being involved in automotive retail is working with people,” Ross said. “Buying a car is the second largest purchase for most people, and I don’t take that lightly.”

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The Bob Ross Auto Group is the only dealership in the nation owned by a second-generation African American woman. And Ross loves the day to day of the operation, though like most retailers, Ross’ business has struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had to deal with supply chain issues, creating safety protocol for our team members and setting everyone up to work remotely,” Ross said. “I admit the constant drain of Covid, and supply chain took a toll and I’m ready to get back to normal.”

That includes hosting the “Pink Ribbon Driven” campaign during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October.

As for accolades and awards she has received, Ross said she doesn’t seek recognition and believes she is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing.

“Some folks thought I would fail,” Ross said. “But I’m still successful 25 years after taking over the business. My mother always told me that through adversity and challenges, success is found.”

For more information about the Centerville-Washington Founders event, log on to https://centervillewashingtonfoundation.com

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