Earl Hesterberg ’75


Earl Hesterberg with his prized Ford GT.

Trustee Committee on Audit and Budget


By Meg Kimmel

Ear l Hesterberg ’75, president and CEO of Group I Automotive, lives in Houston, Texas, with his wife, Susan. Their daughter and son-in-law are both Davidson graduates, Jamie Hesterberg Iafrate ’06 and Michael Iafrate ’07.

How did you find Davidson College?
I wanted a school where I could play football at the highest level that offered the best education. But the actual reason I selected Davidson was the people I met here. I came from Cincinnati, Ohio, not exactly unfriendly. But here, everyone was so friendly to me and my parents—everyone spoke to me!

What was it like to be a student athlete?
It’s hard enough to be a student here, but to spend your time in athlet ic ende avor s te s t s you mor e than anything else. I’ve found everything pretty easy after trying to do both at Davidson College. Once I got here and saw how talented all the students were, I thought, wait, the track just got a lot faster—I’m going to have to study quite a bit! Nothing develops young people better than handling both those pursuits.

It is not unusual for Davidson’s student athletes to carry a higher GPA than students who are not athletes. What do you make of that?
I think you have a lot of fear! It keeps you focused and intense. I can remember leaving the practice field late, thinking that the other kids have a four-hour lead on me. Was your daughter an athlete here? Jamie was a high school basketball pl ayer, but she didn’t play basketball here. She was a psych major like me. And when we came for Family Weekend and met he r pr of e s s o r s that first semester, three of them had taught me—Bob Manning, Ed Palmer, and Ben Klein. They remembered me, and I worried that it might not be for positive reasons.

Women arrived in your junior year.
I thought it was odd not to have women here in the first place—it just seemed more normal to me to have them than to not have them. By the time I was visiting my daughter, it was clear to me that women had raised the level of play substantially.

You began your career right after graduation, taking a job with Ford Motor Company.
That was the first job offered me, and I needed a paycheck! I didn’t have a master plan. But Ford paid for my MBA, and by luck, gave me a start in a career I have enjoyed for 36 years.

How was the transition from Davidson to the “real world”?
Challenging! It can be a tougher adjustment for Davidson people to make. Not everyone adheres to an honor code. In our line of work—automotive retailing— there have been historically too many people who lacked ethics. I have made ethics part of our corporate values, and we don’t compromise on that. Now, employees walk up to me to say how proud they are to work for a company with those values.

What excites you about the strategic direction of the college today?
Diversity and a global focus . There’s not just one way of thinking about things, and the sooner our students realize that, the sooner they’ll be able to function in a global society. The eight years I worked overseas were the best of my life. I f inally got my junior year abroad, 25 years later! Businesses r epor t ed to me from every country in Europe, from Iceland to Russia. It was overwhelmingly intense to absorb those cultural differences. To be successful in the future, students need to understand diverse cultures and viewpoint s. I see the push for that at Davidson.

Listen to the complete interview.

Photo Credit: Sam Schultze


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