Leadership can sometimes be lonely and many times not very rewarding. Not everyone is a leader and most people don't want to lead.
Leadership is an acquired trait, but some come by it naturally; others develop it through experiences, both good and bad.
In the business world, leadership has morphed into a benevolent dictatorship. Chief executive officers demand a certain allegiance their ideas while having an inclination to be good and kindly to subordinates.
I learned early on what makes up the qualities of true leaders. I've had the privilege of working with exceptional leaders in my business world. The first names that come to mind are former vice presidents of manufacturing for the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, Walt Rudder and Colley Gilchrist. Both men were excellent examples of strength, integrity and knowledge.
When I first started working for The Chrysler Corporation, I reported to the vice president of manufacturing, Richard E. Dauch. If I could choose one man as a leader extraordinaire, it would have been Dick. If he was the leader, I would take on any situation.
Then there was Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler. Lee saved Chrysler with his leadership abilities and his extraordinary people skills. I will always remember these incredible men and what they meant to an insignificant boy from the streets of East Gadsden, Alabama.
I thought I had passed the day when I would recognize leadership or even have the opportunity. Since retiring from Chrysler, I have had little incentive to evaluate people for certain responsibilities. But I met Ronnie Watkins, owner of Ronnie Watkins Ford, formally and then over lunch one day. I was immediately impressed by his powerful portfolio.
Watkins, president of Ronnie Watkins Ford in Gadsden, was named Alabama's 2020 TIME Dealer of the year. He also serves as the Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama District 4 director.
The announcement his award stated, "The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the industry's most prestigious and highly coveted honors. Recipients are among the nation's most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. ..."
Watkins began his career in the automotive industry in the very competitive Birmingham market. He first sold Pontiacs and held other selling jobs that eventually led him to Edwards Chevrolet in 1983, where he spent 15 years.
He stated that in 1998, he took a fateful leap and cashed out his savings and retirement fund to move his family to Gadsden and establish Ronnie Watkins Ford, all with the blessing of his wife, Lynn. He further said, "My wife reminded me of my dream and sacrificed security so that I could follow it. While I had the drive and desire to succeed as a dealer, I credit Lynn with making it a reality."
Watkins' accomplishments do not stop at the doors to his dealership. He is very active in community efforts like his work with the Gadsden Housing Authority's program Encouraging Students to Exhibit Excellent Minds. In addition, he has served on Samford University's board of trustees since 2001.
He also strongly supports United Way of Etowah County, Etowah County Sheriff's Rodeo, Etowah County Teacher of the Year, Salvation Army, the Boy Scouts of America Greater Alabama Council and Gadsden-Etowah Head Start. He was instrumental in bringing the Hall of Honor and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Traveling Exhibit, sponsored by the Gadsden-Etowah Patriots Association, to Gadsden.
For his Gadsden and Etowah County philanthropic community awareness, Watkins has received the prestigious Ford Motor Company honor that recognizes dealers who dedicate their time and resources to improve their communities.
Ronnie Watkins is a true leader in every sense of the word. His credentials are impeccable. He would be excellent in any position he decided to hold, whether it be business, political or otherwise. He loves Gadsden. I wonder just how much? (Just thinking.)
John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions reflected are his own.
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: An example of leadership in Gadsden