Making Automobile History
Asked to recall some of the most memorable times in the 50-year history of Williamson Cadillac Buick GMC, Ed and Carol Williamson certainly have their share of stories, but there is one that stands out.
It was 1992, and the family-owned automotive business had two dealerships at the time: Williamson Cadillac on North Kendall Drive and another in Homestead, where they sold Pontiacs, Mazdas and Cadillacs.
“There was a store next door,” Ed explains. “It was made mostly out of wood. Well, when Hurricane Andrew came through, it came apart. It totaled every Cadillac, every Pontiac, every Mazda and every used car,” Ed says. The entire inventory was totaled. “I should’ve called in a bulldozer and knocked the buildings down and sold the land.” But he didn’t.
So they set up barbecue grills and cooked lunch for employees and their families every day. Carol remembers the truckloads of food, water, diapers and dog food that came from General Motors dealers around the country. “We made a little grocery store out of the showroom,” Carol says, inviting the community in to take whatever they needed. They let insurance companies set up in the showroom and the National Guard took up residence in their parking lot.
It’s the Williamson way.
“There are few true homegrown business and community leaders who are as warm, genuine and extensively involved in the community, in addition to their tremendous generosity, as Ed and Carol Williamson,” former Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner says, adding that the couple rarely says no to sponsoring an event.
The Williamsons believe it’s their duty as “good neighbors.” The couple’s son, Trae, who is a partner in the business and president of Williamson Automotive—and the self-designated CEO, “chief emotional officer”—says running a family business brings responsibility with it.
“The idea is not that we are the big bosses here,” Trae says. “We’re servants to the people who we work with because we want them to be servants to the people who come in the door. And that’s how we behave.”
Carol says it was Trae who coined the company slogan, “Treating you like family has made us No. 1.”
Trae, who is working on an interdisciplinary doctorate in psychology and management at University of Miami, can practice what he preaches to the students enrolled in courses he teaches in management psychology and strategic management at the university’s School of Business Administration.
“I can bring stories from here into the classroom and then bring modern management principles here,” he says.
Trae, who moved back to Miami in 2002 after practicing law in Los Angeles, where he specialized in intellectual property and entertainment law, represents the fourth generation of Williamson in the car business. After a stint as general manager, he decided to split his time between the dealership and the university.
Yet, there are days all three Williamsons are in the building. Ed, the chairman and CEO, jokes the only thing separating Carol, the treasurer and partner, and him is the “executive washroom.” Their second-floor offices are only a few feet away.
“I set up the offices so I can see what he’s doing,” she says jokingly, adding that they’ve been married almost as long as the Williamson family has been in the car business. “It will be 49 years this year,” she says.
Neither of them have plans to retire anytime soon.
When she’s not in the office, which she says is rarely, Carol spends her free time practicing yoga. “Years ago, it was tennis, but I’ve burned out on that,” she says. She enjoys her charity work, serving on numerous boards—including one that is especially important to her. A breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2007, she devotes much of her time to the Patient Family Advisory Council at Baptist Health Breast Center’s Miami Cancer Institute.
Ed plays golf a day or two each week, but, he says, “the dealership is part of my identity and it’s what I know the most about.”
He, too, serves on boards and doesn’t shy away from getting involved in issues he deems important. Lerner calls Ed a strategic partner with Pinecrest, South Miami and the city of Miami. She cites his advocacy in the opposition to Florida Power & Light’s plan to run a power line along U.S. Highway 1. “[He] even attended public hearings to speak out with the rest of the community when few other local businesses had the courage and conviction to do so,” Lerner says.
Ed believes advocacy and philanthropy “is a mindset.” The Williamsons are advocates for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and, in 2007, Carol and Ed received the People for the American Way of Miami’s Guardian of Equality Award for their efforts against discrimination.
Their involvement in the community is constantly evolving. “We don’t just live and work here,” Carol says. “We make a point to be very involved.”
Part of their pride is where they show up to work every day—the current dealership is located on a site important to Miami’s history.
“When Henry Flagler built the Overseas Railroad, he used this property as a staging area. It later became the site of Dadeland Farm and Garden Supply,” Ed says. The property was then bought by the Davidson brothers, who built Davidson Lumber, which was torn down in 1981. They bought the site from Stanley Davidson in 1997 and built the dealership at SW 104th Street and U.S. Highway 1 in 2001.
Ed prides himself on the customer base he’s built, saying, “33156 is a great ZIP code to do business in.”
Celebrating 50 years of Williamsons in the auto business is a tip of the hat to George Williamson Sr., who built Williamson Cadillac on North Kendall Drive across from Dadeland Mall in 1967.
Trae says they have no plans of slowing down. “We’re tripling our footprint,” he says.
In 2014, they bought the A1 Fargo Warehouse immediately north of the current dealership’s location, where they’ve expanded their service department and created more room for inventory.
Ed says being in the car business in Miami for decades has taught him how to operate in the most diverse business community in the world. And he wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Their Favorite Cars
Carol: She drives a midsize Cadillac XT5 crossover, but she really loved her Hummer when Williamson owned a Hummer dealership.
Trae: He drives a Cadillac ATS. “I live in a condo, so I can zip in and out quite easily. As a sustainably oriented person, I have to say I’m excited about what’s happening with the hybrid and plug-in electric movement, and GM is on board with that.”
Ed: “I’m driving the new Cadillac CT6 and it’s the best-riding car I’ve ever had.” His favorite car was the 1962 Pontiac GTO he drove from his dad’s dealership when he was growing up in Lake Wales. “It was a good time for Pontiac,” he says. “They had some good muscle cars.”