Chairman of the board and chief executive officer, Penske Corporation and its subsidiary, United Auto Group
Born: February 20, 1937, in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Education: Lehigh University, BA, 1959.
Family: Son of Jay (vice president of metal fabrication company) and Martha (housewife and community volunteer); married Kathryn; children: five.
Career: Alcoa Aluminum, 1959–1963, sales engineer; George McKean Chevrolet, 1963–1965, general manager and, later, owner; 1965–1969, owner of several automobile dealerships, a truck-leasing operation, and two racing-tire distributors; Penske Corporation, 1969–, president and CEO; United Auto Group, 1999–, chairman and CEO.
Awards: Named SCCA Driver of the Year, Sports Illustrated , 1961; named Driver of the Year, New York Times , 1962.
Address: Penske Corporation, 8801 North Haggarty Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48107; United Auto Group, 2555 Telegraph Road, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48302-0954; http://www.penske.com; http://www.unitedauto.com.
■ In 2004 the transportation executive and auto-racing legend Roger S. Penske was the chairman of the board and chief executive officer (CEO) of Penske Corporation, which he founded in 1969. Penske discovered his niche in life early, when, as a teenager, he began refurbishing and racing cars and selling them for profit. Basing his achievement on his stringent guidelines for setting goals, Penske made race-car driving an obsession that eventually earned him a driving record held by only a few talented drivers. After retiring from driving, Penske became one of the most successful and best-known car and track owners in the history of motor sports.
Even from an early age, Penske had a knack for fixing auto mobiles. As a teenager in the 1950s, he would buy "junker" cars, make repairs on them, and sell them at a profit from his parents' home in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Over the next 10 years, Penske raced and sold 32 cars, among them a Chevrolet, Corvette, Jaguar Cooper, Maserati, MG TD, MG TC, Olds mobile, Porsche, and the Zerex Special. The experiences learned from these early ventures became the hallmark for Penske's later successes in the automobile world, both as a race-car driver and as a transportation businessman. Finding early in life what he liked to do, Penske was able to seize on opportunities that led him to legendary status as a race-car driver and, later, helped him accumulate a transportation empire, record setting racing teams, and a successful truck-leasing company.
Almost from the start, racing cars was an obsession for Penske, who first drove at the Akron (Ohio) Speedway. In 1958 he entered his first official race in the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National at Marlboro Motor Raceway in Maryland. After consistently running behind the leader, his car eventually overheated, and Penske had to withdraw from the race. His first win came in 1959 when, driving an F-Modified Porsche RS, he beat the competition at the SCCA Regional at Lime Rock, Connecticut. Unwilling to stay with a proven but older car, Penske bought an RSK and used it later for an SCCA class title.
In the same year as his first racing win, Penske also graduated from Lehigh University with a business degree (industrial management) and went to work as a sales engineer for Alcoa Aluminum. Continuing his racing career, Penske won the F Modified in 1960. In 1961 he bought a Cooper and a Maserati, rebuilt a Cooper-Climax with an aluminum body, persuaded Zerex to sponsor him, and started to race professionally. Penske's first professional win was at Vineland, New Jersey, in a Maserati nicknamed the "Telar Special." He also set a race speed record with his win at Road America. Penske then won three nationals in a row in 1961, the year he became the SCCA National D Modified champion and was named Sports Illustrated 's SCCA Driver of the Year.
In 1962 Penske was named the New York Times Driver of the Year when he became the United States Auto Club champion, driving in Monaco with the Cooper-Climax and in Sebring, Florida, with a Cunningham. In 1963 Penske won the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) Grand National Series race. In 1964 he won five races; two of them were the Nassau Tourist Trophy, when he drove a Chaparral Corvette Grand Sport, and the Nassau Trophy, when he beat Bruce McLaren, A. J. Foyt, and Dan Gurney. The race that established Penske as one of the world's best was the 1964 Governor's Trophy race in the Bahamas, where he confronted Foyt and Wait Hansgen, beating Foyt on the last lap.
Much to the surprise of the racing community, Penske announced in 1965 his retirement as a driver in order to devote all his time to the business component of racing. Penske purchased a Chevrolet dealership in Pennsylvania, where he had been general manager since 1963. As his first dealership grew, Penske branched into other automobile dealerships. In 1969 Penske bought a small truck leasing operation along with two racing-tire distributors. The dealerships, truck leasing operation, and racing-tire distributors formed the foundation for his future business empire. For example, the truck leasing operation Penske bought in the late 1960s was converted to Penske Truck Leasing Company. In 1970 Penske moved to the Detroit area after buying a Chevrolet dealership in the Detroit suburb of Southfield.
During this time, he teamed up with the engineer and driver Mark Donohue, and the pair launched Penske Racing, with Team Penske as their new racing team. Within two years Team Penske won the United States Road Racing Championship with Mark Donohue driving a Lola T70 MKIII chassis with Chevrolet power. In 1972 Penske's team appeared in its first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race, and one year later, it won the first Winston Cup race of their second season.
In 1975 Mark Donohue was killed while practicing for the Austrian Grand Prix Formula One race. Nonetheless, Penske continued to enter cars during the next two years, with the drivers John Watch in 1976 and Tom Sneva in 1977. From 1978 to 1991 Team Penske continued to win races with such drivers as Rick Mears, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, and Danny Sullivan. In fact, between 1977 and 1983 Team Penske won the national points championship in six of the seven seasons. In 1991 Penske teamed up with his driver from 1980, Rusty Wallace. Driving for Penske, Wallace won 37 times, with over half of those wins occurring between 1993 and 1994.
Penske directed one of the best-known and successful organizations in the sports world while breaking most racing records. Penske Racing, which as of the early 2000s held 225 major race titles, maintained records for most race poles (135), wins (110), 500-mile wins (22), Indy Car National Championships (11), Indianapolis 500 poles (11), and Indianapolis 500 wins (11). Penske Racing also has more than 30 victories in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. By this time Penske owned the California Speedway, Michigan Speedway, Nazareth (Pennsylvania) Speedway, and North Carolina Motor Speedway.
As a businessman, Penske owned the private company Penske Corporation, which was the parent of four business groups: Penske Performance, Penske Automotive, Penske Capital Partners, and Penske Transportation Services. As a group, the Penske Corporation was a closely held diversified transportation-services company that directed, through its subsidiaries, a number of businesses, including Penske Truck Leasing, Penske Automotive Group, United Auto Group, Penske Logistics, Penske Capital Partners, Truck-Lite, Davco, Penske Performance, FER, and Penske Racing. Penske actively supervised the Penske Corporation and its subsidiaries, which managed and operated businesses with annual revenues of more than $11 billion and employed 35,000 people at over three thousand worldwide locations.
Penske took on the chairmanship of the board of Penske Truck Leasing in 1982. He developed the global transportation-services provider, which specialized in commercial truckrental operations, so that as of 2004 it had more than 206,000 vehicles serving customers at about one thousand locations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, and Europe. The company, with annual revenues of about $3.4 billion, provided product lines in such areas as full-service leasing, contract maintenance, commercial and consumer rental, integrated logistics services, and supply-chain management.
Penske also directed Penske Automotive, which grew into a company that in the early 2000s operated several car dealerships in Southern California and sold over 44,000 cars, among them, the brand names Toyota, Lexus, Honda, MercedesBenz, Jaguar, and Aston Martin. His Longo Toyota dealership in El Monte, California, became the top-selling Toyota dealership in the United States. He also became the chairman of the board and CEO of the United Auto Group Inc. (UAG) in 1999 and turned the company into the second-largest publicly traded automobile retailer (auto dealer) in the United States (as measured by total revenues). As a member of the Fortune 500, the UAG, under Penske's direction, owned and operated, according to its website, 134 franchises in the United States and 83 franchises internationally, primarily in the United Kingdom but also in Puerto Rico and Brazil. UAG dealerships sold new and used vehicles, operated service and parts departments and collision-repair centers, and sold various aftermarket products and services, including extended service, finance, warranty, and other insurance contracts.
Penske made Penske Logistics into the company that provided logistics and custom-designed supply-chain solutions in order to cut costs, reduce cycle time, improve service, and help integrate technology into the operations of Penske's customers. In addition, Penske Capital Partners was a partnership venture organized by Penske, along with J. P. Morgan Partners, GE Capital, and Aon Corporation, to focus on making strategic acquisitions in the transportation industry.
Truck-Lite, of which Penske was a majority owner, manufactured lighting products, harness systems, and accessories for transportation industry such as safety lights for boats, buses, cars, commercial trucks, construction equipment, and recreational vehicles. Moreover, Penske operated several automotive-related racing businesses through Penske Performance. Its teams held numerous all-time racing records, and Penske Performance, as a company, was the second-largest share holder of International Speedway Corporation, the leading U.S. motor-sports company. Within Penske Performance was Penske Racing, as of the early 2000s the most successful Indy car-racing team in history. Penske was a founder of Penske Racing Inc., along with Penske Racing South Inc.
Penske faced one of his biggest challenges with a timecritical repair job to the city of Detroit, Michigan, in preparation for its hosting of Super Bowl XL at Ford Field on February 5, 2006. Detroit had a deteriorated downtown area with abandoned buildings and was subject to poor building-code enforcement and ineffectual municipal bureaucracy. Bill Ford Jr., chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Company, handpicked Penske to coordinate the massive facelift.
As chairman of the Detroit Super Bowl XL host committee, Penske, who personally pledged to raise $12 million for the event, was coordinating efforts to prepare Detroit for the worldwide event that as of the early 2000s consistently drew 100,000 fans, thousands of sports journalists, 800 million television viewers, and millions of dollars in advertising. With his usual well-organized style, Penske assembled a 41-member committee, identifying downtown problem areas, raising donations, meeting with National Football League officials, and working to gather local support for the event. The Detroit News quoted Bill Ford Jr. as saying of his new chairman, "Penske is the most impressive businessman in the city. Everything he touches works because of his personal drive and because his attention to detail is so exquisite. I just love being around that guy."
A hands-on administrator, Penske recommended a long list of improvements, totaling $100 million, to Kate Beebe, president of the Greater Downtown Partnership. Requiring that only concrete renovations be made to the city in order to initiate long-lasting progress, Penske gathered momentum for the project. The planned upgrade to the city included an offer of loans or matching grants to property owners to renovate their buildings, major replacement of three main roads, installation of new sidewalks, and addition of plush landscaping.
As an example of a renovation already credited to Penske's work, the $146.8 million renovation of the Book-Cadillac Hotel helped put Detroit back in the game in time for the Super Bowl in 2006. The Detroit News quoted Penske's wife, Kathryn, as saying, "Roger and I didn't grow up here, but this is our home now, and we both want to help Detroit succeed. I can tell you he doesn't like to lose, so he's looking to win people over during the Super Bowl and show them Detroit is a great city." With friends and business associates describing him as tenacious, a workaholic, a perfectionist, seemingly tireless, and focused on detail, Penske was not the type of leader simply to lend his name to the event; he actively worked to make Detroit's Super Bowl a success for the state and the city.
See also entry on Penske Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .
King, R. J., "Racing Legend Roger Penske Steers Super Bowl Drive," Detroit News , October 19, 2003.
—William Arthur Atkins