WINTER PARK, Fla. (FNN NEWS) – “U.S. Marine,” the man who owns Sutherlin Nissan, pretty much started with nothing and turned it into the American dream. The bartender-turned-Florida auto industry mogul recently sat down with Florida National News and shared his story. And let me tell you, it’s not what you might expect.
A few years back, my friend and I walked down Park Avenue in Winter Park, Florida, and saw this beautiful red Ferrari. We start posing for pics like we owned it. From afar, I heard a man say, “Hey, do you need the keys?” That was U.S. Marine. A few years later I learned that his wasn’t your typical success story. This is a man that cared more about his daughter than life itself and yet had a wonderful spirit and passion for his community.
Marine describes working for a chain restaurant in Tampa years ago. “I was a bartender. Everyday after lunch the sales team of a local car dealership would come in after work for Happy Hour.” The sales team, liking his personality, would often recruit him to join them. “I enjoyed meeting new people and hearing their life stories. I really wasn’t ready to make a career change.”
But then life changed and Marine realized it was time to grow up and start a life with more meaning. “I decided to give car sales a try. My first month in car sales, I was salesman of the month and made triple what I was making as a bartender,” says Marine. I guess you could say he caught the bug. He continued, “I got so excited about the car business I worked every day for nine months straight. My work ethic allowed me to advance and my goal became clear…to own my own car dealership.”
Marine was certainly on his way. By the time he was 28 years old, he was General Manager of the dealership he started in and was running two more in Naples, Florida. This is where the story gets even more inspiring.
Marine eventually put his feelers out that he was looking to purchase his own dealership–a big move for someone relatively new in the car business and a former service industry employee. “The opportunity to purchase an underperforming story in Orlando came up and I partnered with George Sutherlin and opened Sutherlin Nissan Orlando,” says Marine.
But it gets better. “We quickly took the store from selling on average fifty cars a month to over six hundred cars per month,” he humbly explained. Nissan Corporate quickly took notice of the team’s Orlando success and elevated Sutherlin Nissan to preferred dealer status, allowing them to purchase not one, but two additional underperforming stores on the East Coast of Florida in Vero Beach and Ft. Pierce. They quickly turned those stores around as well.
While U.S. Marine has notable success in the car industry, it’s his 11-year-old daughter Sydney that is his center of attention. “She is the most important person in my life. I definitely spoil her, but she is also a little girl boss and is smart beyond her years,” Marine shared. Will Sydney one day take over the family business? “Sydney loves spending time with me at work and is fascinated by the car business and loves to watch her daddy at work,” he explained.
Looks like we could have future car dealership owner in the future.
When U.S. Marine purchased the land for his East Orlando location, he got an interesting surprise. The land was occupied by nesting turtles and he learned the investment involved in relocating their nest to a new habitat. “I may not have liked the cost, but I knew what I had to do,” says Marine. In the same fashion, when a family of ducks recently showed up at the dealership, he took action. His care for the ducks, documented on his social media pages, soon garnered national attention. “I couldn’t just ignore them. What type of example would that be for my daughter?” says Marine. The ducks, and his clear and apparent love of nature, are things we can all take a lesson from.
So what does this highly successful businessman and father do to relax? “When I’m not working you will probably find me somewhere on the water. I love anything water-related including wake surfing, paddle boarding and jet skiing,” says U.S. Marine. Interestingly enough, if you want to catch up with him, your best day is Wednesday, most likely in Winter Park. “I work hard. I play hard. I love our community. I love our country. I love being a father. What else could I ask for?”
Add all this to a man that truly gives back and you’ve got a local hero. Who knows what the future holds for U.S. Marine, but one thing’s for sure: he’s far from done with his life mission.
Sutherlin Nissan is located at 8125 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando, FL 32817.
Community activist and radio host Randy Ross is a contributor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org