Roger Penske is "The Captain"

Roger Penske - Center for Performance Improvement

He turned a loan from his father Into $26 Billion.

He is known for his hands-on approach of visiting his current dealerships, checking in with the mechanics or having coffee with the parts departments.

He knows his business - and he knows people. 

Roger Penske is one of the most impressive leaders in the automotive world. An admitted workaholic, Penske knows his company, his employees, and his potential. 

To understand Roger Penske, it is important to understand his philosophy. Penske states his basic belief in doing what's right for customers, shareholders, and employees:

"My dad told me a long time ago, it's not what's good for you Roger, it's what's good for the company.'" 

While for many this approach would spell risk-aversion, Roger Penske has been known to take risks. Not all of them have spelled success.

"I started buying and selling the cars when I was in high school and had a driver's license. When I went to Lehigh University in Pennsylvania I had a little garage off campus and I think I spent more time in that garage than I did in the classroom. But I think it's paid off."

It has been 51 years since Penske entered a racing team in the 1966 24 Hours of Daytona. Since then, Team Penske drivers have captured 16 Indianapolis 500s, 11 ahead of the next owner. They've won two Daytona 500s, a NASCAR Cup Championship and 29 national titles in all. And Penske, now 80, has translated his racing successes into a template for his diverse business ventures.

To watch Mr. Penske move from the racetrack pits to the corporate boardroom is to see a man transform himself in an instant from army officer to business titan. 

Part of the Penske legend is the executive's ability to operate on four to five hours of sleep a night, often in the seat of a company jet. Once the plane has landed, it's back to work.

Though he is very much in command, his people say he knows exactly when to relinquish control to them. 

"The fact that he was a racecar driver himself makes you know he understands what he's talking about," said Rick Mears, a retired driver who won the Indianapolis 500 four times at the wheel of a Penske car. "He's not one of the owners who says, 'Why aren't you going fast?' He knows the car from the ground up. But he always gives me the ability to make decisions the way I wanted to make them."

As the chairman of Penske Automotive Group, he controls an operation which around the time of the purchase of Transpacific’s commercial vehicle operation had almost 350 retail automotive franchises representing 39 different brands, with the group selling more than 402,000 vehicles (cars and trucks) and generating revenues of $13.2 billion.

His commercial vehicle interests include ownership of Penske Truck Leasing which operates more than 230,000 vehicles servicing customers in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, and is one of the largest purchasers of commercial trucks in North America. Many of those vehicles are Daimler products and his ties with the German giant remain strong.

"When I look at our business, 30 percent of our revenue generates 70 or 80 percent of our gross margin and that comes from service and parts. So when you put it all together, I wouldn’t trade it with anybody. Not at all."

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