There was no grand design early in life that led Tom Durant to become the #1 Chevrolet and #1 GM dealer in the nation, nor one of the most well known names in Thoroughbred horse racing. It was to a far greater degree, a combination of good-natured sibling rivalry, honesty beyond reproach and a fierce competitiveness that belies Tom's laid back personality. Some know Tom Durant as a man with a keen sense of vision, others simply know Tom as man who has a knack of making the right decisions at the right time, and sticking with them.
The story of the Durant's beginnings in Tarrant County is a humble one. Shortly after the Civil War had ended, a feisty young man by the name of Durant left the state of South Carolina one step ahead of the law and headed for the Wild West. His son, Alfred, later settled in Mitchell's Bend in the lower part of Hood County on the Brazos River. There he married and started his family which eventually grew to nine children. The family was poor and the country was in a grave depression. While out fishing in icy waters of the Brazos, Alfred fell in and later died of pneumonia. Eight year old Julian, the eldest of the nine children, was called upon to provide for the family of ten; forcing an abrupt end to his formal education at only the third grade.
The hardships of rural life in the early part of the 20th century and mounting responsibilities for this young man contributed to a lifelong work ethic for Julian. Not surprisingly, that same work ethic has been passed along for generations.
After serving in WWII, Julian married Opel Maples and they had two small sons, Tom and Jerry. The Durant's provided for themselves by laboring on the construction of pipeline through Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri. They instilled a powerful resolve in their boys, Tom and Jerry, holding steadfast to their primary goal of providing stability and a permanent home for the family. Opel encouraged her sons to compete with one another, and actively urged them to develop their own creative and spirited individuality
In 1951 the family moved back to Texas and settled in the agricultural town of Granbury, where Julian founded the Durant Construction Company. In an effort to make ends meet, the Durant's also opening a wrecking yard business behind the family home. From that wrecking yard, Julian Durant, a man with a third grade education founded the Durant Automobile Business.
In 1960, Julian Durant sought to expand his automobile business. He approached the local Chevrolet dealer, Mr. Durham and proposed buying the dealership. Mr. Durham, who was recovering from a recent heart attack, was ready to sell. Julian Durant bought the business, the building and everything in it. Two months later, officials from Chevrolet showed up. Durant introduced himself as the new owner. The gentlemen from Chevrolet disagreed. "No you're not," they told Mr. Durant, "you have not been approved by General Motors to own a franchise. Mr. Durant was not a man to be easily rebuked. In a matter of a few months, Mr. Durant was approved.
After graduating from Texas Tech in 1972, Julien's son Tom, bought Durant Chevrolet from his father. Sixteen years later, he expanded the business when he purchased a Chevrolet dealership downtown Fort Worth, a space formerly occupied by Century Chevrolet. Tom installed a manager to run the dealership and renamed it Classic Chevrolet.
In 1969 Tom's brother, Jerry Durant had also been approved by Chevrolet to own his own Chevy dealership in Weatherford, Texas, becoming one of the youngest ever to be approved for a Chevrolet franchise.
The two brothers have always been competitive. "I basically got into the car business so I could outrun my brother," Tom dryly admits. According to Tom's brother, he was constantly trying to beat Jerry's numbers, "and I was trying to beat his," says Jerry.
In 1992, Tom looked to Grapevine as a new location for Classic Chevrolet/Geo. "No one was out here except Payton-Wright Ford," explains Tom. But the visionary instinct that has led to much of Tom's success told him to move the dealership to Grapevine. "Chevrolet told me I could build a 2.9 acre, 20,000 square foot facility. Instead, I built a 45,000 square foot facility on 11 acres." By the year 2004, Tom has had six expansions totaling 160,000 square feet and over 40 acres of real estate. "Grapevine gives us a lot of credit for opening up this side of the highway," says Tom. "It wasn't easy; it was at the end of the 1st Iraq War and economic times were tough."
The Mayor of Grapevine could not agree more. Says Mayor William D. Tate, "Classic has created a strong presence in our community becoming a leader not only in the sale of vehicles but also becoming a major supporter of community activities The city of Grapevine is very fortunate to have a businessman like Tom Durant simultaneously rise to become one of the top Chevrolet dealers in the nation and still set the tone as a gracious community leader and staunch supporter of local interests, ideals and moral values. As Mayor of the Grapevine, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we are proud to call Tom Durant and Classic Chevrolet one of our own."
Almost immediately after moving Classic Chevrolet to Grapevine, Tom began beating his brother Jerry in sales figures. "He instantly began beating me at Classic," Jerry said, "He started faxing me his numbers daily, as he still does today." Tom beat more than his brother's sales figures. Under Tom's leadership, Classic Chevrolet has risen to be the #1 Volume Chevrolet dealership in the nation for eight consecutive years, and has been named GM Dealer of the Year for 10 consecutive years. Larry Hice, formerly the Regional Manager of Chevrolet has nothing but praise from Tom Durant. "Tom Durant is much more than just a great car dealer. He is exactly the kind of person you would want as your next-door neighbor. He tells you exactly what he thinks with no guile or subterfuge. He is a wonderful family man and he never sacrifices his personal integrity just to 'make a deal'. If there was ever anyone that embodied the 'Golden Rule', it is Tom Durant"
Tom's passion for the car business is equally matched by his passion for horse racing. While Jerry was heavily involved in cutting horses, Tom decided to get into the racing part of the horse business. When Jerry started competing in cutting, Tom went to a few of the competitions, "but it was just too slow for me," he says laughing. "I told Jerry that I would rather stand at the finish line to watch which horse would win than wait for a judge to tell me."
Tom's foray into horse racing began when a customer enticed him to purchase a thoroughbred mare that was bred to a quarter horse for $100,000. "The mare had a filly by her side out of Pie in the Sky . Six months later, "I sold that filly for $125,000. I thought this horse business was too easy."
Tom soon discovered that the horse racing business wasn't easy, but quickly made a name for himself in the quarter horse racing society. "In '92, I had a horse named Texas Heartbeat that I raised from a foal in Granbury. He ran second in the All American," Durant says, "and I won $306,000 for that race. Of all the quarter horses I have every raised or raced, Texas Heartbeat was my all time favorite. He was quite a horse"
After 10 years of success on the quarter horse side, Tom was ready for a new challenge. He moved to thoroughbred racing in 1997 and currently owns Classic Racing Stables just outside of Granbury. Susan, his wife since 1978, also takes an active part in the business.
While Tom is immersed in the actual racing of his horses, Susan takes care of business on the farm, delivering and raising babies, administering medication and overseeing the day to day operations of the farm. Tom and Susan have four children; Hagen, Bently, Garner and Stormy. Hagen is now General Manager of Classic Chevrolet and Bently Durant is Chief Operating Office of Classic Chevrolet and General Counsel for the Classic Family of Dealerships.
Susan Durant is also a Christian minister and is actively involved in the Granbury community. Associate Pastor Merrie Cardin is quoted saying, "Susan has received her Master's degree from Wagner Leadership Institute and is currently working on her Doctorate in Ministry. She has a strong desire to see people become all that God wants them to be and reach their God ordained destiny and goals.
She ministers to people in the area of emotional healing with a heart to see them healed of things that hold them back so they can advance and move forward.
Tom and Susan are members of East Ridge Church in Granbury where she is in leadership. She leads two bible studies and helps lead in the School of Leadership. She is also recommended for speaking engagements on faith-based emotional healing."
Today in 2012 Tom Durant has expanded "The Classic Family of Dealerships" to include Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, The Thompson Group (Commercial and Fleet) in Grapevine, Classic Mazda and Classic Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram in Denton, Classic Classic Buick GMC in Arlington, Classic Buick GMC in Carrollton, Classic Chevrolet Buick GMC in Granbury, Classic Auto Group in Galveston, Classic Chevrolet Sugar Land in the Houston market and Stingray Chevrolet in Tampa, Florida. Tom also owns Mike Brown Ford and Mike Brown Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Granbury.
In addition to his horse racing and car businesses, Tom served as president of the Texas Quarter Horse Association and has been on the board since the early 90's. From 1994-1998 he has also served as President and been on the board of the Texas Horsemen's Benevolence Protective Association (HBPA), representing horsemen at all the racetracks in Texas. During those years, he helped write the original contracts for all the Class I tracks in Texas. He also is on the board of the HBPA for the thoroughbred side.
A family man, a devout Christian, a car dealer and a horseman, Tom finds time for all of his passions in life. The key is trust. "Tom finds the time to do everything so well because he empowers his managers and his employees," explains a long time employee. "He trusts us to do our jobs. It starts there. He can then go to the racing side and not worry, because he has enough faith to let us do our jobs. Horse racing is his hobby as well as his business. Tom is very competitive and always wants to be number 1, whether it's in the car business or the horse business."
He has the elusive key ingredient - people who believe in him and will do whatever it takes to win his trust. In fact, working at Classic Chevrolet is considered by many as the ideal job in the car business. The atmosphere at the dealership is relaxed and without a hint of pressure. The employees wear shorts from Memorial Day to Labor Day and enjoy most of the major holidays off; while competing dealerships remain open. "The customers like the atmosphere here," explains Tom, "because the employees feel at home here. People don't shop with a building or a company. They shop with other people." Tom Durant is man who has surrounded himself with the best of best, and it shows in everything he does. All of Classic's employees are empowered to do their job to the very best of their ability and everyone works towards a common goal - the winner's circle.