Thomas Moorehead: The First African American Rolls Royce Dealer

Some people are extraordinary, demonstrating that they are not ordinary. 

One of these persons is Thomas A. Moorehead. He was the first African-American to own an ultra-luxury Rolls-Royce dealership in America as of 2018. 

This is a remarkable achievement because a Rolls-Royce may cost anywhere from $250,000 to $550,000, depending on the model and features, putting it out of reach for many black and white men and women. 

Moorehead has also led the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers. 

He was born in Monroe, Louisiana, and graduated from Grambling State University with a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1966. In 1977, he graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s degree in social work. He is also a member of the National Guardsmen Inc. Baltimore Chapter, Sigma Pi Phi Northern Virginia Chapter, and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities. He’s also a 33rd degree Mason.

Perhaps he wouldn’t be in the automotive business if his mentor and fraternity buddy James Bradley hadn’t encouraged him to attempt it in 1988. 

Moorehead recalls altering his professional plans, humbling himself, and working hard for Bradley, despite his initial reluctance. He learnt the business from his mentor, cycling through every aspect of the dealership from sales to service in order to obtain a better understanding of how a dealership works.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take a step forward. If you want to get in this business, you have to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way to the top. Learn everything you can about your business because you never want to be held hostage by any of your managers. If you have to let someone go, you have to be able to step in, do the job and take it to the next level until you get someone to replace that individual.”

He’d begin by buying a Sentry Buick and Isuzu in Omaha, Nebraska, and keeping it for nine years. Moorehead Buick-GMC started in Decatur, Illinois, in 1995, and he owned it for four years before moving to Northern Virginia to open his BMW and Mini Cooper business. 

Moorehead was one of six candidates chosen to participate in GM’s first in-house training class when the company started its Minority Dealer Development program. Prior to founding Sterling Motors in the Southeast in 2002, he owned many Buick, Isuzu, and BMW businesses in Nebraska and Illinois. 

Moorehead acquired Lamborghini and McLaren to add to his suite of luxury car dealerships as the President and CEO of Sterling Motor Cars, which he founded. Moorehead became the first African-American Lamborghini and McLaren dealer in the history of both brands with that purchase. Prior to this achievement, Moorehead was also the first African American Rolls Royce dealer in the world.

In approximately 115,000 square feet of state-of-the-art showrooms, Sterling Motor Cars, founded in 2002, connects sport and luxury car enthusiasts with new and preowned brands. Sterling Motor Cars is the major provider of luxury cars in the Washington Metropolitan Area, as well as Delaware and Southern Pennsylvania, with sites in Sterling, Virginia, and Fort Washington and Oxon Hill, Maryland. 

BMW of Sterling, Lamborghini of Sterling, McLaren of Sterling, Rolls Royce Motor Cars of Sterling, Mini of Sterling, Harley-Davidson of Washington, DC, and Harley-Davidson of National Harbor are among the luxury brands available. 

Moorehead attributes his continuous success to the necessity of having a strong team of professionals dedicated to providing a positive client experience. “Product, location and people are essential. Identifying and hiring good people is the key,” said Moorehead. “I always tell my employees that the boss in the store is not Tom Moorehead. It’s Mr. & Mrs. Customer. Without them, we might as well lock our doors.”

Moorehead worked as an analyst at Mobile and Chrysler and as the director of community services at the University of Michigan before becoming a businessman. 

As a result of his performance, he was named to the Virginia Automobile Dealer Board by then-Governor Mark R. Warner in 2005, where he served for two terms. 

It’s one thing to be successful in the car dealership business, but sharpshooter Moorehead wasn’t finished yet. 

He purchased the Marriott Residence Inn in National Harbor, Maryland, in 2006. He has persevered since then, owning eight hotels across the country. 

Sterling Motor Cars is dedicated to the community in addition to being the region’s largest luxury car store. Since its inception in 2004, the Joyce and Thomas Moorehead Foundation has given scholarships and emergency aid to eligible high school students, as well as making grants to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

That’s how a youngster whose father wanted him to be a teacher ended up briefly serving in the military, as well as a businessman and a prominent auto dealer who took his humanitarian responsibilities seriously. 

Following nearly two decades as CEO and president of Sterling Motorcars, Thomas Moorehead handed over the reins to Paul White, a Texas native and president of AutoNation’s Dallas-Fort Worth market. Moorehead is still the dealership’s chairman and owner.

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