Sponsor Spotlight: A Look at Leadership & Philanthropists in Nashville with Nelson Andrews of Andrews Transportation Group 

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With the power and support of over 1,400 members, The Junior League of Nashville works to address the needs of our community. While our membership dedicates time, money, and resources, our League wouldn’t be able to make as big of an impact without our generous sponsors. 

Our 2019-2020 President, Nahed Artoul Zehr, sat down with Nelson Andrews, the President of Andrews Transportation group, to learn more about him, his work in the community and how his company’s culture has led to a three-year financial support of JLN’s mission. 

Nahed: Thank you, Nelson, for taking the time to answer our questions and letting us share more information about your dealership and your work in the community. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know you this year, through our conversations on community, service, and JLN. Thank you for your time! 

Let’s start by talking about Andrews Transportation Group. Please tell us about the history of your company.

Nelson: Selling cars is a third-generation profession in my family. My Grandma and Grandpa Severs opened the first automotive dealership in Detroit prior to World War II. It was called Shore Severs Cadillac and it operated in Michigan until 1974. My parents, after moving to Brentwood, TN, opened Andrews Cadillac in 1979. My wife, Trish, and I then opened Land Rover Nashville in 1998 and then added the Jaguar dealership in 2014. Today, Andrews Cadillac and Jaguar Land Rover Nashville operate under the Andrews Transportation Group umbrella.  

Nahed: You’re passionate about your product (cars) but equally passionate, if not more so, about the customer experience. Why is this?

Nelson: Since opening in 1979 we’ve always been a “destination” dealership, as opposed to a “drive-by” business. We’re the only dealership located within at least 5 miles and when we first opened in 1979 there wasn’t nearly as much development around us as there is now.  If a customer comes to us, it’s because they have made an intentional decision to drive out here. If you’re going to be a destination business – one that customers have to seek out and choose to visit – the customer experience has to be at least as good as the product.  This has been a foundational part of our business since day 1.

Moreover, we’ve always thought about ourselves as a business that’s bigger than the product we sell –  a place that people want to come to and that serves the community. For example, we’ve used our space to host events for the United Way, Interfaith Dental Clinic, and other important local nonprofits. To give you a relevant example, in the early 1980s Andrews Cadillac hosted a Junior League of Nashville gala. The only reason I knew this, though, was not because I was invited to the party, but because my dad (the owner) got me out of bed on 10:30 p.m. on a Thursday night so that I could help clean up after the party!  

We also understand that different customers have different needs and we strive to create a diversified and personal experience. To give you a recent example, in March and April we had a lot of medical first responders come into the dealership. We knew that they were under extraordinary amounts of strain and we worked hard to recognize that, and also to offer them a customer experience tailored to them and their level of stress. It was an honor for us that they chose our business and that we could take care of them in these ways while they were in our store.

Nahed: You have been an important philanthropic voice in Nashville and Brentwood for a long time.  What drives you to do so much in regard to service in the community?

Nelson: Our family has been involved in, and a supporter of, the local non-profit community since my grandfather was a part of “Focus Hope” in Detroit more than 50 years ago. Growing up, I saw my parents consistently involved in fundraising for the YMCA, Rotary, The Boys and Girls Club, and a number of other organizations with philanthropic missions. 

I will say, I did not have some kind of “master plan” for how to get involved in the community.  Rather, it was an organic experience. When I was in business school, the then-executive director of the Oasis Center in Nashville was in my MBA class. She invited me and some of my classmates to bartend for their “Artists for Oasis” event. I had fun and I did it again the following year. I got to know the staff and then, subsequently, joined their board of directors. Through Oasis, I got to know the folks at United Way Williamson County, where I got introduced both to their people, their mission, and their stakeholders. From there, there was really no turning back.  Once you’re invested in the mission and the people, there’s no alternative but to keep going. (Unless you’re just not paying attention to the community’s needs.)

Nahed: What I’ve noticed is that this culture of philanthropy and service is not compartmentalized to your personal life, but that it is a significant part of your company culture. How have you integrated the two to generate a culture of philanthropy and service at the business?

Nelson: At the end of the day, everything comes down to authenticity. I’m a firm believer in that. If you are authentically passionate or committed to something, it will get integrated into the other things that you do naturally. If you’re passionate about serving our community, that passion will transplant itself into other aspects of your life (like your business). Moreover, that authenticity will lead you to other like-minded people, which leads to connections and relationships that continue to drive that service mindset forward.  

Something important that I learned from my folks was that if you’re going to be somewhere, you should make it worthwhile. If you’re going to a community event, you should talk to people, meet other likeminded folks. Often, the people you meet become your customers or your team members. When your relationships are such that you’re surrounded by people with similar values, then all the things you’re a part of will lend themselves to a spirit of service and community. Our staff at the dealership – they are invested in our culture of philanthropy and service, too. If they weren’t, it would be hard for them to stick around here. Again, it all comes down to authenticity. If you’re authentic about what you care about, others around you will be too.

Nahed: You’ve been a generous supporter of the JLN. What is it about our mission and organization that makes you want to support our cause?

Nelson: From a more short term perspective, I was really inspired by your work on human trafficking and early childhood literacy. Your volunteers are passionate about the work and I value that. From a more long term perspective, what I want to support is the mission – that the  Junior League of Nashville is a gateway to women who are interested in civic and volunteer leadership and service. It’s an onramp for people who want to learn about voluntarism and who want to be trained to do it well and effectively. The thing is, you’ve got to have an onramp to do this kind of work. Once that onramp is visible to you, you tend to get on it and keep going. JLN provides the gateway, the onramp, and the support to continue to lead and serve in our community. That’s something I believe in and want to support.

Nahed: A “gateway” or an “onramp” to leadership and voluntarism. I love that, Nelson, and I plan to use it! You’ve had a lot of leadership roles in the community.  What has been your favorite one? And what advice do you have for others who also want to serve?

Nelson: As I mentioned, I didn’t have a master plan. It all started with bartending! What I’ve noticed from my own experience is that one thing often leads to another. If you are passionate about something, you get invested in it. People see that passion and investment and that will lead to additional opportunities to serve. What started out as a fun night of bartending for an Oasis event eventually led to me running (successfully) to be a Brentwood City commissioner (of course, a lot happened in between these two things!). That wasn’t something I planned but it was something that transpired because each service role has prepared me for the next one.  Each one of them has been unique and valuable – and, of course, fun. I’ve enjoyed every one. As far as my favorite role, I would say this: my favorite service role is whichever one I happen to be in.  

Nahed: What do you like to do with your time when you’re not working or serving in the community?

Nelson: Well, as a husband, father, and owner of two dogs, most of my time outside of work is spent with my family, attending our children’s activities of being together. One of the things I love to do is to attend my son’s football games. One of my sons, Trevor, plays football at Ravenwood High School. All the parents get together before the games and paint the field. It’s a blast to be there with the parents and other volunteers. I also love working in the yard. And I’ve played music my whole life. I have a drum set in the basement and I’m a good drummer. I also play the guitar – – but living in Nashville surrounded by significant talent…I would say I’m a passable guitar player from a hobbyist perspective

Nahed: I noticed that you have several guitars hanging on the wall in your office – so I figured you liked music and certainly this is a great town for that.

Nelson: Actually, I’ve kept those there primarily because our customers love them. There have been so many times when a customer walks into my office and starts playing one of my guitars.  It’s a great way to get to know them on a personal level. You probably noticed there are a lot of “conversation pieces” in my offices. That’s deliberate. They’re there for people who want to strike up a conversation but don’t necessarily know where to start. It’s a great way to form relationships with those who come into the store. Every once in awhile someone suggests that I “declutter” my office. And my answer is always, “no way!”

Nahed: You and your wife, Trish, have four children: Joslyn, Alec, Trevor, and Alison. What lessons do you wish to pass on to them about the importance of service and leadership? 

Nelson: This will sound somewhat cliché, but there are a lot of truths in clichés so I’ll say it.  Trish and I have certainly tried to set a good example of the importance of service.  Our children have seen us involved in lots of different ways.  What I want them to know – I guess what I’d want anyone to know – is the value of authenticity. There’s tremendous value in finding something that you really care about and getting involved in it. Doing something is infinitely better than doing nothing. So, find something that you really care about, and get involved. Do something. Don’t expect it to be perfect, but pay attention to where it takes you. Just start. 

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Author: Nahed Artoul Zehr, 2019-2020 JLN President