Profile: Jeff Wyler
Date: Feb.5 , 2001
CBA Alumnus Excited by New Challenges as UC Trustee
By: Chris Curran
Phone: (513) 556-1806
UC's newest trustee is beginning his tenure with a promise for the future and a devotion to UC that dates back to his childhood. Jeff Wyler, president and CEO of the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, replaces another Cincinnati business leader William Keating.
"It will be very difficult to follow behind Bill Keating…not difficult, actually. It's impossible. Bill has been involved so much in the community and the university that I feel inadequate."
Still, Wyler's commitment to UC stretches over a quarter of a century beyond his student years. He graduated from the College of Business Administration in 1965 and has been an active supporter of UC since 1974. After serving with the UC Foundation, alumni organizations and UCATS, he says he's looking forward to the new challenges he'll face as a member of the Board of Trustees.
"I am excited about this. I've had a lot of wonderful opportunities. I'm pleased to be here, and I'll work hard to make this a better place to work and learn. The University of Cincinnati is world class in many disciplines. My dream is to get even more programs into the world class arena."
His days at UC
Wyler took his own education very seriously. He worked as many as three jobs at a time to pay for his tuition. At the same time, he took an overload of courses - up to 20 credit hours at a time. The list of jobs seems almost endless: insurance investigation, ticket seller, desk clerk at a hotel, accounts receivable auditor for a trucking company. "I even graded papers for the finance department. Any chance to make a dollar, I would try to do it." All that work added up to only $43 a week, but Wyler quickly pointed out, "That was a different era." What hasn't changed, according to Wyler, is the opportunity higher education affords.
"When I decided to go to college, it was understood that it was my financial obligation. I had to go to school and at the same time pay the bill. I did have to work a lot, but if you want the education, you can get it. I believe in that. It's available. You just may have to make some sacrifices in your own life to get there."
So, he sees his priorities as a trustee focused more on academics than on business matters. "I'm a business person, but the primary purpose of this institution is to educate students. I will be very interested in how I can help that process."
After graduating with a degree in finance, Wyler took what he said was the standard route for business majors in the 1960s. He interviewed with major corporations from Shell Oil to Smith-Barney on Wall Street. He fully expected to be a Wall Street investment banker, but discovered cars were a better deal.
His early career
"GM hired me for $565 a month, which was one of the highest salaries in the school of business graduating class in 1965." Ironically, Wyler actually earned more in his final year of college when you added up all his different jobs.
That hard work and perseverance paid off when Wyler decided to leave General Motors after eight years and buy a small car dealership in Batavia. "The Arabs shut the oil off to the United States the week I bought the car dealership. It was a big struggle, but it was one of those things that if you wanted it badly enough, you got there.
"We started in 1973 with 12 employees and sold 383 cars the first year. We'll sell 25,000 cars this year, and we've got close to 900 employees. But the biggest factor was that the perseverance of getting through college gave me the perseverance of getting through the first year of running my business."
Wyler said it was his independent streak that pushed him into entrepreneurship. "I had to put myself in a position where I could make decisions. I was working for General Motors, and I had 14 layers of management above me that I had to sell my ideas on. I wasn't that patient, so that's how I became my own entrepreneur. That was important…to be my own boss."
He did discover one down side, however. "I hated 8 o'clock classes when I was a student, so I decided if I was my own boss I could get up when I felt like it. Now, I get up at 6 o'clock," he said with a laugh.
A family success story
Today, success runs through the Jeff Wyler Automotive Family and Wyler's own family. His 32-year-old daughter Julie Bristow was his marketing director before becoming a mother. Her husband Scott is a vice president and manages four dealership companies. Wyler's 28-year-old son David is also a vice president, running four different companies of his own. He calls his 16-year-old daughter Jessie "incredibly tenacious" and 14-year-old James the "family's resident automotive genius." Waiting in the wings are two grandsons, 5 and six months, and one granddaughter, 18 months.
"They're the most important people in the world to me. I'm very proud of all of them. I spend, by far, the majority of my time with them. I always have." But Wyler reserves the title of "most wonderful woman in the world" for his wife Linda.
Decades of loyal support
Wyler's devotion to the UC family began in his own childhood. He would come to football games while visiting his aunt, who lived on McMillan. He didn't watch nearly as many games during his college years though. "When I was student, the basketball teams were national champions, so as a student I couldn't get in. In three years, I think I got to go to one game."
That might be one reason Wyler was so ready to support Athletics when the boosters asked him to donate a car in return for tickets back in 1974. He has been a fixture at football and basketball games ever since, and he's proud of what the Bearcats have done in recent years. "I've seen an amazing transformation in athletics at the University of Cincinnati. I think Bob Goin, our athletic director, is as good as there is in America. He's first class."
Wyler is also impressed by the changes in the UC campus and looking forward to the completion of the current MainStreet project. "The student life project is a fantastic project. I think it will make this university really a special place to learn and also have some fun."
While working as a member of the UC Foundation Board, Wyler was an active fund-raiser and part of the team that successfully raised more than $300 million in the most recent campaign. "That campaign was eye opening. We were able to connect with alums, particularly outside Cincinnati. I met some wonderful people who are very dedicated to the university's success, who have a real interest in the university. As time goes on, I think you'll find much more financial support from our alumni all over the world."
But Wyler will also work to open eyes in the Greater Cincinnati community. "Sometimes you're too close to see how wonderful things are. I'm not sure our own community knows how much good takes place here. My dream would be to make sure more people understand that, so we get more and better students… provide more opportunities for more people."
And more chances for UC graduates to follow Wyler's simple strategy for success.
"Follow your dream. Establish your goals, then go out and do it. I did."