Jim Lupient, left, and John Rock, former general manager of GM’s Oldsmobile Division, stood next to an Oldsmobile 442 in 2004.
Heather Charles, Star Tribune
Auto dealer Jim Lupient loses battle with Parkinson's
- Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY
- Star Tribune
- August 16, 2011 - 1:08 AM
Jim Lupient, a high school dropout from northeast Minneapolis who rose to be one of Minnesota's largest auto dealers, died Sunday after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease. He was 76.
Lupient opened his first auto store in 1969, and once operated about 20 dealerships in Minnesota and Wisconsin with annual revenues of more than $350 million. He had not been active in day-to-day operations of the company for several years.
"He was a man of honor and a man of great integrity in a business where we've not always seen that locally," said his wife, Barbara Lupient. "He also was a fun-loving, caring man who went out of his way to make other peoples' lives better."
Lupient Automotive Group is smaller today, because Oldsmobile and Saturn, two of the brands it sold, no longer exist, and some other dealerships were sold. The company now has 11 dealerships and used-car lots where it employs about 600 people.
"Jim didn't attend a high-class university but he had business smarts," said Lupient President Ron Phippen, an 18-year employee. "He was persistent to get the deal. But it had to be a good deal. If the customer had an issue, Jim would make it right for the customer. That's how we operate."
Ralph Strangis, Lupient's friend and business lawyer for 40 years, said Lupient was a sharp, intuitive businessman who always played fair.
"His personality was that of a salesman, but he had the attributes of a visionary businessman with the sense of what would work," Strangis said.
"He was in cars, he invested in apartment complexes, horses, other deals. Not every deal was a great deal for him. I told him that he only liked one line on a purchase agreement. The line that said 'buyer' and where he would sign his name. But he fundamentally had good business sense and made good deals."
Lupient dropped out of St. Thomas Academy in 1952 after his father died unexpectedly and he had to support his mother and three sisters. Strangis, who knew Lupient also to be a mischievous prankster, said Lupient also told the story that he was expelled for exploding something in his locker.
"See, if I would have had a college education, I would never have had the opportunity to get into the car business," Lupient said in a 1988 interview.
After leaving school, Lupient washed automobiles at Schmelz Brothers' Kaiser-Frazer in northeast Minneapolis. One day when most other employees had gone to a funeral, Lupient peddled four cars and was made a salesmen. He later served as a sales manager at a couple of dealerships before he opened Jim Lupient Oldsmobile in 1969. His company grew to several Twin Cities suburban dealerships, and expanded to Rochester and into Wisconsin.
In 1990, Time magazine named him the auto dealer of the year.
Lupient also invested heavily in community charities, because he knew how fortunate he was, said his widow and Strangis.
Of particularly interest to him was an operation in his old neighborhood. In 2003, Lupient began donating $50,000 annually to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board for what is now the Lupient Water Park, where children learn to swim and be safe in the water at no charge.
"He didn't forget his northeast roots," recalled Barbara Lupient. "When Jim grew up, that community was Polish, French, Italian and a lot of first- and second-generation immigrant kids. Now they are Hmong, Hispanic, Laotian and Somali.
"Jim wanted to make sure they could all swim and have a place to have fun in the water. It's a lovely legacy. He didn't forget where he came from."
Lupient, who lived in Edina, is survived by his wife and six children. A memorial service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 5025 Knox Av. S., Minneapolis. Visitation will be 4-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Washburn-McReavy Edina Chapel, W. 50th St. and Hwy. 100.
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144
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