Ellenae Hart-Fairhurst

by Lynn McMillen
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Ms. Ellenae L. Hart Henry-Fairhurst Ellenae Hart-Fairhurst grew up in Dayton, Ohio in a strong family environment which stressed education and the need to set long-term goals — and then to go after them. Ellenae did just that. For 36 years, her father, Jack Hart, was a coach and mentor to hundreds of young men in the Dayton high school system while her mother, Ellen Nora, taught school for 32 years. It was evident the strong values she learned growing up continued to be an important ingredient of her business life.

After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Ellenae joined Ford Motor Company in 1968 and spent the next 17 years working for them, primarily in the Marketing Research Department. She took full advantage of Ford’s Continuing Education Program and obtained a Master’s Degree in Consumer Psychology from the University of Detroit in 1975 which she was able to put to good use, both at Ford and in the retail    business.

Not Taking “No” For An Answer

In the early 1980’s, she recalls witnessing the first headcount and budget cuts at Ford and “thinking it could happen to me and then asking herself, what do I really want to do with my life.” She was fascinated by the retail car business and the fact Ford and other manufacturers had established dealer training programs designed to teach individuals the business… in her mind, it was a “win-win” proposition. When she approached Ford’s Minority Dealer Operations Department, she was told that “I didn’t have the retail background, I had a good job, why risk it all in the tough retail business. I was convinced I could be a successful dealer and their answer was unsatisfactory.” Undeterred, and not taking “no” for an answer, Ellenae contacted Chrysler. After a year and a half of discussion and follow-up, she was accepted into its 1986 training class and assigned to train at Jesse Jones’ dealership. She graduated from the program in February 1988.

“I Knew I Could Do It”

Her first dealership opportunity came in October 1988 when she was appointed the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She invested her total life savings ($55,000) and borrowed the balance ($42,000) from Chrysler to meet

Ml investment requirements. She had spent the vast majority of her adult life in Detroit, but believed strongly in the potential of this dealership. She recalls that;

“I was petrified the first time I met with all of the dealership employees, the most fear I had ever experienced in my life, but it worked out –­ when they realized I knew what I was doing and was willing to work harder and longer, even if it meant scrubbing the rest rooms, I was accepted. I truly believed I had the ability to successfully operate a dealership.”

With the philosophy of taking it “a day at a time,” Ellenae turned the operation around and made solid profits for the next four years. The future looked very bright and her faith in her abilities and perseverance to enter the retail business had paid off.

Heading to Huntsville

Recognizing the profit potential of the Jeep-Eagle franchise which was not available to her in Fayetteville, she approached Chrysler about finding her another dealership opportunity with additional franchises or being considered for a large Dodge point. In May 1992, she sold her interests in Fayetteville and was offered the opportunity to become the Dodge dealer in Huntsville, Alabama — she jumped at the chance. She invested $149,000 under the Ml Plan, and because of strong profits over the next three years, Ellenae bought out Chrysler’s investment in December 1995.

As was the case in Fayetteville, the Huntsville employees came to recognize her talents and commitment to make the dealership successful – – “she was here for the long haul.” When on the job, she was all business and was addressed as “Miss Fairhurst” which set the tone and manner in which she wanted the employees and customers to recognize her as the dealer; the person in charge.

A Strong Belief System

In 1999, she made history by being appointed the first African American to acquire the lnfiniti franchise for the Huntsville market. She was confident that with her track record, she would produce the same results as she had previously. Ellenae Hart-Fairhurst believed “women make excellent dealers; they are more gentle, more people oriented — overall, they are good for the industry.” It was evident that Ellenae was a product of a strong belief   system given her by her mother and father and as a result, was an African American woman who recognized her talents, and wasn’t deterred by being told that “she should stay where she was and forget the retail business.” She demonstrated a willingness to do     whatever it took to be successful and “wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

The memorial service for Ms. Ellenae L. Hart Henry-Fairhurst will be 3:00 p.m., Thursday, May 9, 2024 at the First Baptist Missionary Baptist Church (3509 Blue Spring Road, Huntsville, AL 35810) with Dr. Don Darius Butler officiating.

There will be no public viewing.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to: FOCAL (Local Foster Children’s Alliance).

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