In 1939, James M. Cavender, Jr. started General Oldsmobile. Over the next 80 years, his family grew that single Cavender dealership into seven dealerships serving the San Antonio community today. His grandson, Robert “Bobby” Cavender, has been part of the family business for nearly 50 years. Through his experience, he’s mastered what it takes to run a successful company, and he’s now working on continuing that legacy with the next generation of Cavenders.
To thrive, every business needs loyal customers. Bobby Cavender attributes much of the Cavenders’ success to their emphasis on connecting with customers. As a business, their company has focused on the idea of hospitality versus service mentality. Service mentality is meeting the customer’s immediate needs, but only that. Hospitality goes further, serving a customer’s needs while also being involved with that customer on a personal level. As Cavender explains, “You’re providing service with authentic intent.”
When it comes to hospitality, Cavender leads by example. “I give my cell phone out to everyone I meet. In fact, it's on my business card,” he says. “It’s important to the Cavenders that folks have their cell phone, and that we’re accessible 24 hours a day.” He jokes that everyone he’s ever met in San Antonio probably has his cell phone number, but offering this open line of communication to potential customers is part of enacting his company’s mission. “I just think you’ve got to walk the walk, and our associates are going to follow the pace of the leader.”
Cavender’s commitment to hospitality extends to his associates at the dealerships as well. “We’ve got to take care of associates, and we've got to take care of customers," Cavender says. "You cannot do this alone, and it's just the old adage, you've got to surround yourself with very smart people, and that is our case for sure."
"You cannot do this alone, and it's just the old adage, you've got to surround yourself with very smart people, and that is our case for sure."
Learning how to lead has been part of the mentorship of his grandfather who started the company, and his father and uncle that ran the company before Cavender did. In 1939, James Cavender, Jr. was sales manager at Kinsel Oldsmobile, and not long after, E.A. Kinsel asked James if he would be interested in buying the dealership. The first Cavender dealership, General Oldsmobile, was born.
Image of William B. Cavender, Robert Cavender's father.
James’ passion for the family business was instilled in future generations. Bobby Cavender says, “We saw and we emulated. We’re the third generation, the fourth is working with us today. We’ve been given a lot, and we’re not going to take it for granted. We want to grow the footprint.”
Cavender’s involvement in the business began as soon as he was able to drive. He and his brothers, Billy and Stuart, along with their cousins, Rick and Stephen, started at the business doing odd jobs like picking up cars or taking them to get tires and batteries replaced. Eventually, Cavender learned every job within the organization as part of his training. Today Bobby and his brothers operate five dealerships and his cousins operate two dealerships in San Antonio.
“I think it's just something about being around cars, being around people that love to talk cars. It's something that's exciting for us.”
Now, Cavender and his brothers each have sons in the business, and they’re trying to prepare the fourth generation for their family’s legacy in the same way they were prepared. Like Cavender and his brothers, their sons began working at the dealerships at a young age, and the third-generation Cavenders are using their expertise to instill the importance of a strong work ethic in their sons and make sure they understand that, as business owners, they must lead by example.
Beyond the dealership, Cavender is a steadfast investor in ideas he believes in. One investment that really excites him is his current real estate project. In collaboration with the San Antonio-based development company Hixon, Cavender and Hixon plan to build a walkable neighborhood in the near-downtown Broadway corridor. The first stage of the project, a six story office building named The Soto, was completed last month.
As a native San Antonian, Cavender is looking forward to how this project will benefit the San Antonio community. “This is going to be a huge development over time, and I’m very excited about that.”
Additionally, Cavender serves as a founding board member for The Bank of San Antonio and The Bank of Austin. The Bank of Austin, Texas Hill Country Bank and The Bank of San Antonio merged and renamed their charter Texas Partners Bank. The three legacy banks will continue doing business under their original names.
Between his business and investment projects, Cavender is a well-rounded entrepreneur whose focus has always been serving people, the people of San Antonio. “I just like people, and I like to take care of them. I like to think like them, and I think it's just part of the Cavender DNA.”