Overcoming childhood poverty and a severe speech impediment, Harold Draper was determined to make the most of what he had…and what he had was an insatiable desire to solve problems.
A student at the University of Michigan when World War I broke out, Draper enlisted, becoming a pilot and instructor. Post war, he made use of his flying skills by barnstorming, performing aerial stunts to earn the tuition money needed to complete his business degree.
By 1927, Draper and a partner were awarded the Chevrolet franchise for Saginaw County, Michigan. Nine years later, after weathering the worst of the Great Depression, he bought out his partner to embark on a remarkable career.
It was in 1938 that he solved one of the great problems facing car buyers of the day.
Specifically, if you wanted to buy a car, you had to either pay the total sales price in cash or persuade a bank or finance company to lend you the money. Draper figured there should at least be one other option. And the option he identified was leasing…an industry first.
He created Motor Leasing Company, the nation’s first dedicated leasing lender. Problem solved. Before long General Motors saw the benefits…and GMAC acquired the company.
Draper later identified a better way to meet the parts needs of GM franchise dealers, so he formed Delta Auto Parts Co., which distributed parts to dealers throughout the Midwest. With the onset of World War II, he returned to active duty as a lieutenant colonel and served until the War’s end. Once home, he picked up where he left off.
By 1950, he added 5 more Chevrolet dealerships to his holdings, when he retired in 1963; Draper’s six dealerships were selling 10,000 to 12,000 units per year.
While a success in new car retailing, his problem/solution approach didn’t stop there.
Working with a plastics engineer, Draper developed a product called Visilite, a green tinted insert for windshields that was the forerunner of tinted glass. Working with the Pure Oil Company, a sprayable rust-proofing compound was developed. Finally, in concert with Sun Equipment, a diagnostic machine to assist technicians in analysis and repair for increasingly complex cars was designed, built, and marketed to the industry as the Sun Diagnostic Lane.
While all of that was going on, Draper launched a dealer management consultancy, Draper Consulting and established the Chevrolet Postgraduate School of Modern Merchandising and Management…better known as the “Dealers’ Sons’ School”.
More than a successful new car dealer and inventor, he was also tireless ambassador for dealer professionalism. Working with the NADA, he piloted himself to seminars and speaking engagements all over the country, donating all of his fees to charity.
He passed away in 1965 at the age of 70.