Ronald W. Gregoire '71, Accounting
When Ronald W. Gregoire totals up his ledger, he will find that the pluses overwhelmingly outnumber the minuses.
The 1971 Cal Poly Pomona accounting graduate can certainly mark this achievement in the plus column: Building 163 at the College of Business Administration has been named “Ronald W. Gregoire Hall” and is the first donor-named building on campus. That distinction was approved by the California State University Board of Trustees at its November meeting.
Gregoire gave the initial $1 million in 2001 that planted the seed for the concept and encouraged others to give. Overall, he has contributed $2.5 million for construction of the project.
The 89,200-square-foot CBA complex opened in 2012 and houses six technologically enhanced classrooms, five auditorium-style case rooms, two computer labs, and eight breakout rooms equipped with a 42-inch flat-screen monitor where students can project and share their work. The complex also has garnered numerous design awards and received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, making it an environmentally friendly project.
After the building naming, Gregoire issued a $1.5-million challenge to alumni and supporters for contributions that will go toward the remaining project funding goal of $900,000. The remainder of the money will establish a building enhancement endowment that will maintain upkeep and provide technology upgrades for the structures. Gregoire will match every donation dollar for dollar. A website, www.gregoirechallenge.org, has been created to help donors learn more about the challenge.
“Cal Poly Pomona made it possible for me to go from selling cars instead of building cars,” said Gregoire, who was the first in his family to attend college. “It provided a much different quality of life for me and my family. I am extremely honored with this naming.”
The road to Gregoire’s success in car dealerships hinged on a cross-country detour. In 1962, his father, a long-haul trucker, moved the family from Massachusetts to California, where the job opportunities and weather were rosier.
The family spent the first year living in a travel trailer then later moved into a mobile home. The Gregoire clan eventually settled into a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Duarte, which cost about $16,500.
“That was real money back then,” he said.
In the late 1960s, he enrolled at Cal Poly Pomona because it made business sense: “It was affordable and close. I could drive there and live at home.”
Gregoire chose business over engineering, and focused on becoming an accountant. He credits Professor Clarence Jackman, who oversaw internships, for laying the foundation for his success by arranging a paid internship around his classes.
“Clarence made sure you got the schedule you needed to complete your studies and give you the time off you needed to work a job,” Gregoire recalled. “I don’t know what kind of pull he had, but it was always like I was a senior. I always got the classes I needed at the times I needed them. I don’t think I was ever at school past 1 p.m.”
The business acumen he gleaned from his internship at A.B. Schultz Company changed the path of Gregoire’s career.
“The reason I ended up getting into the car business was because they had an audit specialty with automotive clients,” he recalled. “I really enjoyed the auditing work, and I excelled at it.”
Although Gregoire was making a name for himself at A.B. Schultz, he decided to strike out on his own, taking over the books of a struggling car dealership. He eventually offered to run the dealership. Later, he and two partners acquired a Dodge franchise on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena.
After two years of getting by, he took a chance that would change his fortunes. In 1979, he applied for a Ford dealership off the 605 freeway in Cerritos. His application was approved, even though it barely met franchise guidelines.
In an all-out battle for the truck sales title, Ford declared victory by reporting that a line of slow-moving Couriers had been sold. Ford was forced to offer the Couriers as used trucks to dealers. Gregoire rushed in and snapped up 200 of the trucks, and launched an advertising campaign that had buyers coming in droves to his dealership.
That stroke of business savvy started an automotive empire.
“People were coming in and buying two or three because they were the cheapest thing they ever saw. It made me profitable for the year. It launched me,” Gregoire said. “Everything I did in the future was similar: Stay focused on a product, promote it, come up with a price point below your competitors, and when someone comes in looking to buy, have a bunch for them to choose from.”
Gregoire expanded the business and acquired six more franchises over the next decade. The network flourished and he was able to retire before the age of 50 and turned to philanthropy.
During his career, Gregoire supported youth athletic leagues, cancer support organizations and the Los Angeles Police Department’s community youth outreach program. In retirement, he became a proponent of the arts to improve the quality of life in his community.
Retired university President Michael Ortiz met Gregoire at the start of his 11-year tenure and is well-acquainted with the character of the alumnus.
“Ron is one of those individuals who quietly make a huge difference,” Ortiz said. “He leads by example and gets things done. I treasure his friendship and his commitment to the university.”
Gregoire has served on the University Educational Trust, the President’s Council, the Business Advisory Council and Ambassadors for Higher Education. He also endowed a scholarship for an outstanding business student through the President’s Council Scholarship program.
The Gregoire Family Trust supports the Leadership Forum, a speaker series that brings prominent figures in the business world to campus and seeks to inspire and motivate students.
In recognition of his professional accomplishments, community service and commitment to his alma mater, Gregoire was awarded an honorary doctorate last June during the College of Business Administration’s commencement ceremony.
“I’m a Cal Poly Pomona guy who had the benefit of learning from professors who worked in the field. I had the benefit of internships. Other guys who started their careers the same time I did couldn’t hit the ground running the way I did,” Gregoire said. “That’s what a Cal Poly Pomona education can do.”