Retirement, for most, is the freedom to choose how to spend your time. For John Hunt, coming to Bartow Ford every day to service his customers for several decades is clearly part of his planning. From the dealership’s infancy to the company’s recently celebrated 65th anniversary, Mr. Hunt is proud to be the longest working sales person and employee in the history of Bartow Ford.
John’s automotive legacy began while attending Bartow High School. The bold 11th grader decided to work in lieu of continuing his education. “I thought I was smarter than all my teachers, which I learned I wasn’t,” quipped the doyen. At 16 John left school and began working for a family owned body shop in Polk County.
Within the first year of the teen’s new career, his place of employment was sold to a fledgling businessman. This young entrepreneur, Ernest Smith, acquired the body shop in 1949 to be utilized in his emerging business, Bartow Ford. Mr. Hunt’s narrative evokes emotion; “I thoroughly enjoyed working for Ernest; he was not only my boss, but a dear friend.”
As Bartow Ford continued to grow, so did John in experienced knowledge and professional skills. This was recognized by Mr. Smith who shifted the dedicated employee from the body shop to a service advisor in a short period of time. The move was decidedly not the best fit for John who shortly returned to his body shop position.
A few years into the automotive industry, the curious young man chose to enlist in the service. In 1951 the cadet took a position in the US Navyas a Welder. Using skills learned at Bartow Ford in the body shop, the welder executed with confidence.
In 1954 upon the completion of his military commitments, Mr. Hunt resumed his body shop position at Bartow Ford. But the veteran had developed beyond this trade and admired the sales team at the dealership. John decided that selling would be his next professional endeavor.
He recalls, “It looked like the easiest job, you got to drive a new car around, dress up for work and drink coffee all day. I thought to myself, I like that – that’s for me. I learned fast that, that wasn’t the case- it was hard work.”
Consequent to a decade at Bartow Ford, Mr. Hunt was ambitious to expand his automotive career. The Central Florida native accepted positions at competing Polk County automotive businesses. For the next two decades many hats were worn at these companies ranging from New Car Sales Manager to minority Dealership Owner.
While contemplating departure from his ownership position, Bartow Ford reached out and proposed the savvy professional return to the company. A homecoming offered a sales position, creating decades of memoirs. But the story perseveres, as does John Hunt, still occupying a sales position at Bartow Ford.
John’s proudest accomplishments after 64 years in the automotive industry are the relationships he has curated. The first car he sold in 1956 was to a man who lived in Winter Haven. The man continued to purchase from John until the Winter Haven resident passed away in 2012. However, the purchase line did not stop there; his clients still include the man’s family. Mr. Hunt has guided newlyweds with financial decision on vehicles, assisted their children purchase their first safe vehicles and even today simplifies purchases for the grandchildren. A notable mention is that John Hunt is an international automotive professional; his customer base spans from Polk County to Moscow.
Now in his in 80’s Mr. Hunt has no intentions of stopping. His love of meeting new people keeps his desire to work for Bartow Ford unbreakable. “Bartow Ford has taught me everything about life and living. I’ve learned how to respect people.”