Steering a $21 billion auto giant

President and CEO Brent Burns Shares Insights during “The Future of Leadership” speaker series.
Steering a $21 billion auto giant

From left to right: Andre Dua, senior partner at McKinsey & Company and managing partner of the Miami office; Brent Burns, president and CEO of JM Family Enterprises; and Ann Olazabal, interim dean of Miami Herbert.


Brent Burns, President and CEO of JM Family Enterprises, recently shared his experiences at the helm of the Deerfield Beach-based company, originally a specialist in Toyota car dealerships, during a speaker series titled “The Future of Leadership” hosted by McKinsey & Company and the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School. He focused on how the firm has expanded its scope to include financial services and insurance, while maintaining a strong focus on the automotive sector.

Founded by renowned car dealer and philanthropist Jim Moran, whose fortune was estimated at $2.4 billion by Forbes at the time of his passing in 2007, JM Family Enterprises has continued to thrive in the auto industry. Moran also established Southeast Toyota Distributors, a key component of JM Family Enterprises.

In his address to an engaged audience, including Ann M. Olazabal, interim dean of Miami Herbert, and Andre Dua, senior partner at McKinsey & Company and managing partner of the Miami office as moderators, Burns highlighted the company's significant market presence.

“In the U.S., one in every four Toyotas is sold through our 177 independent franchisee dealers across five Southeastern states,” he said. Burns also shared impressive figures from 2023, revealing that JM Family Enterprises sold 350,000 retail and wholesale Toyotas, along with 120,000 Toyota fleet vehicles.

Last year, Forbes ranked Burns’ corporation No. 22 on its “America’s Largest Private Companies” list.

Before he was hired by JM Family Enterprises, a privately held company that employs 5,000 people and generates annual revenues in the $21-billion range, Burns began interacting with the automotive giant in the late 1980s.

“I was with Alamo Rent a Car and I bought every Toyota they (JM Family Enterprises) would sell me, so I got to know Southeast Toyota really well. Then, I was part of the founding of AutoNation,” Burns said. “Most people don’t know this, but AutoNation was gestated inside of JM Family. Jim Moran and (Waste Management, Inc., Founder) Wayne Huizenga got together to launch it. JM Family exited when they (AutoNation) pivoted from the used-car superstore that we didn’t see as being competitive with our dealer base, to a role of new car franchises, which was competitive.”

As he addressed Miami Herbert’s student body, recurring themes leavened Burns’ remarks:

  • Career progression, and a rewarding overall life, flow from cultivating quality relationships
  • Promotions usually stem from focusing only on the job at hand
  • A talented, dedicated workforce is a business leader’s most valuable asset
  • Being a good corporate citizen always delivers a win-win for all involved  

Holding a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Florida Atlantic University, Burns is the first non-Moran family member to hold the president and CEO titles at JM Family Enterprises. Burns had been a senior-level executive with Alamo and KPMG Peat Marwick prior to entering JM Family Enterprises’ orbit in 2000, 32 years after Jim Moran formed the company.

After taking a position with AutoNation, Burns then “worked with a finance company, Southeast Toyota Finance, and with an insurance company, Jim Moran and Associates. I hit the ground running! In 2000, we had this Y2K thing, and there was this new thing called the internet that we were trying to figure out how to make work.

“So, I actually started as the vice president of the office of the web,” Burns stated, drawing laughs from his Miami Herbert audience. “It didn’t last very long. I then wound up becoming kind of the interim chief information officer for a short while. This was all literally in the first twelve months of me being there!”

Not long afterward, Burns was promoted to oversee JM Family Enterprises’ finance company, Southeast Toyota Finance. In 2008, Burns was approached by then-JM Family Enterprises CEO Colin Brown, about becoming chief financial officer.

“I had my dream job, I loved what I was doing, but I loved the company more,” Burns said, “so I moved into the CFO slot at the parent company.

“It forced us to really look at ourselves and say, `We want to have a fortress balance sheet, we don’t want to be dependent upon the market, we want to make sure that we’re properly capitalized and structured,” Brown observed. “I’ve been in public companies before and, to me, the tradeoffs aren’t worth it.

“If you’ve got the ability to access capital, there’s a lot to be said for being in the private markets, and being able to lay out a long-term strategy, and then execute against that strategy.”

In 2014, Burns was named JM Family Enterprises’ chief operating officer, and within another four years was president and CEO. “I couldn’t be more proud to lead 5,000 phenomenal associates and continue the trajectory and the work that Jim Moran started all those years ago,” said Burns, who’s on the board of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County and is a lifetime board member for Kids In Distress.

“It’s been great.”

Dean Olazabal took a moment to outline JM Family Enterprises’ remarkable business diversity. “Let me just read off the list here for our audience,” Olazabal said. “Not only is there Southeast Toyota Distributors, but Southeast Toyota Finance, JM & A Group, Home Franchise Concepts, Futura Title and Escrow, and more, right?

“How do you lead such a broad array of organizations and create a shared vision?”

“The core that undergirds all of that is our culture,” Burns said. “Everything is built upon the culture and the associates that really drive those businesses. The theme there is, we’re in the business of empowering our franchisees to serve their customer base.”