AutoNation promotes COO Jim Bender to president

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AutoNation Inc. named COO Jim Bender as president, transferring one of the titles held by sidelined CEO Cheryl Miller to a 20-year company veteran.

The move comes nine days after AutoNation said Miller, CEO and president, had been granted leave for health reasons. On April 13, the auto retail giant named Executive Chairman Mike Jackson, 71, to fill in for Miller, 47, until her return.

Jackson told stockholders Wednesday that he expects to serve as CEO for several months while Miller is on medical leave.

“Cheryl has requested that the details of her medical condition remain private, and the company is going to respect that. So we will not provide additional details,” Jackson told shareholders during the company’s short annual meeting. “I will serve as CEO in the next several months until Cheryl returns.”

Miller and Jackson were among 10 directors who were re-elected to the board for one-year terms during the 16-minute virtual meeting.

Bender, 64, will retain his COO duties, and the promotion to president is permanent, Chief Marketing Officer Marc Cannon said.

“He’s highly respected throughout the entire organization,” Jackson said during the stockholders meeting. “He’s a legend at the store level. This will be very much welcomed by the company. He’s an outstanding leader.”

Jackson said Bender will oversee day-to-day operations at the retailer’s 325-plus locations.

Shares of AutoNation were up 1.8 percent to $29.43 in early trading Wednesday.

Bender’s promotion to COO was the first executive move by Miller in July, when she was named CEO of the nation’s largest new-vehicle retailer. Miller, the company’s former finance chief, was named CEO after AutoNation parted ways with industry outsider Carl Liebert. Liebert had taken over just months earlier to fill the job held by Jackson, AutoNation’s longtime CEO.

AutoNation, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., ranks No. 1 on Automotive News’ list of the top 150 dealership groups based in the U.S., retailing 282,602 new vehicles in 2019.

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Saurabh Shukla

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