By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
If you asked a young Edward J. Morse III “Teddy” if he wanted to take over the family car business, the answer would likely have been no.
Morse, 42, said his career goals changed from firefighter to fighter pilot then police officer to astronaut.
“I knew my dad was in the car business,” he said. “My father always told me he would support me 100 percent, no matter what I did, but he told me I would be an idiot if I didn’t go into the car business.”
That’s because the Morse name has been associated with selling cars in South Florida for more than 70 years. Ed Morse Automotive was founded by his grandfather, Ed in 1946.
The decorated WWII veteran, who served in the Army Air Corps as a B-25 navigator, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying a plane to safety after the pilot was wounded and the co-pilot was killed, worked as a doorman parking cars at the Coronado Hotel in Miami Beach. He then helped his father start a 20 car fleet rental company, Morse Motors.
Now, the privately held company has 13 locations, 17 franchises and nine brands including Cadillac, Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Buick, GMC, Chevrolet, Fiat and Alfa Romeo in South Florida and Tampa. They are headquartered in Delray Beach next to their Toyota dealership on Federal Highway.
The summer before his freshman year of high school, he said he got a taste of what it was like to work for the business.
The 14-year-old went out to lunch with his father, Ted. He said he remembers his dad asking him how he planned to spend the summer. The teenager said he would hang out and go to the beach. He said his dad told him he could do that for one week before he goes to work.
He said he was put to work as a porter. He spent days sweeping, taking out trash, placing plastic on seats of cars and the paper floor mats in cars that came in for service. He recalled standing on top of the trash compactor to smash garbage down enough for the compactor to function properly. He made $4.25 per hour and was covered in sweat and dirt by the end of the day.
“I remember asking dad for a raise and he said, ‘Your raise will be effective as soon as you are.’ He was full of good one-liners.”
As a teenager, he said he just wanted to wear a suit, have an air-conditioned office and sell cars. Now, he said he understands why his father and grandfather put him to work in all types of positions. He couldn’t do his job if he didn’t understand how other people do their jobs.
“When I was born, taking over this company was not my birthright,” he said. “If I wasn’t capable to do this job, they wouldn’t have let me do it.”
Since that high school job, he has served the company in different roles including general manager of a Cadillac dealership in Fort Lauderdale, director of marketing and advertising and executive vice president.
For the past year, he has been serving in the highest role of the company, chairman.
His appointment came shortly after his father died at 66 after a long illness. His grandfather worked for the company he started until he died at 91 in 2012.
Once his grandfather passed, he said the rumor mill about the company being for sale began to swirl. He said those rumors ramped up even more after his father died.
But, he said he was committed to the company and the more than 900 employees who he says help the operation run as smooth as a ride in a new car.
“It’s a big operation,” he said. “If you look at it in its totality it’s a little overwhelming. I am lucky to have some amazing people who work with us.”
He said he received unsolicited calls from people offering to buy the company just a week after his father died.
“It hurt me,” he said. “I didn’t want our employees thinking we are going to sell. I wanted them to know I was committed to the company and to them. We are not for sale.”
Over the past year, Morse has broken records and gained recognition.
In 2016, the business recorded $1.3 billion in sales an increase from $1 billion the year before. Three Cadillac dealerships won the 2016 Cadillac of the Year award and Ed Morse Automotive won three out of the four top awards in the Southeast and three out of 20 in the nation.
The company’s annual golf tournament, which benefits Muscular Dystrophy also raised $220,000 this summer, surpassing the $2 million mark of money raised since its inception 23 years ago.
While his day-to-day responsibilities aren’t selling cars to customers anymore, he said he still gets excited when new makes and models hit the showroom floors.
“I love cars,” he said. “I still get excited when any of the brands put out a new concept or model year. I still get excited to sit in them and drive them.”
He has two favorite cars. The first is one his father drove, a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454 that was black with white stripes. He said he always gave his father a hard time for getting rid of that car. The other, the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California that was featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
He said the car industry is changing with technological advancements like the iPhone. He said people come in to buy a car and they know all the details about the car before they even talk to a salesperson.
But he said people aren’t turning to the web to make their final purchase.
“You need to sit in the car, drive the car, smell it,” he said. “There are a lot of things you can buy online, but buying a car, you want to make sure you are making the right decision. It’s difficult to buy shoes if you don’t try them on.”
When he is away from the office, he said he spends his time at home with his wife and two young daughters.