Robert (Bob) Soell, long-time fleet sales manager, charter member of the Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association (AFLA), and Automotive Fleet Hall of Fame inductee, passed away on Dec. 29, 2014. He was 97.
Soell sold fleet vehicles full-time for 35 years until the business changed with the advent of secondary dealer codes. In the late 1980s, Soell joined Kribs Ford City in St. Louis where he delivered 11,815 new cars and trucks between 1985 and 2000. Kribs was sold to Suntrup Ford in 2000 and Soell stayed on until his retirement in Dec. 4, 2012, capping a 64-year career in fleet.
Soell was a charter member of AFLA and as a long-time member of the NAFA Fleet Management Association. In recognition of his many contributions to the fleet industry, Soell was selected as a founding inductee of the Automotive Fleet Hall of Fame and, earlier, was recognized by Automotive Fleet magazine as one of the "50 Most Important People in Fleet History."
Like many professionals who have built a career in fleet, Soell's introduction to the industry was by accident. In fact, his first love was basketball — which, as fate would have it, opened all of his career doors for him.
After successful high school and naval basketball careers, Soell was part of a group that attempted to bring professional basketball to St. Louis. While promoting basketball events at the time, particularly with the Harlem Globetrotters, Soell needed a vehicle to transport the Globetrotters' opponents from venue to venue. In 1948, he bought a 1947 Ford "Woody" station wagon from Fred Evens Ford in St. Louis. After the season, he brought the station wagon back to the dealership to be serviced. "They asked me if I wanted to sell cars," he recalled in an interview in the September 2012 issue of Automotive Fleet. "I said, 'I don't know how to sell cars,’ and they replied, 'Can you read and write? You start tomorrow.'"
Soell continued promoting basketball events in and around St. Louis during the early days of his fleet career. This was possible because, in those days, dealers closed at 5 p.m. during the week and at noon on Saturday.
"The fleet customers would give me a $100 deposit, I'd place the order, and 12 to 15 months later, you’d have the vehicle," he said, adding that he received $5 commission per vehicle.
When asked why he continued to work beyond retirement age, Soell replied, "I enjoy the business."
By Mike Antich