South Florida Chrysler magnate, philanthropist Carlos Planas dies at 72

When the U.S. entered into a recession a decade ago and Carlos Planas’ Chrysler-Jeep dealership in Tamiami had to be sacrificed in a bankruptcy plan to save the auto industry, it had been said “Carlos Planas did all the right things since he arrived from Cuba at age 12 in 1960.”

That was the viewpoint a columnist for the Miami Herald detailed in a 2009 Sunday piece.

Planas, who died Thursday at 72 after a battle with Parkinson’s, was born Nov. 10, 1946, in Havana. The Planas family — which included parents Amparo Hernandez and Juan Ricardo Planas — fled Cuba for Miami in 1960 and the youngster “embraced a new language and country,” the columnist wrote..

After graduating from Miami-Edison Senior High, Planas earned a master’s in business administration from the University of Miami in 1971. From there, he joined the Ford Motor Co. as a financial analyst.

At Ford, Planas’ business savvy was tapped at posts in Michigan, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Venezuela.

In 1980, he became general manager at Palmetto Ford in Miami — just as interest rates soared to 20 percent.

He succeeded anyway.

“The training I got from Ford Motor Co. was exceptional. Right from the beginning, I said, ‘This is my career,’” he told the Herald in 1998.

When he next took a job with Merrill Lynch in 1987 as a stock broker, he reported to his office in Coral Gables on a Black Monday — the day the stock market crashed.

Planas rose to vice president at Merrill Lynch.

But that passion he had for the auto industry wasn’t easily displaced. He would come back.

This time, in 1989, as an owner of Tamiami Automotive Group, a Chrysler-Jeep dealership on Eighth Street in Miami’s Fontainebleau neighborhood, along with his business partner and friend, Bernat Tagliaferro.

So what if, in the first year, the business lost a cool million. Planas was his own boss. He had faced challenges before. He wouldn’t be in the red for long.

According to the Miami Herald, that Chrysler-Jeep dealership soared to No. 1 in South Florida and often topped the sales charts in the Southeast region. Nationally, Planas’ dealership found itself ensconced in the upper half of all such Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealerships — No. 75 out of more than 2,000.

Planas was named Time Magazine’s “Dealer of the Year” in 1995, and was named a “Pace Setter” award-winner for the Top 100 Chrysler Jeep dealers in the U.S. for 12 consecutive years.

The Tamiami location was one of the most successful Hispanic-owned Chrysler dealerships in the country.

Planas served as president of the South Florida Automobile Dealer Association and president of the Chrysler Jeep Automobile Association.

“Not bad for a country boy,” Planas teased the Herald columnist in 2009.

But his daughter Cristina Planas Pardo says it was her father’s community service that touches her.

He led by example, donating thousands of dollars to South Florida organizations and charities — from St. Thomas University to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“One thing I would want people to remember about my father was how much he gave back to the community,” Planas Pardo said. “He always told me, ‘Cristina, you have to be good to the community, and the community in turn will be good to you.’

“When he was on the [1996-98 Florida] Constitution Revision Commission, one thing he wanted to ensure was that affordable housing was available to all,” his daughter added. “During the Mariel boat lift, he opened his own home to help Cuban refugees and ensure they received adequate aid. He also, I remember, loved Jackson Memorial Hospital and always wanted to make sure that the county appreciated what it had.”

In 2005, Planas gave a 2005 Town & Country van to a needy family in Miami as part of the Herald’s Wish Book charity.

Planas once said, “I never owed a cent to anyone. If I can’t pay for it, I won’t buy it.”

But he gave. And wept when he could not give anymore, such as that time a decade ago when the federal bailout plan for the auto industry didn’t work out for five South Florida Chrysler dealerships in 2009 — out of 789 closed nationwide.

“I was crying with my wife, I was so anguished and so angry,” Planas told the Herald on the emotions he felt when he had to let workers go.

But he left his mark in other ways, too.

As the nation started promoting environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient practices, Planas’ dealership had become one of the first to adopt green environmental practices at its property. In fact, it was the first of Chrysler’s then-3,700 dealerships to be certified green, according to the automaker’s executive vice president Steven Landry at the time.

“Because of this initiative by Carlos, we will start an initiative to incentivize other dealerships to do the same thing,” Landry told the Herald in 2007.

Among Planas’ civic contributions: He was chairman of the Jackson Memorial Foundation and vice chairman of the Public Health Trust. He was also a founding member of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana and served on the boards of St. Thomas University, the Orange Bowl Committee, New World School of Arts, Miami-Dade Community College Foundation and the Latin Builders Association.

Planas’ family, in their obituary, cited a P.T. Barnum quote to sum up how Planas should be remembered: “No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.”

Planas’ survivors include his mother, Amparo Hernandez Planas; children Juan Carlos, Alejandro and Cristina; grandchildren Luciana and Elias; brothers Raul and Ricardo; and sister, Graziela.

A viewing will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Saint Louis Catholic Church, 7270 SW 120th St., Pinecrest, followed by a 10 a.m. funeral Mass. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for a donation in Planas’ memory to the National Parkinson’s Foundation.