COMPTON — When Brett Mitchell took over a Chevrolet dealership in the Compton Auto Plaza in 1985, it was not under the best of circumstances.
The previous owner had literally left town in the middle of the night 11 months earlier, leaving behind a string of unpaid employees and cars in the middle of repair, as well as a lot of public wrath.
"The automotive industry is one of the most competitive around and this dealership had the worst customer service index rating of any Chevy dealer in the Los Angeles area," Mitchell said. "We had our hands full."
But three years later, Mitchell has apparently turned things around and for his efforts was recently named national Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Small Business Administration.
Mitchell, 29, won out over several hundred nominees from around the country, according to SBA spokesman John R. Tumpak. He said Mitchell received the award because "he turned around a moribund" business and did so "dramatically."
Mitchell was nominated for the award by the Black Business Assn. of Los Angeles. An association spokeswoman said they were impressed by Mitchell's charitable activities.
Active in Community
"We think it is important for young black entrepreneurs to work in the community, especially with the schools," said Valerie B. Shaw, a member of the organization's board of directors. "That is especially going to be important in the 1990s if cutbacks in education continue."
Compton Schools Supt. Ted D. Kimbrough said Mitchell has been one of the district's biggest backers. Kimbrough said Mitchell raised $25,000 for uniforms for the Compton High School band and is now financing an interscholastic golf program at all three district high schools.
Mitchell's business has received considerable assistance from city government and, since 1985, has given several thousand dollars in campaign contributions to three members of the City Council, which also serves as the Redevelopment Commission. When Mitchell took over the dealership in the city-owned auto mall, the Redevelopment Agency subsidized his five-year lease so that he would pay $200-a-month rent for the first year and $3,000-a-month thereafter, according to city records.
Last year, the businessman also received a low-interest, $175,000-loan from the Redevelopment Agency.
"As we have grown, we have a need for additional working capital," Mitchell said.
In return for its help, the city has received sales taxes from the business and several dealership jobs have been created at a time when Compton suffers from a higher than average rate of unemployment, he said.
Mitchell, a Los Angeles native, got into the car business while in high school. His job was to refer potential customers to a local dealer in return for a percentage of any sale.
"If I sold one car, I made more money than I did as a box boy at Ralphs," Mitchell said. While attending UCLA, Mitchell bought a used car lot and eventually dropped out of school to pursue the business full time.