Three decades of wins and losses for Oregon business

Three decades of wins and losses for Oregon business

Article Index

The Car Czar

 

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From the October 1984 issue: Scott Thomason's car company was one of the state's top private companies in the 1990s. Thomason left Oregon in 2003.

Scott Thomason bought the family car dealership from his father in 1983 and built it into a nine-new-car dealership on the strength of some very strong TV ads.

By the early 1990s Thomason Auto Group was one of Oregon’s top privately held companies, with more sales than the Tonkin Family and Lithia Motors, and Thomason’s bespectacled face was becoming a celebrity in its own right. A series of somewhat surreal television ads produced by the Portland agency Nerve featured Thomason’s grinning floating head exhorting the public to buy, buy, BUY. His kicker: “If you don’t come see me today, I can’t save you any money.”

But the car czar ran into a variety of troubles in the early 2000s. He was fined $2.5 million by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He paid the state attorney general $550,000 to settle a pile of consumer complaints. Even his unmistakable face worked against him when he attempted to flee a car accident only to be recognized by bystanders and charged with hit and run. Thomason left Oregon for California in 2003 and became part owner of a new collection of dealerships.

Thomason and his wife, Debbie Autzen, paid $8.5 million for a 10,500-square-foot mansion in Sausalito in 2007. They sold it for $6.8 million last April.

The graying of Oregon

 

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John Gray developed the iconic Sunriver resort in Central Oregon, along with Salishan and Skamania Lodge.

It is tempting to focus on the rogues and the swashbucklers, the booms and the busts, because they tend to make the liveliest stories. But most of the business leaders who define Oregon prefer to work out of the spotlight, bringing people together to get things done, creating wealth through entrepreneurship and giving back through philanthropy. That is how John Gray has done business for decades.

Gray was a World War II veteran who rose through the ranks to become CEO of Oregon Saw Chain Manufacturing Co. He was founder of the chainsaw giant Omark and chairman of Tektronix. But he is best known for his distinctive real estate developments: Salishan on the coast, Sunriver in Central Oregon, John’s Landing in Portland and Skamania Lodge in the Gorge.

His ability to build resorts in harmony with the natural landscape and Oregon’s complex land-use laws set high standards and brought sizable rewards.

Gray sold Omark to Blount in 1985 but he has never really retired from business. In addition to his real estate ventures he has organized in-depth talks between warring sides in the land-use debate and distinguished himself as a generous supporter of a broad array of charities, from the Boy Scouts to the Portland Art Museum to Reed College. Many of his donations have been made anonymously.

Now 91 years old, Gray was the 2010 recipient of the Vollum Award for Lifetime Philanthropic Achievement.