When two half-brothers invited Leo to join them in their Flint, Michigan used car business in the early 1950s, little did Leo Payne know that this was the beginning of a lifelong career in the auto industry.
By his late 20s, he was a Ford dealer in tiny Jackson, Michigan, quickly followed by a Chevrolet Dealership in Dexter. Yet he and wife, Joan, wanted to leave Michigan and its miserable winters behind. So early in the 1960s, he and Joan had enough and headed to California. When they stopped for a visit in Albuquerque, an acquaintance suggested they check out Denver. As they continued on their way west, after stopping one snowy night in Raton, New Mexico, they awoke to the sight of snow-covered Rockies under blue skies. That’s when they fell in love and headed north.
Starting from a rented used car lot at Sixth Ave. and Broadway in Denver until his retirement in 1991, Leo’s business grew into one of Colorado’s largest dealers, representing Pontiac, GMC, Jeep, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Saab, Subaru, Nissan, Hyundai and Mazda, along with RVs.
While in his early 30s, Leo had the opportunity to buy into Ray Sparks’ Pontiac dealership in Golden. An old gas station with a one-car showroom, Leo built a new store, taking on Jeep. Within five years, he’d bought out Sparks and expanded to 14 acres on Wadsworth.
Leo, who his son Lee described as an innovator who was willing to try different things,
also owned Volkswagen and Nissan-Jaguar stores in California. In fact, Leo preferred buying and selling dealerships more than running them. He was the consummate dealmaker.
Leo generously supported many charities and causes. He served as president of the West Chamber of Commerce and was involved in his church. He views his seven children — three of whom are in the auto industry — as his proudest achievements.
Leo’s best people advice he has ever given: Do the right thing. The best business advice? The first loss is the best loss. You’re going to make mistakes.
Now 91 years old, Leo and his wife of 25 years, Gloria, split their time between Castle Rock and Florida.