George P. Heidler, Jr.

George P. Heidler, Jr., of Villa Park, California, passed away on October 7, 2011, from brain cancer.  He leaves behind his wife of 48 years, Shirlee, and children Jeff, Hayley, K.C., Doug, daughters-in-law Liz and Rosa and grandchildren Austin, Hayden, Tyson, Leah, Drake, Kiran and Vaughn and sister, Stephanie Loer.  George was CEO of Tom’s Truck Center, Inc., (Santa Ana, CA); Carmenita Truck Center, (Santa Fe Springs, CA); Suzuki & Kia Depots, (Santa Ana, CA); and Reindeer Corporation (Santa Ana & Garden Grove, CA).

George was born in Oak Park, Illinois on October 15, 1941.  He grew up on a farm in Naperville, Illinois. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Arizona in Tucson where he graduated with a degree in Business in 1964.   While attending the University of Arizona, he met his wife, Shirlee.  George was a member of the Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) Fraternity.

George started out as a salesman for two major corporations, Exxon Company and General Telephone Directory Co.  He watched and learned from those around him.  For three years running he won the President’s Sales Award.

    In 1972, George opened a Shell Service Station in the city of Orange, California.   He expanded his business into a towing company, an auto center, and additional service stations.  As the business grew, George continued to expand – this time into auto wrecking and truck repair. 
     Tom’s Truck Center, named for the tow and truck repair company George acquired in 1974, was launched in 1986.  The company was then approached by Iveco Truck to become a dealer for them. The fact that no one ever heard of an Iveco Truck was beside the point.  In 1993, the Isuzu and UD Nissan Diesel Truck franchises were added to the business and in 1994, the GMC line.  Over the next 16 years, Tom’s Truck Center would go on to win award after award for excellence in sales, parts, and service and eventually become Isuzu’s number one dealer in the U.S. and an Isuzu ‘Ichiban’ Award winner for 22 consecutive years.  In 1995, the Mitsubishi/Fuso franchise was added and he proudly participated in the Mitsubishi Fuso Dealer Council.  The Hino line of commercial trucks was added in 2004.  In 2003, George was an ATD Dealer of the Year Finalist.

     Along the way, George never stopped learning. He heeded the counsel of industry organizations, local Chamber and Council members, and he listened to winning business philosophies.  He also took part in countless industry workshops. It spurred him to revamp the internal structure of his company to allow for more voices to be heard after the company grew from a core of five employees to its current roster of 200. He launched broad-scale mechanic, sales, and management training programs that kept employee turnover low and staff morale high.

In 2001, George acquired a Suzuki car dealership, adding Suzuki’s complete line of automobiles to the Santa Ana location as Suzuki Depot and in 2007, the Kia franchise was opened as Kia Depot.  George was always open to opportunity and when the opportunity arose to purchase Carmenita Ford Truck Sales, who had once been a major competitor to Tom’s, George worked hard on the acquisition.

He stepped forward to lend his voice, support, and counsel when it came to organizing business and industry contributions to the community and local schools.  George was active in various truck and automotive dealer councils and served on the Board(s) of Directors of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce, the Orange County Automobile Dealers Association and High School Inc.  George was a founding member of High School, Inc. which consists of 7 academies and is a school program that helps prepare students to enter the labor force with the skills to succeed.  George believed in work force development for the students of Santa Ana and with this vision helped found High School Inc.  The Automotive, Transportation and Logistics Academy was renamed in George’s honor in 2011.   For his work in the community and with the Chamber of Commerce, George was named Large Businessman of the Year in Santa Ana for 2010.

George loved to travel with friends and enjoyed working in his garden, growing vegetables to supply his family and friends.  There were always chickens and a menagerie of animals on his ‘farm’.  He derived great pleasure from taking groups of friends and family to Lake Havasu where it was always a challenge for him to keep all of the toys running.  George and Shirlee had great times entertaining.  Little did he know he would become more well known for his annual Christmas Hayride than for being a businessman.

George was not aware of the influence he had on others.  He was just enthusiastic and wanted people to get as excited about a project as he was.  He liked people and wanted them to succeed so he was always willing to share his experiences.  George was so proud of his businesses, his great employees and his family.

George had a full, happy life and when his time came, he knew God would take care of him.  He will be greatly missed but we know his spirit will live on in our memories and the accomplishments he left behind.