Dynasty: How the Kopfs of Redwood City created an automotive powerhouse

The Kopf spouse and children, house owners of Towne Ford, an Acura dealership and Boardwalk Vehicle Shopping mall in Redwood Town, occur by their enthusiasm for automobiles truthfully.

It all started off in 1917, when Benjamin Kopf Sr. joined the team of Ford Motor Company’s not long ago opened factory in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Kopf, who was born in the town, sooner or later proven and ran five Ford plants in the course of South America. His name distribute, and corporation founder Henry Ford himself questioned his mounting Latin star to construct a clean franchise overseas.

Had both Kopf or Ford possessed a crystal ball, they might have reconsidered the new market: Japan. There, Kopf would achieve excellent achievements just before acquiring himself less than dwelling arrest during Globe War II.

Like a lot of for the duration of the wave of European immigration to the Western Hemisphere, Kopf’s father experienced occur to Buenos Aires from France in the late 1800s. A brewer by trade, he died in 1892, when Benjamin was two yrs aged. His wife remarried a farmer named Alfredo Johanessen, but youthful Ben didn’t get to farm existence. His excellent brain harbored desires of bigger factors than feeding chickens and milking cows. Still, what schooling he received was by way of a tutor. Even that confined book-studying held contrary to his stepfather’s belief that the uncomplicated pleasures of hard do the job in the fields ended up all 1 necessary in daily life.

It was far from surprising, then, that Kopf still left residence at 13, returning to the large town of Buenos Aires. He worked at odd jobs though satiating his need for information with assistance from the ebook collection at the YMCA. Along the way, he learned a knack for languages, finally talking seven: German, Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, Italian and Japanese.

Disciplined and pushed, Kopf joined Ford four many years right after his re-arrival in the city. It did not acquire extensive just before the new hire’s skills had been regarded, and he was elevated to assistant supervisor of the company’s local manufacturing plant. Autos have been rapidly catching on in Argentina, with Ford pushing out extra than 1,000 cars a thirty day period in a region that didn’t have paved streets. By 1921, Kopf was head of a new Brazilian facility before transferring to open up yet another in Uruguay a 12 months later—all while controlling Ford dealerships in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.

A New Assignment

A year later, Kopf was a father of two little ones, Margarita and Benjamin Jr.  With his wife, Margo, the youthful government was completely ready for new issues. While in Uruguay, he wrote to Ford, “The gratification of perform well finished, and hope of receiving even larger and even larger work, are frequent inspiration to me and a spur to exert a lot more and greater initiatives.”

Kopf was angling to open up a manufacturing unit in Mexico.

Ford had other concepts.

He experienced resolved his go-having Argentine was just the gentleman to crack the market in Japan, which had been shut off to Westerners. Undaunted by his then-lack of information about Japanese tradition and language, Kopf dutifully gathered up his loved ones and in 1925 sailed for Yokohama, wherever the new plant would be constructed.

It took many years to grasp the Japanese entire world, but attaining a foothold in the country’s vehicle market was a distinct issue. In quick buy, Kopf experienced Ford range-just one in car or truck product sales and oversaw 1,150 workers when setting up dealerships in China, the Philippines and French Indochina. In 1929 alone, Ford sold a lot more than 10,000 units constructed in Japan.

According to a generational heritage penned by grandson Rick, the visionary Kopf considered in present day technology and at a single stage sought unsuccessfully to introduce professional aviation to Japan by the Ford tri-motor plane. Never ever 1 to leave funds on the table, Kopf was reported to have marketed the prototype to a Chinese warlord.

For 15 a long time, Ford boomed in Japan. Its cars became so well known that the royal loved ones visited the Yokohama plant. Benjamin Kopf Sr. was on leading of his game, the darling of Ford Motor Firm and a revered, influential businessman.

Then arrived December 7, 1941.

Increasingly alarmed at the unsettling indications of war, Margo and Ben in 1934 experienced sent Ben Jr. to the U.S. and Margarita to Canada to be educated. Margo adopted in 1940, using residence in Palo Alto, adjacent to where the little ones had reunited at Stanford.

Quickly soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kopf found himself locked out of his manufacturing unit, held under household arrest and hunting for a way out of Japan. Even however he was an Argentinean citizen, he was a foreigner who ran an American production facility that experienced been seized and transformed to military production.

Ultimately, in 1943, Kopf was launched under a prisoner trade and boarded a series of ships that took him to Shanghai, the Philippines, India, South Africa and Rio de Janeiro just before arriving in New York, wherever Margo satisfied him. After 3 months of recuperation in Palo Alto, Ford sent the restless Benjamin Kopf Sr. to the assignment he experienced originally sought: Mexico Metropolis. There, he turned president, treasurer and standard supervisor of Ford South The united states and Mexico, where by he invested the rest of his occupation just before returning to the Peninsula and retiring in Menlo Park in the course of the late 1970s.

The Future Generation

At Stanford, it was customary for those people with wheels to give rides to the less-privileged hoofing it along Palm Travel between downtown Palo Alto and the heart of the campus. That courtesy extended in particular from younger adult males to young females. Just one morning, Benjamin Jr. was driving a shiny new 1940 black Mercury convertible with a pink leather-based interior—a reward from his parents—when he pulled in excess of and offered a lift to a college student named Marian Malquist.

“She fell in appreciate with my auto,” said Ben Jr., with clear chagrin, on a online video his sons taped, “and the romance started off from there.” He included with a smile, “If I hadn’t married Marian, I would have probably come to be a seashore bum.”

Ben Jr. sought to join up at the outbreak of Entire world War II, but as a domicile of Japan and non-American citizen of German ancestry, he attracted natural scrutiny. As his son, Ben Kopf III, relates, “The tale explained to to me was that Father went into the recruiting business office and mentioned, ‘I want to volunteer.’ To which his recruitment officer replied, ‘Let’s see your I.D.’

“The sergeant seemed at Dad’s delivery certificate and passport and mentioned, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But then Father knowledgeable the sergeant that he spoke fluent Japanese, German and Tagalog (the basis of conventional Filipino). The recruiter’s following ask for was, ‘Raise your right hand.’”

Ben Jr. was attached to the Military Intelligence Corps and despatched to the Philippines to lead the division there. Right before he departed, nevertheless, arrived some unfinished enterprise: He and Marian eloped.

Coming property in 1946, Ben Jr. found he had to contend with swarms of other returning G.I.s for a work. He and Marian decided they would fare superior in Mexico Metropolis doing the job for Ford less than Ben Sr. But immediately after two yrs in Mexico, Marian experienced experienced ample and the few returned to California to give start to their initially two sons, Richard (Rick) and Robert (Bob) in Menlo Park.

It must have occur as minimal surprise that Ben Jr. uncovered his up coming career at a Ford dealership.

This tale 1st appeared in the November version of Weather Magazine

The Mercury drop-top rated that had captured Marian’s heart was serviced at Towne Ford in Redwood Metropolis. Though waiting for his vehicle one particular working day, Ben Jr. struck up a dialogue with a person of the partners, Ame Cahors, who oversaw the provider section. Cahors questioned what he was up to, and Ben Jr. admitted he was on the lookout for function. Cahors made available him a situation as a salesman. Consequently commenced Benjamin Kopf Jr.’s entry into an vehicle retailer he would eventually possess.

Ben Jr. lived by a basic philosophy. “It’s crucial that you be lucky,” he stated, “and to be lucky you have to function hard. And the more challenging you do the job, the luckier you get.”

As time went by, Kopf commenced buying out the other companions, coming to total possession by 1970. Then he started to extend. Around the future 20 yrs, he purchased Stanford Lincoln-Mercury in Menlo Park, alongside with Towne Ford, Towne Mitsubishi and Hopkins Acura with co-operator Steve Hopkins in Redwood Town. For a even though, he also held franchises to offer Studebakers and the Ford Edsel, and was even a DeLorean vendor.

Gain some, get rid of some.

Ben Jr.’s eldest son, Rick, states his father “could be challenging when preventing the unions.” On the other hand, Rick adds that he “was recognised to be a gentleman automobile dealer.” An instance: One particular night time, below yellow lights, a customer purchased a truck he imagined was white. The up coming early morning, he discovered it was pink.  Ben Jr. gave him a refund.

And the Up coming Technology

Ben Jr. and Marian experienced 4 sons: Rick, Bob, Jamie and Ben III. Only Rick pursued a vocation exterior the vehicle company that stuck he turned a law firm, notably chief counsel for Dash Communications and then main counsel for the expenditure arm of the Bechtel spouse and children.

Bob rose via the business to have Stanford Lincoln-Mercury in Menlo Park for 33 a long time when obtaining yet another Lincoln dealership in Fresno. Jamie—son selection three—is an aviator at coronary heart, possessing attained a industrial pilot’s license by his early 20s. But on the Peninsula, specially, the acorn generally falls shut to the oak. Immediately after university and a stint in the Military as a overcome engineer, Jamie, too, entered the vehicle business.

“I grew up in a car relatives,” he claims. “But my dad mentioned, ‘You’re not likely to get the job done at Towne. Go out and make your have existence.”

Jamie labored for many other dealerships, discovering the small business with an eye on establishing his individual store. He uncovered that opportunity in 1980 by way of Bob Kesek, who owned a Volkswagen retail outlet in Redwood Metropolis. The timing was superior from just one standpoint Kesek’s lover needed to sell his stake. But the nation was in a dramatic recession, with desire costs hitting 20 per cent that December. Motor vehicle product sales ended up sinking fast. Undaunted, Kopf jumped in, believing the overall economy would change about.

He was appropriate.

Jamie joined Kesek in a new venture—Boardwalk Group on Convention Way, a avenue in which several envisioned a Redwood City vehicle row. The youthful dealership flourished, and the two companions were being set to expand in the neighborhood.

Then the cops confirmed up. The California Freeway Patrol took about a huge part of the place for its local headquarters, successfully nixing the car row system. Still aspiring to mature, Kopf and Kesek commenced looking for other land. They found it across the freeway, at the site of the previous E.H. Bean Trucking and Rigging business on Bair Island Street.

Kesek, a Volkswagen person given that the 1950s, desired to stay 1 exclusively. But Jamie sought to broaden the firm’s choices.

“I didn’t want all our eggs in one basket,” he suggests. “Volkswagen was wonderful, but I felt the long term was in a multi-line.” The dealership additional the Lotus, Chevrolet and AMC Jeep manufacturers, between others. (American Motors Corp. generated the Jeep from 1970 to 1987, when Chrysler Corp. bought AMC.) Sooner or later Jamie would expand on his own, producing an automobile shopping mall in Reno, where by he blended two Honda dealerships and another Acura franchise.

By 1995, with 4 effective sons, Ben Kopf Jr. was completely ready to retire. Jamie was building his very own car empire, Rick was lawyering and Bob had his palms complete with Stanford Lincoln-Mercury in Menlo Park and other ventures. So, Ben Jr. made an offer you to his youngest son, Ben III.

“My father claimed, ‘I can market the enterprise or bring a general manager from the outside—which means it will be broke in three years—or do you want it?’” remembers Ben III.

The 50-12 months-previous operator of a prosperous electronics production organization, Ben III experienced by no means imagined he would enter the car or truck small business. But after thing to consider, he agreed to purchase Towne Ford. The wrinkle was that his spouse and children lived in Good Falls, Virginia. Ben III attempted commuting for a calendar year, but swiftly identified the dealership essential far far more than portion-time on-website administration. Packing up the family members, Ben III returned household to the Bay Spot and under no circumstances looked back. “I delight in each individual working day I occur in,” he states.

And the Technology After

The family organization has ongoing for still a further technology. Neither Rick nor Bob’s little ones opted for the auto business. But Jamie’s two sons, Jamie Jr. and Doug, are now the house owners and typical professionals of Boardwalk Vehicle Mall. Jamie Sr. functions as the director, loosely overseeing functions. Daughter Lindsay heads another Kopf enterprise, a nonprofit that removes trash from Lake Tahoe (see the August situation of Local climate).

Ben III has two sons of his own, Ben IV and Taylor. Right after yrs abroad in the marketing organization, Ben IV joined Towne Ford, performing as the web expert for the organization internet site in advance of turning into basic supervisor of each Towne and Hopkins Acura.

But 5 yrs back, the entrepreneurial bug bit him, as nicely. Ben IV opened a brewery on Maui, and now lives at the base of the dormant Haleakala volcano, which dominates much of the island’s japanese facet.

Ben III’s other son, Taylor, stayed in transportation but with a diverse twist. A bicycling fanatic, he opened and operated two bicycle shops, just one in Mountain Perspective and the other San Mateo, termed Cognition Cyclery. The retailers had been so thriving that biking-field giant Specialised purchased Taylor out. Now, Taylor is the most recent member of the Kopf spouse and children performing at Towne, understanding the company from the ground up.

The automobile pedigree could operate deep in the Kopfs’ historical past, but it hardly defines them. Too numerous other passions have discovered their way into their inside-combustion engines: Traveling, tech, bicycles, beer, law and their beloved Lake Tahoe.

Perhaps Benjamin Kopf Jr. summed it up best when he mentioned, “For anybody to be delighted, they need to have three matters: An individual to really like, something to do and a little something to want.”

Argentinian patriarch Benjamin Kopf Sr. would possible concur.