The Road to Success: OSU alumnus Wilson makes family business a top dealership in the country
Thursday, April 27, 2023
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Growing up in Stillwater, Aaron Wilson dreamed of wearing America’s brightest orange. And although his childhood was spent close to campus, he never truly understood what it was like being a member of the Cowboy family.
“Whether you’re walking by Theta Pond or Library Lawn or going to Walkaround, it just feels like home,” Wilson said. “The people are what make it. I think more and more as I was seeing other universities and seeing other cities, there were a lot of strengths and there were a lot of things that draw people to places, but it was just this feeling of comfort and home that kept me in Stillwater.”
Wilson arrived on campus in the fall of 2004. He started his OSU career by becoming involved in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Wilson majored in economics, allowing him to find his passion for sales and business, which would benefit him later in his career.
“I took my first economics class in the spring of 2005,” Wilson said. “Most people run from the introduction to microeconomics class. But I leaned in and loved every minute of it.”
While on campus, he joined the Freshman Representative’s Council, President’s Leadership Council, Student Government Association and served as the Spears School of Business Council President. Wilson said he believes students develop the most early in their college careers, so by getting involved in clubs and organizations, he established his place as a leader on campus.
“I always felt like I surrounded myself with people who were better than me,” Wilson said. “They were smarter than me, and that pushed me to become better and raise my ceiling for what I could achieve.”
Not only will OSU always be a special place for Wilson because of his love for the university, but also because it’s where he met his wife and lifelong partner, Allison. When Wilson got involved with the Business Student Council, Allison was serving as vice president. He likes to say there was love in the business college.
“She left to go to law school,” Wilson said. “I guess I missed her enough to figure out she was the one.”
To wrap up his college career at OSU, Wilson applied to serve on the Royalty Court for America’s Greatest Homecoming. Wilson remembers the day he was crowned Homecoming King as his favorite memory as a student at OSU.
“Just being on the football field in front of the sold-out stadium and being announced Homecoming King was such a neat honor,” Wilson said. “I remember feeling the energy of the town building up. I think that whole week boiled down to a microcosm of winning it or not. It wasn’t about that to me. It was just about celebrating Homecoming.”
Following his graduation in 2008, Wilson moved to Wichita, Kansas, to work at Koch Industries. He was there for about five years and learned key principles of managing and conducting business.
“My time at Koch taught me how one of the most excellent companies in the history of the United States was run,” Wilson said. “The guiding principles of which it was founded and the mental models they used to conduct business gave me a blueprint of how to run a business like I had never seen before. I saw my parents successfully run the Wilson Auto dealership but to see a different perspective was huge for me.”
"Whether you’re walking by Theta Pond or Library Lawn or going to Walkaround, it just feels like home. The people are what make it. I think more and more as I was seeing other universities and seeing other cities, there were a lot of strengths and there were a lot of things that draw people to places, but it was just this feeling of comfort and home that kept me in Stillwater."
During Christmas 2012, Wilson mentioned to his parents he was considering a move to China to pursue a new position with Koch. His father thought Wilson would return to Stillwater to take over the dealership, which planted the idea in his head.
Dathan and Teresa Wilson purchased Stillwater’s Chevrolet franchise in 1986, followed by the Cadillac franchise in 2007. When Aaron returned to Stillwater, both dealerships were doing so well he decided to buy out the Buick and GMC dealerships in Stillwater. In 2019, Wilson Buick, GMC and Cadillac opened for their first full year in their brand-new facility. More recently, the Wilson Auto family purchased a power sports dealership, allowing them to expand even more.
Since Aaron took over Wilson Auto in 2013, he has developed the small, family-owned business into one of the fastest-growing Cadillac dealerships in the country. Following the pandemic and Aaron’s transition into a leadership role, the dealership rose in the sales rankings from 450th among Cadillac dealers to 29th.
“We’re bigger than any store in Atlanta and bigger than any in the states of Florida and New York — all right here in the small town of Stillwater,” Aaron said. “During the pandemic, new vehicle deliveries were limited. I bought dozens of cars each week and started meeting new clients. When the plants were turned back on, we were in the front of the line to earn all the inventory. The average dealership right now might have 40 or 50 cars. We have over 400 cars on our books every day.”
With their immense growth, Wilson Auto has been able to grow their staff, locations and customer base. They went from selling nine Escalades in a year to over 500, making them the top Escalade dealer in the country. Most of their success has been driven by their upgrade to selling their vehicles online and shipping to their customers. In fact, Aaron said celebrities Snoop Dogg and Cardi B are both driving Escalades purchased through Wilson Auto.
Aaron said the moment he decided to get involved with giving back to his alma mater was his most successful moment. He said he holds his involvement in the community and university paramount over almost everything else he is involved in.
The Wilson Auto family’s involvement in the university has started to include more investment in student-athletes, as well.
The state of Oklahoma adopted the Student- Athlete Name, Image and Likeness Rights Act in 2021. Since the adoption, NIL has only continued to become more of a normality in college athletics. Aaron believes OSU athletics should be at the forefront. He wants to make OSU the destination for college athletes who have an NIL vehicle contract.
“We have so many young men and women who don’t have a vehicle,” said Barry Hinson, OSU’s associate athletic director for NIL. “If they’re great in sports, community service or social media influencers, he is able to promote his business while also helping these athletes.”
Since the start of the program, Wilson Auto has sold six cars to student-athletes in just under three months. By doing this, Aaron is not only assisting athletes in purchasing their own vehicles, but also helping them ensure their financial success in the future.
“Most college students couldn’t get approved on a $50,000 vehicle even with a job,” Aaron said. “Our program is helping them get in that vehicle, make a year of on-time payments when they’re in college and elevate their credit score.”
Despite their rapid growth, Aaron said the dealership remains a family business. Aaron and Allison have two daughters, June and Hope, whom they are raising to be dedicated OSU supporters just like their parents. And he credits OSU for teaching him how to make his business a home for customers, employees and friends alike.
“I think at Oklahoma State, the people and the programs have this X-factor that other places don’t have,” Aaron said. “It just feels like home.”
Photos By: Phil Shockley and Provided by Aaron Wilson
Story By: Jillian Remington | STATE Magazine