Don Foss is a true legend in the automotive industry. Growing up working in his father’s dealership, Don learned about cars and entrepreneurship early. His first foray into business was in high school when he used the money he earned washing cars at his dad’s business to buy a tow truck.
In the early ’70s, Foss saw that the traditional car loan system was preventing a lot of hardworking people from buying cars, so he founded Credit Acceptance in 1972. Since then, Credit Acceptance has become a multibillion-dollar company that is now publically traded. Foss’s entrepreneurial ambitions didn’t stop with cars. He has also achieved great success over the years in several diverse industries, including retail, real estate, hospitality, and marina.
“Don is a modest man who doesn’t want a lot of attention. Yet his story is a great example for our students. Starting from humble beginnings in Detroit, he founded a company that completely changed people’s lives by helping them get reliable transportation, which is essential to getting a job, taking care of family, and repairing credit,” said Tim Nash, senior vice president of Strategic and Corporate Alliances, the Robert C. McNair endowed chair, and director of Robert C. and Janice McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. “Although Don is a prolific entrepreneur, his success with Credit Acceptance is where he first used the free enterprise system at its best: he saw a need and filled it better than other companies at the time.”
Throughout all of his accomplishments, Foss's vision has centered on the potential of people to achieve, if they have support. Today his vision is fulfilling the dreams of young people through two scholarships he established at Northwood. The Don Foss Annual Scholarship and the Don Foss Endowed Scholarship, created in 1998 and 2015 respectively, have awarded 462 private donor scholarships to deserving Northwood students over the years.
“Northwood is eternally grateful to Don Foss for his investment in our students and their futures. We have the profound privilege of knowing him not only as a successful entrepreneur, but also as a man of integrity, kindness, and generosity,” said president Keith Pretty. “Northwood is stronger because of Don’s involvement in the university and his dedication to young people. Like the many recipients of his scholarships, we can’t thank him enough for creating opportunities and opening doors.”
Success Follows Support
Alumni James Hannah ('11) and Bryson Ruffin ('13) and M.B.A. ('14) are past scholarship recipients who are now successful professionals in the automotive industry. They both feel their Northwood educations and the NU network helped them achieve in their careers. Yet as high school students, they thought Northwood’s tuition would be a barrier to their aspirations.
“I was the first person in my family to go to college. Without the scholarship from Don Foss, I couldn’t have gone to Northwood or received the education I did,” said Hannah who is now a district parts and service manager for Kia Motors of America in Kansas where he focuses on excellence in customer satisfaction. “Every day I try to live up to the confidence placed in me by Don Foss and his scholarship.”
As a process engineer for Ford Motor Company, Ruffin noted that “one of the most valuable things I learned at Northwood was to keep an open mind. I made great friends who came from different backgrounds than mine. But we shared interests and goals and gave each other a new way of looking at life.”
Chelsea Mallams, ’21, is thriving at Northwood after her first year studying Automotive Marketing and Management. Her job during high school was at one of the Don Foss dealerships in Michigan where her mom, Sandy Mallams, is also employed. From that experience, Mallams realized she wanted a career in the field. “I really liked the work and wanted to learn more about the industry. Northwood was my first choice because of its great automotive curriculum, as well as small class size and the fact that students have jobs right after graduation. I’ll always be thankful that the scholarship from Don Foss gave me this opportunity.”
The Don Foss Annual Scholarship and the Don Foss Endowed Scholarship are available to Northwood students who exhibit great ambition, financial need, and entrepreneurial spirit. Priority is given to children of members of the National Independent Automotive Dealers Association (NIADA) or employees and their families working for a NIADA member.
If you’d like to start a private donor scholarship at Northwood or for more information about the Don Foss scholarships, contact Sherri Riepma, Private Donor Scholarship coordinator,
989-837-4946 or firstname.lastname@example.org.