AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson is stepping down from the post next spring.

The auto industry is going to be a little less colorful in the near future as AutoNation’s Mike Jackson is stepping down as Chief Executive Officer next year; however, he will remain executive chairman until 2021.

“AutoNation is the retail automotive industry leader,” Jackson said in a statement. “The company is ready for its next chapter with a strong foundation, a coast to coast brand, a comprehensive Brand Extension strategy, and a transformational digital consumer car buying experience.”

Jackson is one of the industry’s most outspoken figures, often a go-to executive for reporters looking for an expert perspective on almost any industry topic. He took over as AutoNation CEO in 1999, hired by founder H. Wayne Huizenga from Mercedes-Benz USA where was president.

AutoNation was a struggling enterprise when Jackson arrived at the company’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida offices. Jackson kept the company as the No. 1 auto retailer in the country and tripled its stock price while doing it.

(Mike Jackson selected for the Automotive Hall of Fame. Click Here for the story.)

“Not only is Mike Jackson an inspirational and visionary corporate leader who is personally responsible for many automotive firsts, he’s been the respected voice of the automotive industry for the last 20 years,” said Michael Larson, AutoNation’s lead independent director.

H. Wayne Huizenga, left, hired Jackson away from Mercedes-Benz to run AutoNation.

Jackson’s hard work to take the company from struggling concept to industry leader isn’t really a surprise. His work ethic came to him when he was young. He got his first job at 10, mucking stables. It taught him, he said, a simple lesson: “When I find myself surrounded by horse manure, I start shoveling.”

Jackson fell in love with automobiles when, in his 20s, he saw a gull-winged Mercedes-Benz 300SL race by. He wound up buying a decrepit 190 Benz, instead, and started working for a dealer to pay for repairs.

(Auto shows have become “dinosaurs,” says AutoNation’s Jackson. Click Here for more.)

His career took a few off turns, like the time he wound up cooking for the Kennedy family at their legendary compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. But he later wound up running Mercedes’ North American sales subsidiary and playing a major role in the company’s broad transformation.

In 1999, Jackson was hired on by Huizenga to right the floundering AutoNaton. His boss advised the new CEO he’d be there to support him if things went well. If they didn’t? “Then you’re screwed,” Huizenga replied. Jackson didn’t need to worry. Today, AutoNation is, far and away, the biggest auto retailer in the U.S., reporting revenue of $21.5 billion last year.

AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson often appeared on CNBC and was cited regularly by reporters.

The company also announced that the Board of Directors has retained the executive search and leadership advisory firm, Spencer Stuart, to support the CEO succession process, which will consider both internal and external candidates

(AutoNation’s Jackson predicts EVs will cut into car sales. For more, Click Here.)

“AutoNation’s board will initiate its search for the next CEO who can take the baton from Mike and lead AutoNation into its next phase of continued growth and success,” Larson said.

Paul A. Eisenstein contributed to this report.

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