Interview with Phil Smart Sr and Al Monzajeb, new owner of Mercedes-Benz of Seattle
By Tony Andrews, Seattle Section
Phil Smart Sr was born 1919 and grew up in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood and earned money selling the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal door to door for five cents a copy. He also helped out at his aunt's refreshment stand in Lincoln Park in West Seattle. As he got older, he piled pipes at a plumbing supply company. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, Smart enrolled at the University of Washington, but World War II intervened.
His Reserve Officer Training Corps classes helped him command a truck company in North Africa and Italy. He left the service as a Major and with the Soldier's Medal for rescuing the crewman of a burning bomber just before it exploded. He later joined the Air Force Reserve. He retired as a Colonel.
After the war, Smart sold appliances and dry cleaning supplies, after which he got into car sales. Phil Smart started selling automobiles in 1952 with his first job in Automotive as a Sales Representative for Hopper Chevrolet in Edmonds, WA and in 1959 he and Tad Davies moved the dealership to the 600 East Pike Street location and Phil Smart was promoted to Sales Manager. In 1965, Smart and three other employees bought out Tad Davies with Smart holding 52 percent of the business. He sold Chevrolets until the dealership on Capitol Hill branched out to include Mercedes-Benz. He voted his shares in favor of naming the new company Phil Smart, Inc. For 25 years, he was the only Mercedes-Benz dealer in the Seattle area. From the very start, the hallmark of Phil Smart, Inc. was customer service and he built the area's first and most-successful Mercedes-Benz dealership.
During the early years, Phil Sr. was President of the Mercedes Benz Dealer Council of America and frequently traveled to Germany to represent the other USA dealers. Phil Smart gained the loyalty and respect of Mercedes-Benz management after he studied German at the Berlitz Language School and surprised and impressed his Mercedes-Benz counterparts when he answered their questions in German.
During the 1970's, Phil Smart went on to acquire a BMW dealership and became involved in other automotive ventures, but the passion has been and will always be Mercedes-Benz. It was in the early 1990's Phil Smart Senior sold the Mercedes dealership to his son, Phil Smart Jr. but he has continued to be involved and active in the business to this day.
For the Community
Phil Smart is an Eagle Scout and found time to be the neighborhood Scoutmaster for 14 years. He also served in other Scouting roles, including Council President. The Boy Scouts of America awarded him the Silver Beaver for volunteer service and the Scouts' Distinguished Eagle Award. The Urban Scouting Center in Seattle is named for him. Smart took his Scout training to heart and became active in a variety of civic activities, particularly those benefiting children.
He took a leadership role in the Seattle Rotary (the world's largest Rotary club) and became president in 1989. He encouraged his fellow Rotarian's to give their time to the community and said, "I'm not everyone, but I am someone. I can't do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the grace of God, I will do." He spoke of how most people need to work for eight hours and sleep for eight hours. That leaves eight hours to do something for the community and it is this "third eight" that defines the quality of people's lives (Puget Sound Business Journal).
Working with Children
He has given much of his time and effort to community service, particularly to causes benefiting children. He volunteered at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center for more than 46 years. Since 1991, he has addressed more than 93,000 people with his thoughts on community service and the lessons he has learned from sick and dying children. The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named Phil Smart First Citizen of 1994 for his service to others and for his advocacy of volunteerism.
Smart's role as a volunteer with Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center (formerly Children's Orthopedic Hospital) started in 1961. Children's relied heavily on women volunteers to help out in the hospital during the labor shortage of World War II. Volunteers became a mainstay of the hospital workforce, cutting expenses and freeing up professionals to deliver medical care. Phil Smart was recruited as the first male volunteer to work with children in the wards in the evenings.
By long tradition, Christmas is a special time of year at Children's. Many patients were chronically ill and spent months in the hospital. Trustees, staff, and volunteers wanted to make children who had to spend the holidays in bed and away from their families feel less lonely. Civic groups supplied entertainments during the season and Santa Claus visited every bed with gifts and spent time with every child.
In 1972, Smart donned the Santa suit, a happy task he undertook for 26 Christmases. Through the year, he continued to report to the hospital every week to work with, and seek inspiration from, critically ill and sometimes terminally ill young patients.
When Smart first volunteered at Children's, he was advised to not get emotionally involved with the patients. Smart proceeded to personally connect with his young friends and met some remarkable young people over the years. In 2001, Smart wrote Angels Among Us, a memoir of his 46 years of work at Children's and stories of the brave children he met there. The book sold 5,000 copies and went into a second printing. A sequel, The Real Angels Among Us came out in 2004 and is on its way to matching the sales of the first book. All the profits from the sales of books went to the hospital to pay for medical care given to children without health insurance.
The Ultimate Volunteer
Hospital trustee and fellow volunteer Sharon Friel said of Smart, "He's the ultimate volunteer -- reliable, warm, gentle, compassionate, loving. He truly cares about the dignity of the patients. He exemplifies the heart of the hospital." (Puget Sound Business Journal).
In naming Phil Smart First Citizen of 1994, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors stated, "Phil is a true believer that life is not measured by duration, but by donation. Through his service to others and advocacy of volunteerism, Phil truly has found the ways to give himself away."
Phil Smart Senior continues to be involved with the community and supporting our men and women service in the Armed Forces. This coming June 6, 2012, Phil will participate in a celebration of the anniversary of the Allied Landing in Normandy.
Phil Smart Senior is truly a remarkable man.
December of 2011 brought news of the sale of the Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz dealership to automotive entrepreneur, Al Monjazeb, owner of Bellevue Jaguar, Land Rover, Lamborghini, Bentley and Rolls Royce dealerships. Al moved to the Seattle area in 1995 and became a power in the automotive industry with the acquisition of the dealerships in Bellevue. Like Phil Smart, Al is very active in community service and philanthropy. Al mentioned that he met the Smarts several years ago and realized that they both shared the same customer service philosophy and ideals. So naturally when the Phil Smart Dealership became available, it was a natural fit for Al. The new name for Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz is now officially Mercedes-Benz of Seattle and will be business as usual. Currently, Mercedes-Benz of Seattle is operating out of both the original Pike Street and Airport Way locations. Phil Smart Senior is still a fixture and maintains his office at the Pike Street location where he still comes to work three days a week and begins his days with a salute to the picture of General Patton on his wall.
With the re-branding of the Mercedes-Benz Dealerships around the world, Mercedes-Benz of Seattle will also be following suit with a brand new modern state of the art facility being built on the site of the Airport Way location. The building will be modeled after many of the new Mercedes-Benz dealerships being built around the world and will be 84,000 square feet for new and used car sales, vehicle service and storage, and first class customer service. The permitting is in process. They hope to break ground later this year and be fully operational by June 2013. After the new Airport Way facility is built, the Pike Street location will close.
Mercedes-Benz of Seattle hopes also to be marketing other Mercedes-Benz marques such as Sprinter, and Smart and will be welcoming the expanding line up of new Mercedes including the newly re-designed GL and the B Class.
Al Monjazeb is committed to maintaining the core values and service of Phil Smart Mercedes-Benz and they have been able to keep all of the same staff in place. Mercedes-Benz of Seattle will still play a vital role in the Seattle car scene by continuing to support activities such as the Historic Races and Car Corral at Pacific Raceway and continuing to support the Mercedes-Benz Club of America Seattle Section activities such as Technical Sessions, New Owner Clinics and the like. Phil Smart Senior has provided a legacy in Seattle that will be a hard act to follow, but he is convinced that the changes being made at Mercedes-Benz of Seattle will carry his commitment to high quality automobiles, community service and customer care well into the future.