MT 21 Gospel-Driven Business: Premier Automotive

Troy Duhon
Troy Duhon (business suit) partners with other dealers to award a new car to a student with perfect attendance. (Gerry Call)

Ministry Today commends a different group of kingdom-minded people or organizations each year in our MT21 issue. In 2014, when we launched MT21, we honored churches and ministries that were influencing the 21st-century church.

In 2015, we highlighted 21 congregations that were "culturally diverse on purpose." This year, however, we're taking a different approach and naming 21 businesses whose leaders are a witness for Christ in some way through their professional platforms. From cupcake makers to insurance agency owners to roofers, we have covered a wide range of businesses in this year's MT21 feature.

Today, we are highlighting Premier Automotive. (premierautomotive.com)

With 21 car dealerships in five states, Troy Duhon has experienced significant success, but life has humbled the New Orleans native. At 18, he started selling cars and bought into a dealership in 1989, then launched out on his own with Premier Automotive in 1995. One of the turning points of his life, however, came in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated his region.

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"Katrina really humbled me because in the blink of an eye, in a 24-hour period, everything I had went under water," he says. "Not knowing if your insurance is going to pay you, not knowing if your employees who evacuated are going to come back, it's kind of a humbling experience, and it kind of forces you to get on your knees and pray for help and ask God for wisdom."

As a result, Duhon experienced transformation in his life and business. In the wake of Katrina, he started to run a relief center.

"The Honda store went completely under water, and while they were rebuilding it, we decided to convert it to a FEMA relief center," he says. "What I saw was my employees sitting there with my church members and volunteers, running 1,200 cars a day (through a drive-thru), where we were supporting them by giving them food, diapers, ice, everything you can imagine. I just remember the joy of seeing what I saw on my employees' faces. I told my wife, 'This is really what it's about. This is really what it's about!'"

In that moment, he decided to "make a difference."

"That's what kind of birthed the ministry component, the whole concept of profit for a purpose where we started to accrue $25 a car that we allow these (dealership) partners to go back into the local community and give back," he says. "So we support ministries in L.A., San Francisco. We partner with the Dream Center, we support Francis Chan, we support Dr. Rice Broocks in Nashville."

Duhon started a foundation called Giving Hope, which includes a retreat center. Partnering with the New Orleans Mission, Duhon purchased a property where "we actually rehabilitate alcoholics, homeless people and women who are battered, sexually abused," he says.

The foundation also operates a fully staffed kitchen at his Toyota store in New Orleans There they cook 700-800 hot meals a day to serve to seniors.

Another turning point in Duhon's life found him looking far beyond his own region. In 2013, Duhon and his wife, Tracy, adopted Annah, a young Chinese girl he called his "little Cajun Asian."

"I learned that one of the truest forms of Christianity is adoption, so I just decided to start making a difference," he says. "So our foundation helps build an orphanage every year on a different continent."

To do so, Duhon started Hope House, which coordinates mission trips on an annual basis to fund to build orphanages. In 2014, they built an orphanage in India, taking 35 kids out of a dump and now serving 50. In 2015, they expanded an orphanage in Honduras to better accommodate the boys cared for there. This year, they've chosen Gambia, a country known in the U.S. from the TV series Roots.

"We're going to go into a Muslim country and build an orphanage," he says, citing the difficulties.

Duhon also got into the Christian movie business, giving $1 million to finance what became an independent box-office hit: God's Not Dead.

Duhon knows there are tradeoffs with his giving lifestyle.

"For me and my wife, it wasn't so much about creating wealth as it is about creating legacy," he says. "At the end of the day, how can I make a difference in this world and give back to God? He truly blessed me when I was on my knees crying out for help, scared to death about whether or not I was going to make it. I listened to the wisdom of my father and watching God just open doors when I thought there were no doors to be opened. So when you've bottomed out and God has restored you, it kind of opens your eyes to really what the real issues are or the real purpose is."

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