The nomination of Steve Zabawa, dealer at Rimrock Subaru in Billings, Montana, for the 2019 TIME Dealer of the Year award was announced by TIME. 

Zabawa is one of a select group of 51 dealer nominees from across the country who will be honored at the 102nd annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show in San Francisco on January 25, 2019. The announcement of this year’s 50th annual award was made by Jorg Stratmann, publisher, TIME, and Doug Timmerman, president of Auto Finance for Ally Financial.

The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. Zabawa, 61, was chosen to represent the Montana Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition – one of only 51 auto dealers nominated for the 50th annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide. 

“I have worked relentlessly to make Rimrock Auto Group the best in delivering an awesome customer experience and improving the skills and talents of the 200-plus employees at our company,” nominee Zabawa said.

Zabawa is a 1975 graduate of Creighton Prep in Omaha, Nebraska. He earned a degree in business from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 1979, where he was president of Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) fraternity, vice president of the interfraternity council, treasurer of Phi Kappa Phi honor society and chairman of the homecoming celebration.

A natural in sales with an affinity for finance, Zabawa started in the car business in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1987. There, he met his future business partner, John E. Soares Jr., and the two moved their families to Billings, Montana, in 1993, to build an auto group.

“For our first 15 years, we developed dealerships and acquired franchises,” Zabawa said. “For the last 10 years, the focus has been on building state-of-the-art, best-of-class facilities that are image compliant and customer friendly.” Today, Rimrock Auto Group, encompasses five dealerships in Billings and Laurel, Montana, representing brands Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru and Volkswagen.

 “We have built a reputation for helping customers find the right vehicle for all the best reasons – to make them happy and a customer for life,” he said.

 Zabawa’s passion for technology has put him at the forefront of incorporating the latest advancements into his dealer operations. In addition, he worked with a team to design WebBuy, a fully integrated car-buying app that brings consumers a click away from dealers and lenders. The app allows customers to trade-in their vehicles, lease or buy new or pre-owned cars and find financing, all in one easy-to-use app.

 “I’ve always been inspired by technology, which led me to this end-to-end car-buying app that is changing the way cars are bought and sold in America,” Zabawa said. “We are rolling out WebBuy to dealers across the country.”

 Zabawa has been a strong advocate for his community and is director of Safe Montana, a non-profit organization committed to protecting the state from illegal drugs and narcotics. He has raised money for Family Service, a Billings group that fights hunger and homelessness and works to alleviate poverty in Yellowstone County.

 “Our Subaru dealership raises more than $25,000 a year for Family Service through our Share the Love Event,” he said. “Family is very important to me, as I have been blessed with seven children and nine grandchildren, and to help others is very rewarding.”

 He also supports the Boy Scouts of America Montana Council by holding an annual breakfast to raise funds to send underprivileged Scouts to summer camp and pay their yearly fees. In addition, Zabawa has contributed to the American Heart Association; Toys for Tots; Make-A-Wish; American Cancer Society (Relay for Life); Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale; Boys & Girls Clubs of Yellowstone County; Meals on Wheels America; Wounded Warrior Project; as well as area schools.

 “The great car dealers I’ve known share qualities of persistence, meeting life’s challenges head on, and love of family,” Zabawa said. “I’d like to count myself among that group.”

 Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. The award is sponsored by TIME in association with Ally Financial, and in cooperation with NADA.