Ernie Boch Photo: Bill Bernstein
Ernie Boch Photo: Bill Bernstein

Ernie Boch, Jr.

Ernie Boch, Jr. grew up in the car business. His grandfather bought a Nash dealership in 1945 that his father built into America’s No. 1 Rambler franchise before adding sales outlets for Toyotas, Mitsubishis, Kias, and Hondas. Boch was just 13 when he began doing odd jobs for these businesses, such as emptying trash, fixing roofs, and painting walls.

He has worked in the dealerships on and off ever since, but it has been many decades since his job description included trash disposal. Taking over the business after his father died in 2003, he grew it substantially over the next dozen years. In 2015, he sold off some of his franchises, but he retains Subaru of New England as well as Ferrari and Maserati dealerships, all of which are based in Norwood, Massachusetts, the Boston suburb that Boch calls home.

His net worth has been estimated at $500 million, and whether or not the figure is accurate, a stroll around his nine-bedroom, 30,000-square-foot mansion leaves no doubt that he has been highly successful. Two carriage houses on the property contain eight collector cars; and in the warehouse of his 160,500-square-foot distributorship building he keeps another 52 pristine vintage autos, including a 1965 Ferrari 330, a 1972 Alpha Romeo Montreal, and a 1969 Iso Rivolta.

Ernie Boch Photo: Bill Bernstein
Ernie Boch Photo: Bill Bernstein

Boch, who played rhythm guitar and sang backup in a blues-rock band called Ernie and the Automatics for about seven years, gave that up in 2011. He does, however, still love music. He owns 80 guitars, including many older Martins and instruments signed by the Eagles, the Rolling Stones, Slash, Billy Ray Cyrus, Pink Floyd, and even the so-called Million-Dollar Quartet (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash).

Adorning the walls at Subaru of New England’s corporate office are unpublished portraits of musicians, many of whom have played in Boch’s home or office. They include Joe Perry, Belinda Carlisle and the Go-Go’s, Gregg Allman, Graham Nash, Alanis Morissette, Megadeth, and Leon Russell. Fine art purchased during Boch’s yearly trips to Asia decorates his home and office. He also owns a rare set of the 14 lithographs in John Lennon’s Bag One Collection and the original negative for the Apple Records logo.

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Boch, who mainly dresses in black, is tall and lean. He does not walk; he lopes, bounding from step to step, his shoulder-length hair swinging side to side. Now 60 and divorced, he lives alone and says he enjoys practicing guitar, driving his cars, traveling, and spending time at a house he owns on Martha’s Vineyard. What he likes most, though, is being with his three children, who visit often.

He arranged for our reporter and camera crew to fly in his newly renovated nine-passenger Cessna Citation Sovereign from New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport to his hangar in Norwood, where he greeted the BJT team on the tarmac. He drove everyone to his dealership and mansion for tours and then sat for this interview.

Did your father expect you to go into the business?
I think deep down he did, but he never pushed me.

You graduated from Berklee College of Music. Were you planning to be a musician?
I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to make a lot of money playing music. And then it hit me: you can play music and try to be successful or you can be successful and also play music, and that’s what I chose. As a working musician, I made $150 a week. It was horrible. When I worked at one of my father’s dealerships, I went from $150 to $1,500 in a week.

Why was your father so successful?
He was a pioneer in many ways. He was one of the first people to go on TV and promote his own product. He could see trends before they happened, and he had incredible instincts.

Boch watches his dad deliver a car commercial.
Boch watches his dad deliver a car commercial.

What did you learn from him?
Everything about business. I learned that a ship needs a captain, and I learned that making a decision on a timely basis is as important as the decision. If you are wrong, admit it and make another decision.

Your father fired you twice. What did you do to deserve that?
The first time was because of the stock market crash of 1987. The business went down. The other time was because of some wholesale problems.

But you were his son. How did being fired make you feel?
Anytime you are fired, it doesn’t feel good. But it was a learning experience. The environment that I grew up in was, you performed or you moved on.

What interests you about the automotive business?
To me it’s not the automotive business. It’s the transportation business. People need to get around, and we are fortunate to be in the United States with this incredible road system. It was different when I was growing up than it is today. An automobile meant freedom. You wanted a license the day you were eligible, and you wanted to move out of your house. Going home was not an option; we’d rather sleep on the street than go home.

Why don’t more women sell cars?
In the 50s and 60s, there were zero women selling cars. They were answering the phone. It’s still predominantly male-dominated, but there are more and more women in the business. If I had my choice, it’d be all women because they are amazing—they have more empathy and they’re more dedicated. But why aren’t there more women? Because they don’t ask for the job.

What are your employees like?
There are two types—the employees who want to work hard and earn a fair wage and be part of the growth of the company and then there are those I call missionaries. All they want to do is make as much money as possible, maybe skirt the policies and procedures. They’re just in it for themselves. You don’t want employees like that. And what kills you is they are usually the most talented.

What’s your future with the company?
I have a little bit more to grow and hopefully my son will take over.

Boch with his son, Alex, at the building where he keeps the majority of his vintage autos. Photo: Bill Bernstein
Boch with his son, Alex, at the building where he keeps the majority of his vintage autos. Photo: Bill Bernstein

Why not your daughter who is two years older?
Because she doesn’t really show interest.

Why do you fly privately?
First of all, it’s safer. Time is extremely important to me, and it absolutely saves time, saves stress, and ultimately I think it saves money, because you can do business at a faster pace.

What year is your Citation Sovereign, and why did you choose it?
It’s a 2005, and it was the eighth one produced. We had started with a [piston-powered Piper] Cherokee and then we went to a Citation I, then to a Citation II, and when rumors of the newly developed Sovereign started, we said, “Wow, it’s almost the perfect plane for the Northeast.” The runway at the airport I go out of is about 4,000 feet so it can easily get in and out.

Ernie Boch's Aircraft Cabin
Ernie Boch's Aircraft Cabin

You recently repainted the exterior and did a complete interior redo?
It was up for its 10-year inspection, so they had to rip out the whole interior. I decided not to put it back, just do a whole new interior. The industry is changing, and the colors are changing. My plane used to be beige-and-brown-based, and now it’s black and grey. Even at my Ferrari store, I notice people aren’t getting the brown interior anymore; they’re going to colder colors: black, grey, blue, ice blue. And because it’s a custom interior, I had them mimic the interior of a Bentley. That’s how I got the idea.

How many hours a year do you charter it out?
Probably 300.

And what percentage of your costs does that cover?
Almost all of them.

How much do you fly yourself?
When I first got my plane, I was doing over 400 hours a year. I was running wild. I had just gotten divorced. Now I probably do about 100 hours.

Always on the Sovereign?
Once a year, I visit Subaru headquarters [in Japan], and I end up leasing a jet like a Gulfstream GV or G550 or a [Bombardier] Global. But if I am within North America, Central America, the Caribbean, or very western Europe, I’ll take my Sovereign. Next month I’m going to Italy for Ferrari.

You have your own hangar in Norwood.
I built it to house the Sovereign. I’ve also had some nice events there, because the acoustics are great. I have had [Aerosmith guitarist] Joe Perry playing there. New Kids [on the Block] and Godsmack were rehearsing there, and I threw a fundraiser for Mitt Romney there.

Ernie Boch Photo: Bill Bernstein
Ernie Boch Photo: Bill Bernstein

You were a supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign, and you hosted a big fundraising party for him as well.
I threw him his first fundraising party ever.

Since he became president, he has said and done many things that have drawn widespread criticism. Has this made you waver in your support of him?
That’s a difficult question, because at the time [of the election] you had to make a decision. There were two candidates. There was her and there was him. And I made the decision not to support her.

In 2005, you founded Music Drives Us, which helps to fund music education in New England. What led to that?
Studies show that if kids take music when they’re young, it makes them more communicative, less violent, better at math, better at learning a second language, and socially more astute. Music can literally rewire the brain. Because of all the budget cuts and all the economic stress on towns, school systems have suffered. The first thing that goes is the music program, so I created a foundation to try and keep music in the schools.

You also underwrote the nonprofit organization that runs Boston’s Shubert and Wang theatres, now collectively known as the Boch Center.
The Wang and Shubert are living, breathing theatres that start at 10 o’clock in the morning. You’ve got kids performing, programs—it’s really an amazing cultural center.

Boch owns 80 guitars, including many signed by well-known musicians. Photo: Bill Bernstein
Boch owns 80 guitars, including many signed by well-known musicians. Photo: Bill Bernstein

You traveled to Uganda for a National Geographic reality show and built up an impoverished village. How did that happen?
It was a program in which they took people like me, put them under assumed names, had them live on a dollar a day, dropped them off into a community in the middle of nowhere where they knew no one and their job was to make a difference in the community. One thing led to another and I discovered that over 400 people a week in Uganda die of bad water.

I hooked up with a company called Drop4Drop, which specializes in bringing water to Third World nations. When the show was all over, I met the guy [Simon Konecki] who runs Drop4Drop, who happens to be singer Adele’s husband. I have now supplied three water wells to villages in Uganda.

I understand you’re having a bespoke Batmobile built?
It’s an exact copy of the original 1966 Batmobile. I’m a Batman fan, and I found the only guy who’s certified to produce Batmobiles.

Will you be able to drive it?
Oh, yes, just like the original Batmobile. It’s street legal.

You’re also building an 800-square-foot garden pavilion on your estate. You’ve said it will be a place to relax and that people can also be buried there, like in a mausoleum.
Well, who wants to be buried alone? In your final resting place, you want to be amongst your family and friends.

Do you think about death often?
Death is like nighttime. It’s always going to happen.

What’s your management style?
The leader must be benevolent. You can be tough, you can be brutal, but you’ve got to be benevolent. Also, I surround myself with people who are more talented than myself. I think that if I am the sharpest knife in the drawer, we have a problem. The idea of bringing people into your organization who have better skills and more intelligence makes the organization better.

What does the public not know about you?
I am somewhat of a polarizing person. I think you either love me or hate me. And if you check Twitter, you’ll see a lot of people who hate me.

What makes you polarizing?
I am kind of a public person here in Boston, and it just happens when you are a public figure. Didn’t Winston Churchill say, “If you don’t have enemies, then you are not passionate about what you do”?

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about business?
I think that in any business situation, it’s got to be a win-win. You can’t just shock and awe, scorch the ground. It has to be a win-win; that’s what is sustainable.

What’s the biggest business mistake you ever made?
I’ve made a lot of business mistakes. I’ve made more right decisions than wrong decisions, but so many wrong ones that you can’t even count them.    

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