When Bidwill's youngest son, Patrick, launched his own East Valley business venture last year, he, too, sought the help of others.
Bidwill, 31, hired Kerry Yoder to create Town Center Motors, a used-car dealership in Mesa. Bidwill offered to pay Yoder generous terms in return for Yoder's long experience, industry connections and expertise. With Yoder's know-how and Bidwill's money--including a lump sum he expected to receive from a family trust--the two planned to build a thriving enterprise.
And Yoder says that's just what he did. In a fraction of the time and well under the budget they targeted, Yoder prepared Town Center Motors for opening on the morning of August 19, 1996.
And that's when Bidwill fired him.
In a lawsuit filed May 16, Yoder charges that Bidwill purposely exploited him and never intended to honor the terms of Yoder's contract. Citing the terms of that contract--which included generous stock options--Yoder's attorneys estimate his losses at between $3 million and $6 million.
In a letter, Bidwill's attorney, Raymond Hunter, wrote that Bidwill had many reasons for firing Yoder, including insubordination and making threatening phone calls.
Yoder adamantly denies the charges, and encouraged New Times to contact other former employees whom he plans to call as witnesses.
Bidwill is also being sued by a man who followed Yoder as the dealership's general manager. Like Yoder, Ted Capell says he was promised lucrative terms, only to be fired soon after agreeing to work for the young company owner.
Other former employees say they were treated similarly.
Bidwill, encountered at the dealership last week, said he would not comment on the matter.
Yoder and Capell met Bidwill in 1994 when the football family's scion took a job at Five Star Ford in Scottsdale. Both men say Bidwill told them that the car-salesman's job was his father's idea; Bill Bidwill had suggested the job might give Patrick good business experience which could be valuable to the family later on.
Bidwill was assigned as a trainee to Yoder, who, at 43, has 25 years' experience selling cars. Later, after Yoder left that job, Bidwill approached him about the idea of creating his own dealership, saying that he was about to receive $500,000 from a family trust.
Yoder agreed to help, and negotiated a favorable contract with Bidwill which would enable him to own 50 percent of the company's stock in five years. In return, Yoder drew on his contacts in the industry to wrangle a cheap lease, set up relationships with lenders and arrange to populate the lot with cars. He also saw to more mundane matters, and those who witnessed it say Yoder kept up a demanding schedule.
"I was there when Kerry was painting the posts and sweating and doing all that work. He really had his nose to the grindstone," says Capell. "Patrick couldn't have done it on his own. After he didn't need us, it was like, okay, I'll do it on my own and get someone cheaper."
But Bidwill, in his attorney's letter, claims that at the same time, Yoder was abusive and insubordinate toward Bidwill. The letter also suggested that if Yoder filed suit, his "past will be subject to careful scrutiny."
Yoder openly admits that he's had trouble with drugs in the past. His addiction and his recovery several years ago are well-known in the industry, he says. It's a chapter he's never tried to hide from employers or competitors. He knows also that his aggressive, gruff style is widely known, and that under the pressures of opening the dealership, he and Bidwill clashed occasionally.
"I can tell you one thing. Kerry was not insubordinate," says Capell. "He just wanted that place to be successful."
Yoder says he's confident he'll be able to disprove each of Bidwill's allegations about his conduct. It's not for his behavior he was fired, says Yoder, but for his contract.
Brent Huckey agrees. Huckey, once the dealership's service manager, says when he asked Bidwill why Yoder had been fired, Bidwill replied that Yoder was making too much money.
"Kerry set the whole thing up," Huckey says. "After most of the people were in place, Patrick just got rid of him." Huckey says that he, too, was lured to Town Center Motors with the promise of an ample salary, but the week after he was hired, Bidwill asked him to take a 50 percent pay cut.
"I guess that was the pattern with just about anybody who worked there," Huckey says.
Yoder says he had planned to stock the lot with about 100 cars through his various industry contacts. After he was fired, however, Yoder asked his friends not to work with Bidwill. Today, about 50 cars sit at Town Center Motors.