A Son’s Journey To Carry On The Family Business

By Xain Ballenger, The City-County Observer 


For Peter O’Daniel, the General Manager of the D-Patrick-Ford dealerships in Evansville, Boonville, Lebanon, and Crawfordsville Indiana, business isn’t only about employees, customers, and cars, it’s also about family. Peter O’Daniel is a fourth-generation member of the O’Daniel auto dealership family. Born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, O’Daniel said that his father Mike O’Daniel, was his role model. O’Daniel said his mother was a stay-at-home mom, and his father was easygoing, yet very driven. 

O’Daniel reminisced about when he was seven years old and one of the first times his father took him to the car lot to work. “Dad told me that he’d pay me $5 an hour to pick up trash and cigarette butts on the lot. He really wanted to teach me that you have to work hard to get what you want,” O’Daniel said. 

O’Daniel said he got very interested in sports when he was in the sixth grade. His father always encouraged him, whether it be academically or athletically. O’Daniel said that his father didn’t care what he specifically did as long as he went “all out” for it. O’Daniel became interested in basketball. Although he wasn’t a “natural athlete”, he worked hard to become a better player. “I made it a goal that I was going to do everything in my power to be the best basketball player I could be. So my dad encouraged me to spend hours at the gym every day” O’Daniel said. “I’d spend five to six hours a day, every day playing basketball or doing something that would help my game.” O’Daniel said that it was from this that he learned, “if you love something you have to put everything into it.’’ Although O’Daniel was cut from his sixth, seventh, eighth, and freshman teams, he finally made the JV basketball team his sophomore year at North High School. “I think that getting cut from so many sports teams and finally making it my sophomore year, taught me that if you have the work ethic and put enough work into what you truly love, eventually you will meet your goals. You have to have perseverance to constantly work and you can’t worry about how many times you fail”.  However O’Daniel didn’t have to go at this alone, saying that his mom and dad were always behind him. “Dad said you can be anything… but if you don’t put in the hard work… Don’t expect it to happen,” O’Daniel said. 

O’Daniel said that his father graduated from Culver Military Academy, which is a secondary boarding Military School in Culver, Indiana. O’Daniel said that his father encouraged him to go to Culver to get a good education and learn leadership skills. “I attended Culver Military Academy, where I played on the varsity basketball team my junior and senior years. Culver was very challenging academically and taught me a lot about leadership” O’Daniel said. From there, O’Daniel attended Indiana University in Bloomington, where he majored in telecommunications management. However, when O’Daniel graduated from IU in 2012, his father and Uncle Ray told him that he must work someplace else and for somebody else for five years, before returning to D-Patrick. 

O’Daniel said that many of his friends moved to Chicago, so he decided to follow. There, he was hired as a commodity futures broker (CFB). A CFB is similar to a stockbroker, however, a CFB sells commodity futures contracts. Commodity futures were invented to help producers of commodities hedge their financial risk. “I had only been to Chicago maybe twice in my life before I moved there. It was a culture shock…But I’ll be honest, I enjoyed it. I loved city life. I felt like every day I woke up and got on that train, it fueled me with energy.” O’Daniel said it was at this job that he learned how to manage client accounts and provide customer service in the commodities trading space. 

O’Daniel’s plan was to live in Chicago for about five years, however after about three and a half years, his father said “I really want you to come home and get started in the family business.” O’Daniel said it was tough for him to leave Chicago because he had built so many close friendships there, and that he loved city life, but he realized the great opportunity he had in Evansville. He said that he knew the longer he waited to return home, the more difficult it would be. My dad also told me “You’re going to need an accounting degree”. He recommended that I go to USI (University of Southern Indiana) or UE (University of Evansville), the two main colleges in Evansville. “I chose USI because it had a nationally top-ranked accounting program”, O’Daniel said. 

O’Daniel returned to Evansville to work and to go to school, where it took him about two years to earn his baccalaureate degree in accounting. He said that during those years he helped with managing the Ford sales department. O’Daniel found out that the dealership business had changed while he was in Chicago. His father put him in charge of a brand new department managing sales leads from the internet. O’Daniel was able to earn his accounting degree, while in this position. “I graduated with a 3.9 GPA, which I was very proud of because I received fairly average grades in college the first time around,” O’Daniel said. 

After O’Daniel received his accounting degree, his father sent him to attend the Dealer Candidate Academy (DCA). The DCA takes place in Washington D.C. and takes about one year to complete. O’Daniel said that the DCA provides training for dealership employees who wish to be new car dealers. 

“So the crazy twist of the story is that on my second day of that course I met this other student named Ali. Her dad is a new car dealer in Buffalo NY. She and I decided to go on a date the first day we met. We fell in love and she ended up moving to Evansville in November of 2018. She is now my wife and we have two children together. It makes my life much easier that I have such a supportive wife who also knows the car business.” O’Daniel said. 

Once O’Daniel finished the DCA course, his father made him the Parts and Service Director at the Evansville Ford dealership. “I’d always worked in sales. All I knew about parts and service was what I had learned from DCA and from just being around the service department. Luckily, I had a great management team around me who helped me grow and learn. Together, we improved customer satisfaction and grew the department substantially,” O’Daniel said. 

In 2021, O’Daniel was promoted to general manager of the Evansville Ford Dealership. Since then the Boonville, Lebanon, and Crawfordsville Indiana Ford locations were added to his responsibility. “Tying it back to the basketball days, I got cut four straight years in a row from the team. Most people would say, why wouldn’t you give up and do something else? Well, you don’t give up because you love it. Why would you give up on something you love?” O’Daniel asked. “You’re gonna do everything you can to be successful in that area. I’ve fallen in love with the car business the same way I fell in love with basketball. I think that if you’re doing what you love, you’re never really working a day in your life.”