Celebrating Black History Month: Sanford (Sandy) Woods from the Dudley School to Multi-Millionaire an Extraordinary Life


When one looks at the history and the ongoing restoration efforts of the Dudley School in Alamogordo one sees a building that was once derelict being transformed into a building of pride and community. When this author looks at the Dudley School, I walk inside it and listen, I meditate and listen for the stories that abound of those that traversed its halls over the years since its founding. 

With the leadership of the Mayor Pro Tem and District 5 City Commissioner, Sharon McDonald and a commitment by Joe and Debra Lewandowski and the Tularosa Basin Historic Society; the stories from within those walls are being collected, archived ,and if individuals desire, will be shared as a collection of oral and written history, showcased within the walls of this unique property. 

This past Friday the NAACP, and leaders of the Black Community met at Corinth Church, with a presentation facilitated by District 3 City Commissioner Warren Robinson, Joe Lewandowski and others, to kick off the effort for the collection of those Black stories to be included in the Dudley School project. Another story will be released discussing that effort in more details via our platform. 

As we attended that informational meeting, we were moved by some of the stories heard, and intrigued by the deep connection of the Dudley School by the Black community, as well as its connection to the Hispanic Community. While a guest at Corinth, I had the opportunity to browse through some of the artifacts on display. 

One story with a connection to Dudley, and to Alamogordo High School was especially interesting, given the travel path that individual endured. 

Traveling from the Dudley School, to Alamogordo High, to New Mexico's university system, then the corporate realms of the American Automobile industry to ownership of properties in Florida, and Martha's Vineyard, with travels to the Greek Isles and beyond, this Dudley School and Alamogordo High Alumni's is a story of success and of inspiration.

This Alamogordo Alumni who's early formative years date from early schooling in the neighborhood near Chihuahuita at a school rooted in segregation; evolved, grew, earned a degree in mathematics, and carried that solid education forward, to prosperity. That prosperity and the lessons of his past he has handed down to the next generation to carry forward.

The individual of focus is the Chairman of S. Woods Enterprises Inc., Sanford (Sandy) L. Woods.

To understand his journey, one must look back at the automobile industry of yesteryear and its relationship to the Black community.

In the U.S. automotive industry, the contributions of African Americans are woven into the fabric of every sector, beginning with the early days of manufacturing and assembly.

The journey towards socioeconomic mobility started with a physical journey for black Americans after reconstruction from century prior. In response to harsh segregationist laws, bleak financial opportunities and racial injustices, from 1916 to 1970 approximately six million African Americans relocated from rural, southern states to cities in the North, Midwest and West seeking jobs in the expanding industrial economies of those regions.

When African Americans left the south as part of The Great Migration, the auto industry is what they were coming to,” says Frank Washington, an auto industry historian and civil rights activist via a release from Toyota Motor Corporation. “They were coming to jobs. We’re talking about people who came from a culture where the day was set by the sun, to a culture where the day was set by a timeclock.”

For the first time, it was an opportunity for many African Americans to participate in America’s prosperity. While working inside the auto plants represented progress, African American workers longed to hold larger, decision-making roles in other areas of the industry.

Step forward, and then meet Alamogordo's own Sanford (Sandy) L. Woods.

Sandy Woods was born in the small, predominantly black town of Dermott, Arkansas, but grew up in rural Southern leaning yet progressive at the time Alamogordo, New Mexico, after his family moved there when he was 5 years old. He attended the Dudley School, and then went on to Alamogordo High School, where he excelled. During those years, Alamogordo High School had a high ranked math department, had instructors affiliated with the space industry and was ranked in the top 20 school systems in the country for academic excellence. The town during that period was booming with space and missile research.

Spending his formative years in the state of New Mexico, Mr. Woods graduated from Western New Mexico University in 1973, with a degree in mathematics. Per Black Enterprise Magazine; Woods, after stints at insurance companies in New Mexico and Colorado, the young executive was hired by Chrysler Corp. He then spent more than 16 years making his corporate ascent, holding 14 different managerial positions during that period. 

By 1987, he was tapped to oversee Chrysler’s Minority Retail Dealer Development Program, derived from a deal Lee Iacocca, the company’s famed CEO, made with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) nearly a decade earlier to gain its backing for huge bank loans to save the automaker from bankruptcy. The terms between Chrysler and the CBC: the development of black auto dealers.

Woods reluctantly took the position for 24 months after arranging with a vice president of sales that he would be elevated to zone manager, which was his ultimate career aspiration. In an interview with  Black Enterprise Magazine he said, “When I took over the program, it was in shambles,” he reflects. “We were in lawsuits. We were upside down and losing money. There was no program—nothing!”

Per Black Enterprise Magazine, demonstrating his managerial dexterity, Woods settled all lawsuits and developed a structure for the program. It turned into a profit center within 18 months. By 1989, he decided to change his career track, turning down a zone manager position to take over a new dealership in Tampa, Florida.

He quickly discovered that being a corporate auto exec was a far cry from being a dealer selling cars. Early on, he found himself in way over his head, everything was “trial and error.”

“I knew nothing about the car business,” he recalls. “The first two years, I lost my shirt: $504,000 in my first 25 months.”
At his lowest period in business, he called his father for help. Woods recalled the conversation:

“Pop! I’m in trouble. I can’t figure this retail car business out.”

“Let me ask you a couple of questions,” his father responded. “Are you working hard?”

“Every day!” Woods answered.

“Do you have a plan?”

“Absolutely! Plan this. Process that. Operational forecasts… You name it, I did it.”

Then his father asserted: “Let me tell you something. I don’t care what happens, don’t ever give up. Always remember that the darkest hour is just before dawn. If you’re working hard, and you have a plan, it will work out for you. I don’t care what happens, don’t ever, ever, ever give up.”

And never give up is exactly what he did. He worked hard, focused and built a business that is respected and recognized not only in the automobile industry but by business leaders across the spectrum of industries.

Mr. Woods is probably the only person with an upbringing in Alamogordo to ever be featured in Time Magazine, excepting for the legendary scientist who tested the first atom bomb in Alamogordo,  J. Robert Oppenheimer. He has also been featured in a number of other respected publications to include Black Enterprise, History Makers, Florida Trend, and others. 

He is certainly the only individuals with a history of attending Alamogordo's Dudley School to achieve that level of notoriety and wealth.

By 1993, Woods formed S. Woods Enterprises Inc., which purchased its first store in 1994, another Tampa-based Dodge dealership, and began its growth through acquisition strategy by adding a Toyota dealership the following year. Over the course of 19 years, Woods purchased and/or sold a total of 13 dealerships, including two Toyota dealerships, a Ford store, a Nissan operation, a Hyundai dealership, three Chrysler dealerships, and two Lexus stores.

Woods shrewdly added real estate to his portfolio, purchasing—instead of leasing—the properties in which he operated his Tampa dealerships and charging rent. Beyond the automotive sector, he continued to diversify operations through a partnership to open three Popeye’s Chicken franchises but would later sell his stake back to his partners.

By 2006, Florida Trend, a monthly magazine covering business, industry, education, and leisure, identified S. Woods Enterprises Inc., as being among the top 55 privately owned businesses within the Sunshine State. Woods served as president of the board of directors for the Toyota Lexus Minority Owners Dealership Association, and in 2015 the National Association of Minority Auto Dealers (of which he was a board member) presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. 

S. Woods Enterprises, owned by Sanford L. "Sandy" Woods has held the title of the top Florida auto dealership on Black Enterprise magazine's Auto Dealer 100 list and ranked third in the nation among African- American-owned dealerships. In 2005, Woods' company employed 390 and posted more than $443 million in sales of Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, Toyota, Lexus, Honda and Volkswagen. The company's revenue places it among the top 55 privately owned businesses in the state of Florida. Woods owns dealerships in Florida, including Brandon Dodge and Palm Harbor Honda, and others out of state.

In 2016, Woods began transitioning the businesses to his daughter Amber. This was a significant move and a significant asset transfer of generational wealth from one to the next. He finalized the transition in 2017, she is the boss but he still remains as chairman of the board.

Woods structured his array of businesses so his daughter Amber holds a 75% ownership stake in them. As for S. Woods Enterprises Inc., the umbrella entity that controls everything, Woods, as Chairman, owns 100% with Amber serving as vice president and designated heir apparent. She runs the day-to-day operations, she and the chief financial officer report to him. Everybody else reports to her. 

She is making her mark in carrying the company and her family legacy forward. Amber Woods is General Manager for Treasure Coast Toyota in Stuart and Treasure Coast Lexus in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she is responsible for overseeing all administrative functions, personnel management, and dealer operations for both organizations. Woods has a dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Central Florida. Prior to her return to Florida to strengthen and extend her father’s automotive dealership legacy, she worked as a case worker, case worker manager, and workforce recruiter with human service not-for-profit organizations in New York City. Woods has expanded the dealerships’ community involvement to support area nonprofits including the Boys and Girls Clubs, in Martin and St. Lucie counties and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of St Lucie, Indian River County, and Okeechobee Counties. Woods is also a member of the National Association of Minority Automotive Dealers (NAMAD) and the National Automotive Dealer Association (NADA). “Automotive News” recognized Woods in their "40 Under 40" in 2019. In August 2022 the Indian River State College (IRSC) Foundation appointed Amber Woods to their board of directors. The family legacy continues as Mr. Woods enters semi-retirement in his 30,000 square foot mansion overlooking the water.

From an early beginning in Arkansas, to a childhood in Alamogordo with an education that began at the Dudley School, onward to Alamogordo High School, and beyond; Sanford (Sandy) L. Woods is an example and is recognized as an example of "Alamogordo Proud." 

This Black History Month we celebrate Sanford (Sandy) L Wood and recognize his level of success and passion. We congratulate Mr. Woods, on his success, and that of his daughter to carry it forward, in building a successful enterprise, from the foundation of humble beginnings, from Alamogordo, New Mexico. We salute you.

Source: Tularosa Basin Historic Society, AlamogordoTownNews.com, Automotive News, Toyota Motor Company,  Black Enterprise MagazineFlorida Trend, Powerbroker Magazine

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