Michael Jackson got into the auto industry by a fluke after his first car, an old Mercedes-Benz 190SL, broke down in 1971.

He was married and attending law school and had no money for repairs. “I went to the local Mercedes dealer and said, ‘I'll sweep the floor in exchange for the mechanic fixing my car,’” Jackson told Ward's in a earlier interview.

They worked out a deal. The struggling student began working at the dealership in order to get his car repaired. Something happened along the way. He discovered he loved the business.

Instead of becoming a lawyer, he became a mechanic. He was good at it. He went to work as a technical specialist for Mercedes-Benz North America Inc.

“But after a while, I figured out I'm on the technical end of the business without an engineering degree working for an engineering-oriented company.” So he moved over to corporate sales and marketing.

After five years with the company, he and a group of investors bought the dealership where he started out as a mechanic, EuroMotors of Bethesda, MD.

He returned to the corporate side of Mercedes-Benz in the mid-1990s, a time when sales were sagging.

“I wouldn't want to go through it again,” he said. “But it really is a chance to make changes. If everything was beautiful, they wouldn't have asked me to come back and they wouldn't have been receptive to change.”

That pretty much was why he got job at AutoNation where founder Wayne Huizenga was looking for a successor to revitalize the Fort Lauderdale-based auto retailer. He decided that Jackson, with both dealership and corporate experience, was perfect for the job.

In 1999, Jackson became CEO, then chairman of the firm that has 224 dealerships and totaled $17.6 billion in 2007 revenue. It ranks No.1 on the Ward's MegaDealer 100.

AutoNation says its net income from continuing operations for the 2008 fourth quarter was $70.1 million, or 38 cents a share, up from $50.6 million, or 28 cents a shares.