The Activist Entrepreneur Recalls Detroit’s Return from the Brink

Award-Winning Auto Dealer Sees Parallels Between Bankruptcy Challenge and Post-1967

DETROIT — Before Walt Douglas built Avis Ford into one of America’s top 25 Ford dealerships and was named Black Enterprise magazine’s  Auto Dealer of the Year in 2010, he built bridges between business, government and the community as president of New Detroit Inc., the nation’s first major urban coalition.  New Detroit, formed to remake a city that many had left for dead in the ashes of 1967, was instrumental in the emergence of new businesses and social institutions that had a powerful impact on Detroit in the decades that followed.

Walt Douglas’ influential role in the redevelopment of Detroit and door-opening for pioneering African American businesses taught him lessons for launching a business of his own, after years of being an advocate for others.  His story, with its focus on coalition building and strategic partnerships, has special meaning today — as Detroit again faces an unprecedented challenge that will determine its survival and core identity.

Douglas tells that story in his new book, The Activist Entrepreneur: What I Learned About Business at the Urban Coalition & My Proven Keys to Personal and Career Success.  More than a decade in the making, Douglas’ autobiography is coauthored by veteran Detroit writer Anthony Neely and published by Neely Media Group LLC. The Activist Entrepreneur is printed and distributed by Lightning Source, a unit of Ingram Content Inc., the leading printer and distributor of print-on-demand books.

The Activist Entrepreneur shares the dramatic narrative of Walt Douglas’ rise from humble roots in Hamlet, N.C., to a central role in Detroit politics and community affairs and the purchase, with a partner, of the auto dealership led by Warren Avis, founder of Avis Rent a Car.  One of the key moments in the story involves Douglas’ successful fight to resist Avis’ efforts to take the dealership back five years after its purchase.  The Activist Entrepreneur expounds on topics ranging from power politics, choosing and financing good business investments, the struggle to launch a startup, best management practices, and passing a family business to the next generation. Douglas offers fascinating stories about Mayor Coleman Young, Henry Ford II, Jesse Jackson and Tiger Woods, and describes the turmoil and struggle of surviving the Great Recession of 2008-2010.  Douglas also provides insights on networking, skillfully overcoming bigotry and bias, child-rearing, and keys to a happy marriage – even after 50 years.

Coauthor Neely is a former business journalist who wrote for the Detroit Free Press, has served as press secretary to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and former Mayor Dennis Archer, and has been an executive speechwriter for General Motors Corp.

Ford Motor Company Director Edsel Ford II, who wrote the Foreword to the book, says of Douglas’ story:  “The life story of Walter Douglas epitomizes the quintessential American Dream, with an added element of triumph.”

Ford Motor Company President and CEO Alan Mulally says: “Walter’s success is a testament to the power of emotional resilience, following your passion, (and) public/private partnerships.”

Damon J. Keith, Senior Judge for the United States Court of Appeals’ Sixth Circuit, endorses the book by saying: “Douglas rose to the heights of successful business and professional enterprise . . . a remarkable demonstration of human spirit and will.”

The Activist Entrepreneur is available on, Barnes and, and select retail bookstores. Like him on Facebook:

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What I Learned About Business at the Urban Coalition
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