Mar 1, 2024

Jessica Lee :A selfless purpose

“I don’t give to do check presentations. I give because the cause means something to me.”  — Jessica Lee

By design, Jessica Lee is disinclined to step into the spotlight, but she generously shares a personal retrospective of her humble beginnings that evolved over many years. It begins decades before she became owner and general manager of Kia Autosport of Pensacola and a notable philanthropist.

This is her story.

“As we were growing up, our family lost everything,” said Lee, 45, who has three sisters. “I was in middle school going into high school in Tallahassee. My dad was working for a company that lost its dealership. He, of course, lost his job.

“While my dad went out to work on his own as a consultant, we were allowed to live in the back of the dealership for a while until it sold,” Lee continued. “We stayed in a hotel on Sundays so we could take normal showers.”

Eventually, the Lee family moved into a two-bedroom apartment. “My grandfather and great grandmother moved in with us as well,” Lee recalled. “So, my parents had one room and the rest of us shared one room.”

Lee said her father continued consulting for a couple of years and then opened a used-car lot. He finally was able to purchase a Kia dealership in Tallahassee in 1998. Success followed, in part, thanks to community support, Lee said.

“Then in 1999, my father purchased Kia here,” Lee said. “That’s when I came to Pensacola to help in the office.”

While the Lee family has always been community-minded and helped whenever they could, Lee said it was in 1999 that she learned her father’s heartfelt meaning of philanthropy.

“For a long time, we couldn’t give back,” Lee said. “But because of community support, our Kia dealership was successful. That’s when my dad taught us you need to give back to the community that supports you.”

Today, Lee and her family are strong supporters of many causes and nonprofits in the greater Pensacola area, large and small. They donate time and money individually and corporately as part of the company’s Kia Cares in the Community campaign.

Benefactors include Pensacola Little Theatre, Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Pensacola, Pensacola Catholic High School (corporate football sponsor), Covenant Care/Nonie’s Place, United Way of Escambia County, UWF Women in Leadership Conference, Rally Foundation, Children’s Home Society, Escambia County Sheriff’s Foundation and Baptist Health Care Foundation.

“I don’t give to do check presentations,” Lee said. “I give because the cause means something to me.”

For instance, take the UWF Women in Leadership Conference slated for March 14 (see story on Page 24).

“It’s extremely important for women to support women,” Lee said. “Some of the speakers at the conference are great success stories. They have stories that not everyone gets to hear and learn from. The conference gives us the opportunity.”

And, as a single mother, Lee said she works diligently at teaching her 10-year-old son Monroe the same lessons her parents taught her, lessons that shaped her character — the importance of kindness, giving back and fostering a commitment to support others and a desire to create a positive impact.

“Because he sees what I do, Monroe does lemonade and hot cocoa stands with his buddies to help nonprofits,” Lee said. “He chooses his own charities, including Rally to fight childhood cancer, Children’s Home Society and the Humane Society.”

What does she do with her free time?

Laughing at the question, Lee said, “I’m a single mom, an active mother. I want to make sure that Monroe and I have our time, that I go to his basketball and baseball games, his piano recitals, etc. A lot of my free time is spent doing what Monroe wants to do. Right now, he enjoys golfing and fishing, too.”

Lee said even when alone time surfaces, her son got her hooked on Lego Technic Kits.

“It’s really complicated!” she said with a burst of laughter.

Surely, Lee’s core group of friends and colleagues would agree she can accomplish anything.

After all, we are talking about Jessica Lee, who attended Tallahassee Community College and graduated from the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Candidate Academy, who has received numerous KIA Dealer Excellence Awards, including the Prestigious KIA Dealer Award, and who was awarded the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department Engagement Award for her impact on Pensacola and Escambia County.

And we are talking about a woman who serves on many boards and encourages her employees to embrace the spirit of giving back, which has become a part of the company’s culture via its mission-driven Kia Cares in the Community initiative.

Lee’s altruistic attitude is working. Under her leadership, KIA Autosport has also been recognized as United Way’s Distinguished Business Partner of the Year and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Philanthropic Business of the Year.

So, c’mon, Lee. You can certainly master Lego Technic!