Rutgers–Camden alumnus Robert DiStanislao, a leader in the automotive industry, supports the study of entrepreneurship through a generous planned gift commitment.
By Sam Starnes GSN’04
Robert DiStanislao, once a dedicated biology student at Rutgers University–Camden in the early 1980s, fully intended to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. However, more than four decades later, he shares his inspiring road to entrepreneurial success with business students at his alma mater as a guest lecturer. “You can’t predict where you are going to wind up,” he tells a class of 30 students on a recent Monday morning. “When I was at Rutgers, if you told me I would be here, I would never have believed it.”
DiStanislao CCAS’83 is owner and president of RDS Automotive Group, a company he founded in 2007 which has grown to encompass a dozen automobile dealerships that sell primarily luxury brands—including Porsche, Ferrari, Bugatti, Maserati, McLaren, and Lamborghini—in the suburbs of Philadelphia; Newport Beach, California; and Greenwich, Connecticut areas. He has been delivering guest lectures at the School of Business–Camden for 15 years, most recently a “Business Essentials” class.
His connection with the students in the class is more than a typical lecture. He engages them for an hour and a half with stories about his career path and asks questions about their own hopes and dreams for their future careers, leading to lively conversation. He encourages them to reach out to him directly for advice and consultation, something he says all entrepreneurs need. “If you have any questions, you can call me,” he says. “I have business cards for each of you.”
DiStanislao, who has generously given of his time to students for years, recently announced a significant planned gift from his estate to support the study of entrepreneurship at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden. His gift will make a major impact, says Dean Monica Adya. “Mr. DiStanislao’s support will be transformative for our students and the constituents we serve,” Adya says. “As a loyal alumnus and successful entrepreneur committed to the success of our future business professionals, he has always been generous with his time and his wisdom.”
The School of Business–Camden is in the process of introducing a major in entrepreneurship and innovation, which currently is offered as a minor. “This generous gift promises to leave a lasting legacy that heightens our ability to deliver on our commitment to excellence,” she says. “Mr. DiStanislao’s gift will build a strong academic and career foundation for budding entrepreneurs and support economic development in the long run.”
False starts and failure before success
DiStanislao grew up in Pennsauken, which borders Camden. When he was seven years old, he loved both automobiles and animals. His father, the late Joseph DiStanislao, worked in the automotive business and instilled a love of cars in his son. But DiStanislao also developed a love of animals and dreamed of one day being a veterinarian.
That dream led him to Rutgers–Camden where he earned a degree in biology while working in a veterinary hospital. His roots at Rutgers run deep: his father attended night school at Rutgers–Camden, and his older sister, Mary DiStanislao, earned her undergraduate degree at Douglass College.
After graduating, he took a year off to work in sales for a Mitsubishi dealership in nearby Maple Shade, something he planned to do for only a year, but after only nine months, he was promoted to sales manager at the age of 24. Faced with a decision of veterinary school or continuing in the automotive sales, he opted for cars, embarking on a successful run through most of his twenties.
At 28, however, he hit a speed bump when he was assigned to run an automobile leasing company. It didn’t go well. “When I was 30 years old, they closed the company,” he says. “At that moment, I made the decision that I needed to be more in control of my future. That was a turning point.”
DiStanislao took the opportunity to become part owner of a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Wilmington, Delaware, which grew into three Mercedes dealerships and a Porsche dealership. In 2007, he established his company when he bought a Porsche dealership in the Philadelphia area, Porsche of the Main Line, which has grown from a small boutique store to become one of the top-performing Porsche dealerships in the United States. RDS Enterprises since has grown to 12 dealerships.
Among his company’s many successes include winning the Porsche Premier Dealer Award 11 times and becoming the largest distributor of Lamborghini automobiles in the world. He said a key to his business success is building relationships with clients and business partners, a crucial aspect of the automotive industry. “It is truly a relationship business,” he says.
An education in entrepreneurship
DiStanislao concludes his lecture with a powerful and authentic message to the students in the class: Don’t be afraid to fail. “Einstein defined failure as the road to success,” he tells them. “You have to fail. You have to understand the lessons in failure. You have to adjust, learn from it, and move on.”
He advises students to follow the Asian proverb which says, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” He also advises them to develop adaptability and “grit,” which he says is a key trait that entrepreneurs need. He also advises students to “find something that you do better than anybody else” and focus on that.
In the long run, he tells the class, the world is awaiting young entrepreneurs to step up and be successful. “There is a wide-open field of need,” he says. “Find a need that you are expert in filling, create an answer, and go after that. There is much opportunity for you. Take the leap.”