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alumni profile

Ernie Boch Jr. '82: Hot Cars and Rock 'n' Roll

 
  Boch Automotive Enterprises CEO Ernie Boch Jr.
  Photos by Rebecca Gauchman

By day, Ernie Boch Jr. '82 is the CEO of Boch Automotive Enterprises, an auto empire based in Norwood, Massachusetts, with close to $2 billion in revenue in 2007. With holdings that include the world's top-selling Honda dealership, two high-performing Toyota dealerships, a pair of Scion dealerships, a Ferrari-Maserati dealership, and a Subaru distributorship, the business understandably takes most of Boch's attention. After hours, however, he lives out the youthful fantasy of playing guitar with a rocking band in front of hoards of music fans at cool venues. His band Ernie and the Automatics is a six-piece blues-rock outfit showcasing a lineup of veteran musicians that includes guitarist Barry Goudreau and drummer Sib Hashian (formerly members of Boston), saxophonist Michael Antunes (of John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band), bassist Tim Archibald '79 (RTZ and New Man), and keyboardist Brian Maes '80 (RTZ).

"If you add up the number of records that the guys in my band have sold with the other groups they've been in, it totals 35 million," Boch says. "These guys are seasoned pros, and I'm honored to be with them."

Since Boch formed the group in 2006, he and his crew have opened for B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Los Lobos, Godsmack, Extreme, John Sebastian, Chuck Berry, and other artists at various festivals and concert halls around New England, including the Berklee Performance Center.

Although two generations of the Boch family worked in the car business, Boch didn't grow up with his sights set on the job he currently holds. During his youth in the AM-radio era, pop music caught Boch's ear and he picked up the guitar. Through WBCN, Boston's premier FM station in the sixties and seventies, Boch was exposed to great guitar playing on recordings by Led Zeppelin, Cream, Jeff Beck, and others. "After I heard Jeff's Wired and Blow by Blow albums, I went back to check out Beck-Ola and Truth. That was good stuff!" he says.

When it came time for college, Boch's family supported his decision to study music. "When I graduated from high school in the 1970s, the prime rate was 21 percent, and it was a tough time in the car business," Boch says. "I didn't know what I wanted to do. My father's business was successful, but nothing like it is now. I liked the idea of being a musician, so I applied to Berklee and got accepted. Once I got there, I found out that it was way beyond me, but I stuck it out and graduated."

 
Ernie Boch Jr., guitarist  

After leaving Berklee, Boch got in touch with the difficulties of making a living as a performer. Reality hit one night after he heard Dizzy Gillespie play at a club in Harvard Square. "That show was a big deal," Boch says. "I saw Bill Cosby in the audience. Afterwards, I was standing there when the club owner paid Dizzy. I thought it was sad to see what this guy, one of the architects of bebop, was getting. After that I figured I could try to make a million bucks playing music or I could make a million bucks and then play music. I chose the latter."

Boch started selling cars at his father's dealership in the mid-1980s. Eventually he was given a management position, but says with a wry smile that he got fired a couple of times and went back to selling. Eventually he proved himself and worked his way up. When his father passed away in 2003, the younger Boch became the company's president and CEO.

In 2005, Boch joined Berklee's board of trustees. He has since helped motivate other alumni to give to the college's annual fund by offering matching gifts to the college. He also recently pledged $1 million to the Giant Steps Capital Campaign. When President Brown presented the initial campaign goal of $40 million to the trustees, Ernie balked. "I said I thought it was crazy," Boch says. "Roger told me he felt the board could raise a big percentage of that. Now, I can't believe how much he convinced me to give, but I believe in this."

A principle by which Boch operates in all of his endeavors is that of seeking out people who possess strengths he lacks. "I believe a key to success is surrounding yourself with the best people," he says. "I learned that by osmosis through my father. I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer around here, and I'm not the best player in my band. At Berklee, I'd get with these great musicians who didn't have it together to make a demo or deal with a club owner to get paid, and I'd take care of that part."

His philosophy is working, and Boch is taking care of business on all fronts. Business is booming at Boch Automotive Enterprises, and after a 15-year hiatus from playing professionally, Boch straps on his Telecaster pretty frequently. So far in 2008, the band he thought would play six gigs a year has 60 choice dates on the calendar. The group's first CD, Low Expectations, was released in July (visit www.ernieandtheautomatics.com).

Boch maintains his passion for both cars and music and exhibits the enthusiasm of a young Berklee student when the discussion turns to guitar players. His tastes run to jazz, country, and rock pickers. "Mike Stern is my favorite," he says. "I used to take lessons with him when he came through town. Barry Goudreau, who was the original guitarist for the group Boston, is a member of my band. For me, it doesn't get any better than that."