I've talked on air and in previous True Stories about the fact that I lost my son eight years ago this past August. When it came the excruciating time to plan the service, music had to be picked.
B.J. was like me in many ways. He lived his life to the fullest, wasn't afraid to take risks, and he worked hard every day. Most months, on the floor of Five Star Ford in Carrollton, he ended the month at the top of the sales board. He even broke my all-time sales record.
For the final song of his service, I chose My Way by Frank Sinatra. It just seemed right for him:
If you would like to read the words about his life, written by me, you can do so here.
Writing these stories has made me reflect back on my own life, my career, my triumphs, and my failures. After much thought about the question: "Do I have regrets?" Yes, but like the song says, too few to mention.
Financially, I regret buying that Buick dealership, True Story #37, that set me back, but at the same time, it was a learning experience that actually paid dividends down the road.
Some said I was too loyal to my employees over the years. There is probably truth in that; I know I had some people take advantage of me. Some of my people got lazy and complacent, but they were loyal to me and you could not replace that. This is not a regret.
I gave three years of my life to the Ford National Dealer Council for the good of a lot of Ford dealers I never even met. I was away from my business, my family, and it was taxing on me physically and mentally. However, we accomplished much, and for this reason, this is not a regret.
I wrote about the difficult decision to sell my dealerships. There have been a few times I questioned myself on doing that, but then I remember back to how I felt at the time. I was beat up, mostly mentally, and did not look forward to going to work anymore. It's easy to second guess after the fact, especially as good as the car business has been the past five or so years, but it was the right thing to do, so no regrets there.
Some regrets you cannot control, yet they are still regrets. My Dad was a truck driver by trade, but when he wasn't on the road, he bought and sold used cars. Mostly he sold to other dealers, but he sold one car or so per week from the newspaper. I regret he never got to see the Ford dealership I built. He passed away while it was under construction.
One of my plans was to train my son to take my place on the radio show, so the show could live on. When I had back surgery in 2003, then later had cancer surgery, I had B.J. sit in with Kevin and one of our DFW dealers to answer questions while I was out. The kid was a natural, no doubt he would have been great, and I say that without bias. I truly regret that dream could not become a reality.
There were missed business opportunities over the years. When I was in my early 20s, a guy I knew talked to me about investing in a fast food franchise that was just beginning. I trusted the guy but knew nothing about the food business, and frankly, it sounded too good to be true. It wasn't, he bought and later sold a dozen or so Subway sandwich shops. I sort of regret not jumping on board.
An even bigger miss happened in the early 1980s. A guy I knew and had done business with named Al approached me. He had a small car audio business near the first dealership I ever worked at. He was a savvy guy with an amazing work ethic, and it appeared he had been very successful.
He came to my office around 1982 and sat down for a meeting. I hadn't seen him in a couple of years, so wasn't sure what we were meeting about. He was looking for an investor and someone to help him run a new business venture.
He then said words that shocked me: "Someday, everyone in America will have a phone they carry that doesn't have a cord." I thought for sure he'd lost his mind. Cell phones were not on the radar at the time, I had never heard of them, and the thought of a communication device with no wires seemed as likely as a flying car.
He had somehow obtained the rights to the very first cell towers in Dallas-Fort Worth. I regrettably passed on the opportunity, and as they say, the rest is history. He eventually sold the company and retired, building a home north of Dallas called Champ D' Or, a 48,000 square foot, 57-room mansion that cost 52 million dollars to build. You can see it here.
Yes, that was a screw-up of massive proportions, but who knows how that would have changed the course of history.
The biggest regret in all those years came from a terribly unlikely source. It was a used car salesperson who worked for me, named Joe. Joe worked for me for a number of years, had an amazing attitude, never met a stranger, and was very good at selling cars. He had a wife and several kids I met at the children's Christmas party I described in True Story #31.
At around this same time, my wife was on the Board of a local charity called the New Beginning Center. Its purpose was to provide a safe place for victims of domestic violence. They provided housing, job placement, and a place to transition away from abusers, usually men. For many years, I let the Board use my conference room at my dealership for their meetings, and use our home for fundraisers.
The charity is still there today, and in fact, I emceed a fashion show for them recently. Back in the day, I supported them financially, and we made a large contribution so they could open a computer lab to teach the residents of the home computer skills. That room was dedicated in our name, but I could not see it, the safe house location was an incredibly guarded secret.
One day back at the dealership someone told me Joe had quit. I asked why, but nobody knew. He called in and told his manager he would not be back. It was very puzzling; Joe seemed to be on top of the world.
At an annual big function for the New Beginning Center, there was typically a live auction, a silent auction, and we heard from one of the victims whom the center had helped. This was always my favorite part, to see the good that was done and the lives that were changed.
Before the event started, a lady came up to me and asked if I remembered her. It took me a minute, but I realized it was Joe's wife, Carol. Before I could ask why Joe quit and what he was doing, she had tears in her eyes and asked me the horrifying words: "Why didn't you tell me?"
I was stunned and didn't know what to say, except: "Tell you what?"
She went on to tell me Joe had repeatedly beaten her. Somehow, sadly, she felt like I knew that and did nothing. She had gotten up the nerve to call the police and Joe was arrested, and eventually went to prison for the brutal beatings. I was later told by her that he died in prison.
How could I not know? How could my people who worked with him not know? Nobody did, nobody suspected a thing.
I was horrified and haunted by her question and I explained to her I had no idea he was a monster, or he wouldn't have worked for me a minute. Carol was the speaker at the event that night and gave the excruciating details of the hell she had endured for many years.
This was the face of domestic violence.
Looking back, the biggest regret of my career was not recognizing the signs. Some signs were there, but none of us knew what they were at the time. Of all the things I could change in my career, this is the one I wish I could reverse. To not be able to get her out of that situation sooner is a regret I'll take to the grave.