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September 6, 2012 6:19 PM   Subscribe

Howard Cooper has owned the only VW (and now Porsche and Honda) dealership in Ann Arbor, Michigan, since 1972. At 83 he finally decided to retire, selling the dealership. With 89 employees counting on their jobs, he turned down offers for a higher amount in order to sell to a company that agreed to keep the current employees on, nobody can afford to lose a job in Michigan right now! And then, he walked into the dealership this week and distributed checks to his employees, in the amount of $1,000 for each year they had been employed. For some of them this amount was almost $30,000.
posted by HuronBob (53 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
This may be the only non-evil story I have ever heard about a car salesman/dealership.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:23 PM on September 6, 2012 [18 favorites]


I want to hug this guy, and I don't even know him.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 6:26 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


More from Forbes.
posted by HuronBob at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2012


Money is for the Job Creators! By giving this money to people with jobs and preserving those jobs, this traitor cannot be a Job Creator!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:28 PM on September 6, 2012 [11 favorites]


I would buy a used car from this man.
posted by uosuaq at 6:29 PM on September 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


I wonder why he couldn't have turned it into a cooperative, have the employees buy him out?
posted by wilful at 6:36 PM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


This man did a Good Thing, which is the sort of thing that more people ought to be doing. I think everyone on earth ought to be required to do one or two Good Things a year. All of the Good Things we're capable of are totally different, but if we all did them, maybe I'd hate everyone (except this guy) less.

More Good Things, please.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:36 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


“I sat next to a person who drives the parts van and he’s been here almost 28 years. He doesn’t make a ton of money, but he got almost $28,000.

"I watched his face and he just said, ‘Oh my God.’”


This is a nice story.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:39 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, way to go Howard Cooper!

When I worked at Current, he was also one of our few advertisers who always paid on time.
posted by klangklangston at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2012 [12 favorites]


wilful is displeased with this pony. wilful wanted a palamino.

Anyhow, what a profoundly decent thing to do. Here's to Howard Cooper! He's a jolly good fellow, and so say all of us.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 6:44 PM on September 6, 2012


I wonder why he couldn't have turned it into a cooperative, have the employees buy him out?

That's a good question. I suspect that the value of that dealership is huge, this is the ONLY VW, Porsche dealer in the county (there's another Honda dealer about 15 miles away). Ann Arbor buys a lot of imported cars. Could the employees have come close to compensating him for the value of a well respected auto dealership, and the 40 years of effort and investment.

Interesting side point... nearly every newspaper ad Howard Cooper ran for many years (when we still had a hard copy newspaper here) was customers relating their positive experience. Every week had a photo of a proud VW owner talking about how much they loved the place.
posted by HuronBob at 6:45 PM on September 6, 2012


I bought a new Honda from this man in 2004! I never thought I'd say this, but I will now display my Howard Cooper keyfob with pride...
posted by googly at 6:46 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder if there's a statistically significant correlation between customer service (as detailed in this thread and the Forbes article Huronbob linked) and employee "satisfaction" or whatever the right term is - this type of behaviour. My gut says yes for retail/service-oriented businesses, but I dunno why.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:53 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


The founder of a local manufacturing company did something very similar when he retired. Some employees got as much as $50K.
posted by MikeMc at 6:55 PM on September 6, 2012


Not strictly related, but in the general field of business owners doing right by the workers, I was reminded of this:

In 1995, Malden Mills in Lawrence, MA burned down. In response, owner Aaron Feuerstein didn't fire or lay off any workers, but in fact continued to pay all their salaries and benefits while the factory was being rebuilt.

"I have a responsibility to the worker, both blue-collar and white-collar. I have an equal responsibility to the community. It would have been unconscionable to put 3,000 people on the streets and deliver a deathblow to the cities of Lawrence and Methuen. Maybe on paper our company is worthless to Wall Street, but I can tell you it's worth more."
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 7:00 PM on September 6, 2012 [20 favorites]


This guy. This guy realizes the importance of treating your employees well. Let's hope people start to see that this gets you further ahead in life than just hoarding money you'll never spend.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


These are the types of people I want my corporations to be.
posted by highway40 at 7:05 PM on September 6, 2012 [21 favorites]


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow enjoys projecting/putting words into people's mouths!
posted by wilful at 7:11 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first car was a (very used) 1981 VW Rabbit, which was probably bought from his dealership! What a fantastic human being. I'm so proud to share my home town with such a gem of a person.
posted by Andrhia at 7:13 PM on September 6, 2012


This is a bittersweet piece for me, in that I lived out a depressing alternate version of this story.

In '96, when our family business was crashing, my father worked with a number of potential buyers for the business, but most just wanted our brand and reputation and the existing contracts we held. My dad was an old school good ol' boy from Georgia with a sense of morals and loyalty, and he turned down several very good offers that would have left some or all of our employees out in the cold, and in the end sold to a firm that promised to transition our staff into their business "family."

This offer, of course, was not a generous one, and we wound up enough in the hole that it cost us my house, my parents' house, and ultimately, my father, who died on the floor of his office surrounded by stacks of bills and messages from predatory bill collectors who was threaten and humiliate him until he'd wind up in tears, begging for more time to cover his debts.

The new company went on to fire and rehire our former employees as temps, downsized a number of them, and most went off to new and better jobs on the basis of their experience with our company, which was at the top of the industry for decades.

This didn't make me into a follower of Ayn Rand, not by a long shot, but honestly, I wish things had been different, and that my father had just pitched everyone to the wolves and reminded them that he gave them many, many good years in a great working environment and that sometimes, even when the cards are down, that just has to be enough.

I'm glad that Howard Cooper had the resources to be so generous, but...sigh.
posted by sonascope at 7:24 PM on September 6, 2012 [15 favorites]


I wonder why he couldn't have turned it into a cooperative, have the employees buy him out?

I cannot get my head around car salesmen and women running a cooperative.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:27 PM on September 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


Damn no edit window...should be "who would threaten," not "was."
posted by sonascope at 7:32 PM on September 6, 2012


Ah, Ann Arbor. Best city in the Midwest.
posted by Existential Dread at 7:44 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]



I worked for a lumber yard that the same thing happened to. Some guys made bank. I got like 2000 which wasn't a stick in the eye, but it he sold for millions. He could have cut us a bit more in.

Anyway, that inspired me to quit and find a better job. The new owners sucked ass.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:44 PM on September 6, 2012


Way to go D. B.!
posted by cjorgensen at 7:55 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


A true American hero, to coin a phrase.
posted by scratch at 7:59 PM on September 6, 2012


This man gets it. Wish there were more business owners like him. Happy retirement in your ice cream shop Mr Cooper.
posted by arcticseal at 8:02 PM on September 6, 2012


This may be the only non-evil story I have ever heard about a car salesman/dealership.

hehe. Anyone ever notice how many Stephen King stories feature used car salesmen as antagonists? That guy must have been talked into buying one hell of a lemon when he was younger.
posted by mannequito at 8:07 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


Obviously, he did not sell this business to Bain Capital. . .
posted by Danf at 9:02 PM on September 6, 2012 [4 favorites]


I wonder if there's a statistically significant correlation between customer service [...] and employee "satisfaction" or whatever the right term is - this type of behaviour. My gut says yes for retail/service-oriented businesses, but I dunno why.

I work for a small company. They treat me very well. As such, I feel it is my duty to pass the same "above expectation" treatment along to everyone I work with; even when I'm not in the mood, or the situation dictates that something is not my problem. I figure, if I'm taken care of, I don't have any qualms trying to make the customer's life as easy as possible. In the end, they keep paying us, I keep getting paid, and everyone goes home happy.

As an aside, cynical 18 year-old me (who used to post here) would probably vomit in their mouth if they could read this. Oh well, fuck them. :)
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:25 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I saw this phrase engraved on a gravestone; someone told me its origin was Armenian, but it doesn't really matter:

"What you give to others stays with you.
What you keep for yourself is gone, forever."

posted by Vibrissae at 9:29 PM on September 6, 2012 [17 favorites]


Yeah, that guy is rad. Way to go Howard Cooper.
posted by gincrazed at 9:31 PM on September 6, 2012


Howard Cooper: A worker's hero.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:37 PM on September 6, 2012


he gave them many, many good years in a great working environment and that sometimes, even when the cards are down, that just has to be enough.

I think that's totally fair.

What Cooper did is awesome but I don't think it was the right thing to do. It was a right thing to do. If he had run a dealership for forty years that employed people, treated them well, paid its bills, and dealt fairly with customers, and if he had then turned around and sold the whole thing for a bundle of money and skipped town to some tropical isle...he'd still have done good.
posted by cribcage at 9:37 PM on September 6, 2012 [6 favorites]


Anti-Capitalist, so...so...socialist! He can't do that, it's un-American!
posted by Chuffy at 9:57 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bought my first new car (a Honda Civic) from Howard Cooper Honda in 1995. The whole place gave me a good vibe, which I have found to be exceedingly rare in car dealerships; I still remember the saleswoman who sold it to me.

It was by far the best car I have ever owned. With manual transmission and no power anything it averaged around 40MPG. A tree fell in front of me one day, which I hit, causing my Civic to spin out of control backwards off the roadway and into a wetland. As I slid, perpendicular to the road, my car hit a bush causing the car to roll several times.

When the rolling stopped, and I realized that I was not only alive but completely unscathed, and without a single air bag opening (front airbags don't open for side impacts, I learned), it first dawned on me what a wonder of engineering that car had been.

But it was totaled. I shopped around and ultimately ended up buying another Honda Civic from a different Honda dealership near Ann Arbor. They had underbid Howard Cooper by a couple hundred bucks, I think, and that was enough for me to sell out the dealership that had sold me the car that had saved my life. The new car wasn't as good, had miscellaneous annoying problems, and got only 3/4 of the MPG. It feels like karma. Or "carma," perhaps.

Though I'm pretty sure I would have bought the same model from Howard Cooper, and it probably would have had the exact same specs, I really wish I had bought the car from him instead. Especially now that I know what kind of person he is.

I still miss that '95 Civic.
posted by tempestuoso at 10:10 PM on September 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think everyone on earth ought to be required to do one or two Good Things a year.

You mean, make it mandatory to pay your dues to society?

It's called "taxes".

Sure, you can wait for rich people to voluntarily give up some of their wealth and then celebrate them like frigging rockstars when they do. Or you could ask them to pitch in regularly...
posted by sour cream at 10:29 PM on September 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


I aspire to be this kind of business man. In a nation that glamorizes the atrocity of wealth amassing to quite literally insane degrees, this is truly a breath of fresh air. I hope I can retire owning not much wealth beyond the massive amount of karma and good will that Howard now has.
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:43 PM on September 6, 2012


Perhaps this can be turned into a film one day to accompany that tragic tale broadcast each Christmas about that wealthy self made elderly man, who gets ridiculed by the leftist, godless, lazy masses, and is corrupted by ghosts of past, present, and future.
posted by juiceCake at 10:51 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


What Cooper did is awesome but I don't think it was the right thing to do. It was a right thing to do. If he had run a dealership for forty years that employed people, treated them well, paid its bills, and dealt fairly with customers, and if he had then turned around and sold the whole thing for a bundle of money and skipped town to some tropical isle...he'd still have done good.
Only if you buy intot he fiction that the guy who nominally owns the company is the person responsible for its success, which is only true for one person businesses and even then not always. His workers played as much if not more a role in making this a successfull, profitable business and given that he has enjoyed the extra value of their labour over what he paid them for decades, giving them a small part of the extra profits he made on the sale of the company and ensuring their continued employment is the least he could do.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:54 PM on September 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


What a fine, fine man. I just love this story. Call it what you want but the fact of the matter is that he loved those people, and showed it, he demonstrated that love is a verb.

Amazingly enough, I got cut a huge payout when I got laid off at First Interstate Bank in 1991, when they closed down the data center in Houston. I'd only worked there like 18 months so I didn't get the really large sums that some of the lifers there got, but if I recall correctly the payout was 80% of yearly wage plus xxx amount for each year of service there. And a decent COBRA setup, too, 18 months extension. It was sweet.

It was hard times just then, and difficult to find another gig, but that money made it painless, a cushion which afforded me enough time to find the job that got me here to Austin.

How much you wanna bet that a bank wouldn't take care of their people that way today?
posted by dancestoblue at 11:03 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to rain in his parade but ladies and gentlemen, Mr Chuck Feeney
posted by Damienmce at 11:53 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dancestoblue: The bank would have to first make the bet then make a CDO on said bet the sell the CDO to me.
posted by roboton666 at 11:55 PM on September 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there's a statistically significant correlation between customer service (as detailed in this thread and the Forbes article Huronbob linked) and employee "satisfaction" or whatever the right term is - this type of behaviour.

Are you joking? Of bloody course there is! Think of all the retail places you may have bought from which had surly and despondent staff. Usually they are surly and despondent for a reason.
And, mind you, employee satisfaction doesn't have to be bought off with money. It starts by treating your employees like people. Usually, the more celebrity the CEO enjoys, the least likely this is to happen.
posted by Skeptic at 1:09 AM on September 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thats... thats... unamerican.
posted by fairmettle at 2:44 AM on September 7, 2012


When Jordan's Furniture was sold to Berkshire Hathaway back in 1999, every employee received a gift of $0.50 for each hour they had worked there.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:21 AM on September 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


giving them a small part of the extra profits he made on the sale of the company and ensuring their continued employment is the least he could do.

Maybe it was the least HE could do, but it was vastly more than most do.

Usually, the more celebrity the CEO enjoys, the least likely this is to happen.

"You're fired," says The Donald.

"I like to fire people," says The Mitt.
posted by tommyD at 4:23 AM on September 7, 2012


This shouldn't be remarkable.
posted by tommasz at 5:08 AM on September 7, 2012


It's a great thing to do, and it's also brilliant advertising (or PR or whatever you want to call it) for the continuing dealership. The new owners should also be very grateful.
posted by DanCall at 5:45 AM on September 7, 2012


I wonder if there's a statistically significant correlation between customer service (as detailed in this thread and the Forbes article Huronbob linked) and employee "satisfaction" or whatever the right term is - this type of behaviour.

Are you joking?


Honestly no - never bought a car, the biggest purchase I've ever made has been a $1,000 bike, and most of my retail interactions are unremarkable as far as employees go. And more to the point, I was curious about an actual measurable effect, rather than my own wildly unscientific personal experience.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:09 AM on September 7, 2012


Only if you buy intot he fiction that the guy who nominally owns the company is the person responsible for its success

That's quite silly. I don't think anybody really thinks that, and it certainly isn't necessary to think that ("Only if...") in order to reach the conclusion that a hypothetical parallel-universe-Cooper could run a business responsibly and kindly for forty years, sell it and not do this, and still be a good guy who did a good thing.
posted by cribcage at 7:22 AM on September 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Every time I think about starting a business, I think "well, if I actually care about the business, and about the people who work for the business, and about the business's customers, and if I try to do right by everyone, it'll all work out, right?" but then the cynical person inside me says "nah, I'll probably be cheated, taken advantage of and robbed blind." This story at least gives me a reason to be somewhat less cynical about my chances.
posted by davejay at 10:32 AM on September 7, 2012


I wish I was in the market for a new (or new used-) car: for this, I'd make the trip to Ann Arbor. Guess I'll just have to wait until Mr. Cooper opens that ice cream stand!
posted by easily confused at 8:18 AM on September 8, 2012


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