He’s 62 years old and getting into something huge and new and exciting at precisely the time most 62-year-olds are putting the finishing touches on their exit strategies.
For 27 years, Mike White helped lead one of the region’s highest RPM success stories: The rise of Parker Toyota to something approaching an automotive monopoly around Kathleen Avenue and U.S. 95 in Coeur d’Alene. Parker scooped up the Subaru dealership and, two years ago, was handed the keys to Lake City Ford by Tom Addis.
Jim Parker will be the first to tell you that White deserves a lot of credit for his company’s success. Maybe it was a little more than a solid business decision when Parker sold his Ford stock to White and White sold his Toyota stock to Parker, giving White full ownership of Mike White Ford of Coeur d’Alene on July 10. Maybe it was at least a little bit of a reward for all those years of loyal leadership and hard work.
To understand what you’re getting when you deal with White, consider three snapshots from a recent morning at the dealership.
SNAPSHOT ONE: A photographer from North Idaho Business Journal is positioning White and his 31-year-old daughter, Chelsea, for a quick photo shoot on the showroom floor. All of a sudden, Chelsea, assistant manager of the service department, vanishes. Cold feet? Camera shy? Nope. “Her customers always come first,” White says without apology, and sure enough, Chelsea is helping someone, ensuring that the customer’s wait is minimal. Who do you suppose she learned that from?
SNAPSHOT TWO: Chelsea slips into her dad’s office during a newspaper interview, letting him know that local high school students are selling doughnuts as a fundraiser and the students are at the dealership, hoping to make a deal. After deciding on 10 dozen, Chelsea departs, only to return a minute later. “They need money,” she says, and Dad peels off $120 with a smile. The point? Community in general and kids more specifically aren’t going to be ignored.
SNAPSHOT THREE: Midway through the interview, Mike White breaks down. What emerges is much more than a look at Mike White Ford’s future. It’s a sudden, unexpected glimpse into Mike White’s heart.
• • •
White and his interviewer are checking off the list of standard questions asked and answered for a story of this type. Purchase details? Check. Competition? Check. Strengths and weaknesses? Check. Then White is asked simply, “What do you see when you look further down the line?”
He starts off just fine.
“I see this as a 5-year daily commitment for myself, and then my hope is that…”
The words are stuck. Mike is staring down toward his desk, surprised by this wave of emotion that has escaped from what he’d thought was a secure and private place. He’s fighting back tears. He tries to soldier on, but fails.
“…my hope is that…Chels…”
• • •
Mike White can sell cars and trucks. He can lead dynamic sales teams. Mark “Coach” Halverson, who sold a slew of Toyotas for Mike from 2009 forward, described his former boss as one of the hardest workers he’s ever seen. “Inspirational,” Halverson adds. “Very, very inspirational.”
In inspiring fashion, White does whatever needs to be done. During a tough transition at the Ford dealership, he even stepped in as the service department manager for a couple of months while continuing to run the whole operation in his role as general manager. Jim Parker says of White, “He can run a business. He’s done it for a long time and he’ll make the best of it, for sure.” But there’s more to Mike than expertise from the car lot, from an office, from behind a counter or from the showroom floor.
• • •
“My hope is that Chels and the team continue the legacy,” he says, having finally mastered the momentary emotional interruption. His focus is again on here and now, not the day somewhere down the road when maybe his daughter is being interviewed by the local newspaper, having taken the reins of the dealership from her mentor father and being interrupted by happy doughnut-wielding high school kids.
White is back on track, back on the familiar path he and Jimmy Parker have been blazing for years.
• • •
On one side of his business card — soon to be on every Mike White Ford of Coeur d’Alene employee’s business card — are six words the owner lives by. They’re words he pulled together himself.
“Continuous Improvement Through Service to Others.”
That’s not just a catchy phrase. White explains:
“Our goal is to continuously lead and improve every day, and our goal is to look at every customer through the lens of service. How can we serve at a higher level every day? When everybody in the building has their lens in the right place, people can look forward to the best service experience they’ve ever had.”
The bedrock of Ford products remains not just stable with its trucks leading the way, but the company is reaching back for improved sales going forward. White said next year, the once popular Ranger and Bronco will again be available for purchase.
For the best service experience, though, White says retro won’t get it done alone. He emphasizes the urgency of easing the way people transact “in the digital space and on the phone, because that’s what people want to do. That will be Job One and a lot of that is in play already.
“The consumer lives in different places today than they used to.”
For the next five years, anyway, White will be in the same place, and he’s thrilled with that idea. As a titan for Toyota he was chairman of the National Dealer Council, he sat on Toyota’s national advertising board and served as president of the Inland Northwest Dealers’ Association.
“Those three positions carried a lot of travel and a lot of time in addition to being involved in all three stores,” he said of serving as managing partner of Parker Toyota, Parker Subaru and Parker Ford. “By comparison, this concept of focusing on the Ford brand almost feels like a part-time job.”
His departure from Toyota and the Parker family wasn’t easy. White said Toyota officials talked to him about “finding a Toyota dealership somewhere” — a flattering and wholly unacceptable premise.
“I said I’m perfectly happy and excited to be a Ford dealer in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, because I don’t want to leave here,” he said.
“No. 1 is Coeur d’Alene and No. 2 is the people we inherited here from the Addis family,” he said. “Probably 80 percent of the people here worked for Addis, and they’re amazing.”
But there’s more, and it has much to do with why he and Parker decided the time was right to go their separate ways after almost three decades together.
“I’ve got a daughter coming up. Jimmy’s got daughters and sons-in-law coming up. Those things can get a little complicated,” White said. “To serve the families better, we thought it would be better to refocus our energy.”
So far, so good.
“He and I are great,” Mike said. “The process was smooth. I think it’s really exciting for everybody.”
Smiling, White paused before asking a question for which there’s only one answer, especially if you happen to be the proud new owner of a Ford dealership: “How can you not be excited about trucks and SUVs and 520-horsepower Mustangs?”