Start to Finish
For as long as I can remember, this industry has defined me—who I am, the person I would become.
As a child, my father's service station in Brooklyn was my playroom, feeding my imagination with tow trucks that were really pirate ships and lube pits that were dungeons hiding pirates, dragons and all manner of desperados.
That same service station was my ticket into an adult world forbidden to all my friends. I enjoyed 4 a.m. rides to Jones Beach for an hour of surf fishing before the long ride back into Brooklyn to open the shop. I spent Saturdays and holidays and summers pumping gas, washing windows and checking oil for nickel and dime tips—more than enough for a “cup of coffee” and a comic book (or two).
Looking back, the shop wasn’t just a place of work, it was a much greater experience. It was the slow, invisible absorption of real-world values and the inevitable conclusion of being immersed in a blue-collar world. It was the magic of discovery, the hidden science and respect for all things mechanical. It was layer upon layer of callous and an appreciation for hard, physical work. It was cuts and scars defined by ridges of black grease stains proudly proclaiming the choice I had made—a choice to follow my father’s footsteps and our family’s legacy into this industry.
It was a life defined by long days, late nights and more than an occasional trip to the emergency room to stitch, staple or remove. It was years of clinics and after-work classes, weeks at the General Motors Training Center in Burbank and hours of technical training at home. And, it was the constant quest to validate those hours through voluntary certification.
Through it all, this industry and the career I carved out of it gave me clothes to wear, food to eat and a place to sleep. It gave me cars to drive, albeit not always the ones I wanted to, especially in those early years. It gave me my life and despite my father-in-law’s warnings, it supported our family.
After almost 52 years spent as a professional in this industry, it would be hard not to reflect on the time I’ve spent here, much of which has been with you. After five decades, it is everything you might imagine it would or could be, and far more.
I’ve been blessed throughout my career with a constant parade of remarkable individuals, unforgettable characters, clients, employees and colleagues who have enriched and enlightened me, confused and confounded me. They helped shape my world and define my place in it.
More than anything else, this industry gave me the ultimate gift: the opportunity to work with my parents for four decades. And, here in Simi Valley, it allowed me the privilege of working with the finest group of professionals I’ve ever worked with and for the most wonderful group of clients, vendors and friends one could hope for or imagine.
I wouldn’t change a thing, but for all the good, my chosen career likely gave me one of the rarest forms of bone marrow cancer there is, and a new and very different appreciation of time.
You see, my father and I worked side-by-side 50 hours a week or more until he was 82. My mother worked here until she was no longer able, more than forty years. And, until I was diagnosed, it was my intent to do the same: to work until I was no longer able.
But, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that time is not just linear. It is multidimensional. It has volume and because it has volume it has content. Content that is filled with energy and effort, creating and building, enabling and giving. A lifetime of relationships and memories.
This new appreciation of time, this new appreciation for time, is a gift I’ve been afforded through all the carcinogenic chemicals we’ve all been exposed to over all these many years. A gift of clarity: the ability to see clearly what is urgent, what is important and what is not.
It has helped me to recognize that my illness is a constant distraction filled with an endless stream of appointments. These appointments take me out of the shop for hours almost every week. It has also helped me realize that any chronic disease takes up a lot of bandwidth. It occupies an inordinate amount space in your head and is a distraction too often responsible for lapses in concentration and a new, almost unbearable tension between “have to’s” and “want to’s.” It creates a primordial need to make up for the late nights and lost weekends sacrificed to this industry at the expense of time spent with family and friends.
Recognizing that these challenges constitute a new reality that prevents me from being everything my clients and team members expect and deserve, I made the decision to sell our business—to give up the one single, most recognizable thread that has run through the entire tapestry of my life. It is the single hardest thing I have ever done, the most difficult choice I have ever had to make. Perhaps that’s because the decision was not entirely mine, nor was it one I made willingly.
It is a decision I’ve decided to share, a journey I hope you will accompany me on. I think there is much that can be learned. You see, as much as has been written about exit strategies and succession plans and the importance of having them, I’m not sure anyone has offered you the chance to accompany them on a first-person ride through this dark and unsettling territory. I’m not sure anyone has offered an insight into the sometimes impossible and emotionally-charged decisions that must be made, starting with the initial decision to exit the business.
So, meet me here next month as I take you on an adventure—my adventure—the type that should begin the moment you go into business. But one that will certainly begin the moment you decide to sell.