Wayne Culiver is the son and brother of auto dealers, and he himself has more than 22 years in the business.
He has handled 15 franchises and, until November 1998, owned two Cadillac dealerships as well as a Hummer dealership in Scottsdale, Ariz. Culiver has been among the top 25 Cadillac dealers in sales for the past 10 years and a Cadillac Master Dealer for seven years.
'I guess you could say it's in my blood,' he says.
Enter Bob Lund, a retired general manager of Cadillac and Chevrolet. He moved to the Phoenix/Scottsdale area and made Culiver an offer on all three of his dealerships.
'I said, 'No,' ' Culiver says. 'I wasn't thinking of selling or getting out of the business.'
However, the offer made the 55-year-old Culiver start reassessing his life and his business.
'I'm a traditionalist,' he says, 'and I was seeing the business changing dramatically, moving away from the private entrepreneur. I was seeing the advent of publicly held companies. I hated to see that, and I realized I had lost some of my enthusiasm for the business.
'Publicly held companies haven't invaded the luxury-car market, but I knew it would continue until it was a formidable force in the marketplace.'
Culiver says he also saw customers changing, a trend he didn't like. 'I could see customers becoming more demanding, for one thing. In the past, they would appreciate a free oil change or a complimentary rental car or free delivery. Now they expect it, and are upset if they don't get it.
'Also, customers are less loyal either to a brand or to a dealer. I think the force that altered loyalty was the advent of the short-term lease. For example, a customer might be leasing a Cadillac for $700 a month, then an ad would come out for an Infiniti for $549, so he would go with another brand.'
Culiver also started thinking about some of the things he wanted to do. 'I'm 55 years old and in good health. I started thinking about spending more time with my family, working for Habitat for Humanity, doing some lecturing at the university.'
It took a year of thinking about it and negotiating with Lund before Culiver made his decision. Ultimately, he decided he had an offer he couldn't refuse, and the deal was made. Lund was the owner of three dealerships in Scottsdale, and suddenly Culiver was no longer in the auto business.
'It was a fair offer,' Culiver says. 'I couldn't pass it up.'
He had kept his negotiations private, however, not even revealing them to his family.
'I had two sons working for me at the time I sold the businesses,' Culiver says. 'When I told my sons, at first they were shocked, but I told them I felt it was time they worked for someone other than their father, and now I think they are enthusiastic.' Lund retained all of Culiver's employees.
Culiver's wife's reaction was decidedly different.
'She's ecstatic,' he says. 'I never got home so early before, and she says she likes the idea of less pressure.'
The pressure, Culiver says, is the thing he misses the least. His employees he misses the most. But he expects to stay busy, not only with volunteer work but with personal pursuits as well.
'I'm working on my golf handicap, and I plan to take horseback riding lessons. Also, we're building a second home in the Flagstaff area.'
And of course, the consummate entrepreneur is thinking of other business ventures, particularly in health care.
'That's an emerging business, and I think it could be exciting and lucrative,' he says.
What about selling cars again? 'I'll just stay on the sidelines for awhile and watch how things go,' Culiver says. 'But have I ruled it out? No, I can't say that I have.'
It is, after all, in his blood.