As a youngster, Paul Moak Jr. always wanted to work at his dad's Pontiac dealership in Jackson, Miss., but Paul Moak Sr. wouldn't allow it.
'He used to say, `Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,'' Moak Jr., 51, recalls. 'What it meant was one builds it up, the next one tears it down, and then you're right back where you started.'
So Moak Jr. worked elsewhere during his school years, then served in the Army. Upon his return in 1971, he asked once more to join the business. This time, his father agreed.
The relationship worked out so well that when Alan Moak, 10 years younger than his brother, made a similar request in 1981 during his college summers, he joined the team working in the parts department.
Because of their age disparity, Moak Jr., as a child, never considered that he might one day work with his youngest brother. Once they did, their dad assigned them to different departments, and they never worked directly under him. Both sons eventually worked in every department in the dealership.
Feast and famine
The Moaks survived a seven-day flood in 1979 and a lightning strike that burned the dealership to the ground in 1983. Along the way, they added Honda, Volvo, Buick, GMC and, last fall, Subaru. They bought another dealership, moved into new buildings and added two other dealership locations.
In 1984, Moak Sr. turned over daily operations to his sons. He retained the title of chairman and continued to come to work, but he deferred management to his sons. When they bought a Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealership in Canton, Miss., in 1991, Moak Jr. took over the new company. It is Paul Moak of Ridgeland, near Jackson.
Moak Jr. believes the advantage of a family dealership is the family's level of dedication to the business. On the downside, he has seen dealerships suffer when the transition of power isn't defined clearly.
That's what Moak Jr. considered the secret to his family's success in the dealership, which since 1999 has included his daughter, Jeanne Scarbrough, who handles Internet and business development.
'My dad comes in six days a week,' he says. 'He visits the employees; he's always there for advice and to talk. Our offices are side by side, and there's a door between us that's always open.
'My dad expanded this business very carefully,' Moak Jr. says. 'The way he transitioned it from his generation to our generation worked out well. When he did it, he backed off and gave us the freedom to run it, to make mistakes and not be handicapped by asking his permission for everything.'
The golden rule
In 1969, Moak Sr. was a nominee for the Benjamin Franklin Quality Dealer Award, then sponsored by the Saturday Evening Post. Last year, Moak Jr. was one of five finalists for the accolade, now called the Time Magazine Quality Dealer Award.
Moak Jr.'s 'golden rule' of success has been his father's lesson to treat people the way you want to be treated.
'Everything we accomplish with our customers has to be carried out by the employees,' he says. 'It's our ability to work with them, to train them to respond, to provide resources and tools that make us successful.'
Today, Moak Sr. and his two sons are partners in real estate ventures, and mix socially. But the familiarity is welcome.
'When I was growing up, I didn't see a lot of my dad because he worked long hours,' Moak Jr. recalls. 'Mom would fix dinner, and we kids would eat, and then when Dad came home hours later, they would eat. As an adult, I've been able to spend more time with him.'
Like his father, Moak Jr. doesn't turn off the lights and walk away from his business at the end of the day.
'I got a call recently at 10 p.m. from a customer picking up a car we were supposed to have left out and we didn't,' he says. 'My wife wasn't happy about it, and I didn't want to go down there. But it was something I had to do.
'I believe there has to be balance in your life; the spiritual, the family, your health and work all have to have certain weight,' he says. 'If you do too much of one and not enough of another, life - like a wheel - will get out of balance and not run well.'