Mike Cowles left us in suspense when we last spoke with him 22 years ago.
On May 18, 1999, Automotive News dispatched a photographer to visit the Ford dealer in Sharon Springs, Kan. He was the focus of one of the 50 photographers we sent across the globe to chronicle a day in the life of the auto industry at the turn of the millennium.
When the special issue was published later that year, Cowles' image appeared on the same page as that of another 61-year-old leader, General Motors CEO Jack Smith. It was evidence of an oddity that is a hallmark of Automotive News: We cover the CEO of GM; we cover car dealers on Main Street.
The heading at the top of the page: "On May 18, 1999, some had the burdens of leadership."
Cowles' burden was survival. We showed him pushing an upright vacuum in his two-car showroom. He was trimming expenses by doing his own chores.
"Dealerships this size are a pretty fragile entity," he said then of the enterprise that had been feeding the family since 1935. "We're going to keep it as long as it's profitable, maybe a little longer too, depending on how proud we are."