Mike Harvey Olds
Mike Harvey cordially invited the public to a champagne party to view the new '78 Oldsmobiles during a grand opening event from Monday October 3rd through Saturday October 8th of 1977.
Don't try to tell Mike Harvey the auto industry is in trouble. The Burlingame dealer,
and a self-made millionaire with a low-key style, is grabbing up dealerships right and left.
"Ramming it into high gear on auto row - gently"San Francisco Examiner - Wednesday, Dec 2, 1981 - By Laurie Itow.
The news in the car industry reads like an obituary:
"GM's Road to Survival is Rocky" says the headline on an article outlining labor problems in an auto industry newsletter. "GM's A car prices $8,313 to $9,599" states another headline on rising car prices.
But car dealer Mike Harvey is experiencing a boom in these bleak times. The 36-year-old college dropout is a refreshing success story in an industry steeped in turmoil. Since Harvey first bought his Oldsmobile dealership here four years ago, the soft-spoken but savvy businessman has become a self-made millionaire. He's so confident, in fact, about his low-key knack for selling cars that he's grabbing up other auto dealership that are going out of business.
Since 1980, Harvey has bought Chrysler, Chevrolet and Porsche-Audi-Delorian dealerships and he's now winding up the acquisition of a Mazda outlet. It seems like a wild rist in an unstable field. At least 10 Bay Area car dealers have recently closed because of slow sales or spiraling real estate prices. However, Harvey takes a bold, positive view: There are fewer competitors."
Instead of retreating because of the poor business climate, Harvey believes it's time to forge ahead. And that's exactly what he'd doing. But he wasn't always in the position to be so bullish. He started from scratch.
Harvey, one of 13 children in his family, was an average student when he graduated from high school in Wilmette, IL, a well-to-do Chicago suburb. In college, he majored in English intending to go into literature or advertising. But in 1965, after a year, he enlisted in the Army partly out of frustraton of working his way through school. In two years he went from an 18-year-old private to a Green Beret captain, the youngest captain in the Vietnam War at the time.
"It was a bad war - a very, very tough thing to go through," Harvey recalls. "But I feel that to a certain extent I derived an awful lot of self-confidence and leadership skills from that experience." He returned from Vietnam after 4-1/3 years and made a second try at college while working part time selling Buicks. He did so well at sales that he decided to quit school and sell full time. It wasn't long before he was sales manager.
A few years later, he was offered a partnership in a Buick dealership in Detroit. And though he was married with two children, Harvey took a gamble. In 1975, he sold his house and took out a $100,000 loan to buy half of a failing business. "It was risky," he says. "Detroit was reeling from the 1974 gas crisis. Knowing what I now know about the business today and faced with the difficulties of the dealership at the time, I probably wouldn't have done it. But ignorance is bliss."
In two years, Harvey turned the Detroit dealership's losses into a profit. Car sales increased from 30 to 120 a month. But Harvey wanted a dealership of his own and decided to move on. That decision was partly precipitated by personal encounter with Detroit crime. Harvey walked into his Buick dealership body shop while a burglar, apparently a heroin addict, was inside. "I surprised him (the burglar)" Harvey said. "He ran straight through a plate glass window and he bled profusely."
Two weeks later, a business across the street was robbed. "I was getting anxious to leave," Harvey said. His former sales manager in Chicago, Bill Mucci, convinced him to try his luck in Burlingame. Mucci, now a Menlo Park Buick dealer, said, "He's a very amazing young man. He's very sincere, very conscientious." But as a businessman, the blond, boyish-looking car dealer is a "killer," Mucci said. "He knows what he's doing."
Beneath his mild manner, he's "very aggressive and innovative," his general manager Frank Casaligno said. Harvey took another calculated gamble when he sold his Buick partnership in Detroit. He took out a loan "in excess of $250,000" to buy another faltering business at 1021 Burlingame Ave.
That dealership, off the beaten track just west of the city's auto row, had five owners in 10 years. He put everything he had into the business, leaving about $1,000 in cash for his family to live on. "There were nights when I'd go home and lay awake and wonder what was going to happen," he said.
But again, Harvey increased monthly sales from about 30 cars to 100. In fact, his was 11th among 400 dealerships in Arizona, California, Colorado, hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. Two years later he was able to buy a house in Hillsborough and move out of the one he had rented in Millbrae.
With $27 million worth of sales last year, he was second in "retail" sales in Northern California, according to Oldsmobile company statistics. Harvey deals strictly in retail sales which means he doesn't sell in bulk or in fleets.
In 1979, Harvey rejected all the industry warnings and took out a $2.5 million loan to build a car service center and Chrysler showrron down the street from his Oldsmobile dealership. It's now paid off, he said.
But he's far from the stereotyped pushy, fast-talking, car salesman wearing the loud plaid sport coat. He takes particular care to tear down that offensive image, he says.
He gives you good reasons why you should buy a car, not hard sell," says his father Robert, 61, a retired insurance salesman who now manages the rental car division of his son's business. "He takes risks and they pay off," he said. "He hasn't lost a dime."