“You should try selling cars.”
Four words. That’s all it took to change Tom Ward’s professional path.
The life-altering suggestion came from Rich Perdue and Juan Bush, who work at Garber. They crossed paths with Tom, got to know him, and well…the rest is history.
Sure, the job switch was just a suggestion at the time. But guess what?
Now Tom is the Used Car Sales Manager at Garber Buick in Saginaw, Michigan.
Right time, right place leads to right decision, right career. Tom is creating a Cinderella story of sorts as he continues down the path towards his professional happily ever after.
Making the Switch
In 2002, Tom graduated from Saginaw Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in Education. His goal was to become a teacher.
The job market didn’t exactly deliver.
“There were no teaching jobs,” Tom said, “so I became a bartender. I worked hard. I had regular customers on the nights I worked. That’s how I met Juan Bush and Rich Perdue who both worked at Garber. They came into the restaurant and we got to know each other.”
After witnessing Tom’s stellar work ethic, Juan and Rich brought up working in the automotive industry. Tom was intrigued. He decided to leave the bartending gig. He became a Garber salesperson in 2003.
“I saw it as a growth opportunity,” Tom said. “The car business wasn’t something I ever saw myself doing…but I was good with people, and there were no positions for teaching. In these car sales positions, it’s all about what you want to do and where you see yourself going. In this company, there are no limits. You set your own ceiling. I could make more money and I had more of a runway here.”
With a background in education and no prior automotive experience, Tom’s original impression of car salespeople was based on common misperceptions.
He quickly learned that at Garber, the stereotype didn’t ring true.
“I was impressed with Garber right away,” he said. “My perception of car salespeople is that they were slimy. But I came here and saw the morals, the ethics, values, the way our company is set up…it’s not like that. We’re not a one-and-done type of place. We give an experience. I felt comfortable here.”
Tom became a student of the dealership world, learning and growing from watching others.
“I was a sponge, taking it all in,” he said. “I would sit and listen to the best guys in the department and learn from them. The culture here is everything because the culture is about helping each other. Culture eats process for lunch. I had senior people trying to help me and teach me and say, ‘Do this’ or ‘Try this.’ It made me better and it made our department better as a whole. When I hire new guys and gals now, the tenured folks take them under their wing.”
Tom was a salesperson at Garber for one and a half years. But he felt a tug to see if he could stretch his sales skills in other arenas – so he followed that tug that pulled him out of the automotive industry and into pharmaceutical sales.
“Pharmaceuticals looked glamorous, so I set my sights on that,” he explained. “I worked in that industry for five years.”
The industry switch didn’t pan out the way Tom planned.
“Long story short: I hated it,” he said. “I couldn’t tell if I was making a difference. I found myself missing concrete results for my work.”
Tom left pharmaceuticals to try his hand at selling insurance. But they say you can’t forget your first love…and Tom found himself missing the automotive world.
“The automotive industry gives instant gratification,” he said. “I know I did my job when I see it drive away. It’s a defined process. You can’t fake it. But I was feeling like a failure. I thought, ‘If I go back where I started seven years ago…is it a failure? Or is it taking another jump on the trampoline to go higher?’”
So Tom went back to where his story first began.
“At the time, Rich Perdue was the General Manager and Juan Bush was a sales manager at Garber, and they got me back,” he said.
Tom returned to Garber doing finance for Used Cars at Garber’s dealership on Bay Road in Saginaw. He learned and grew with each role he took on, including handling Finance for Nissan and Special Finance for Used Cars.
In 2012, Tom was promoted to Assistant Sales Manager at Garber Buick in Saginaw. He became the Used Car Sales Manager in 2018 – a role he holds today.
He said he’s had support from the beginning.
“You have people who model our ideals and culture here,” he said. “When I came to Garber, I was asked early on, ‘Where do you want to go? How can we help?’ I knew selling cars is good, but I’ve always wanted to grow, and I was always asked. They’d say, ‘Let’s put a plan in place to get there.’’
Is he there yet? Well, that’s up to Tom to decide.
“I don’t feel like I’m done yet,” he said. “You set your own ceiling here, and I’m not there yet. There’s growth for me here. We value our employees highly.”
The Cinderella story continues.
Use What You Got
Tom didn’t have prior automotive experience before Garber. He said you don’t have to, either.
“You don’t have to have a background in cars to sell cars,” he said. “You need resiliency, people skills, and a willingness to learn.”
He said the Garber culture is especially conducive to those who are new to the industry.
“We’re open to anything,” he said. “Everyone wants you to succeed. And that looks like time, coaching, making sure there’s enough cars on the lot. Everyone is here for each other’s success. Other people that come from other places want to stay at Garber because there’s good here. There’s a good recipe here. It’s Gung-Ho. Everyone is supporting each other for a common goal. We cheer on each other’s progress.”
Tom – who once looked to others for inspiration – is now the one helping others grow.
“I want to help people grow and help them set their own ceiling,” he said. “As you get older, the why becomes more important. Helping understand where people are coming from and going helps you lead. I learned here, ‘What’s the why?’”
What would he say to those who are considering taking a chance and trying out Garber?
“If you see an opportunity, take it,” he said. “I should have taken this job earlier. Open your eyes to opportunity and don’t be afraid to take it.”
First concert? Ted Nugent, Whiplash Bash at the Civic Center in 1990
First car? Motorcycle. I had $500 saved and bought a street bike at a garage sale down the road for $500, then sold it for $700 a week later.
Three words your friends and family would use to describe your personality? Competitive, genuine, smart
Favorite meal? Chicken piccata
Bucket list item? Learn to fly an airplane