Photo: Eileen Escarda
Florida Icon: Mike Jackson
Executive Chairman, AutoNation, Fort Lauderdale; age 70
My father sat me down, and he said, ‘Mike, you’re a Jackson. Work will define you. You want choices in work, you need an education. You have a lot of brothers and sisters so you’re going to have to pay for your education. You need to get a job. Start saving.’ I was 10 years old.
All of my cars are engineered in Stuttgart, Germany. That’s either Mercedes-Benz or Porsche. I’ve been to Stuttgart hundreds of times to participate on engineering teams, to participate in design debates, to have an impact on what happens next. So it’s part of me.
I started as a stable boy. Twenty stalls, and I’m going to get paid a dollar a stall. I walk into the first stall, and here’s this pile of horse manure that’s higher than me. It’s quite a moment. You either say, woe is me, and you take a day to clean one stall and get a dollar, or you get on with moving the horse manure and make $20. It was a great lesson in life that when confronted with a pile of horse manure, just start shoveling as fast and skillfully as you can, and you’ll get to the other side.
At my craziest, I don’t think I ever had more than 25 cars at one time. Today, I am down to four or five cars. I’ve really distilled and purified. Every one is bespoke, made for me down to the last stitch, that I have thought about endlessly, obsessively and I wait for with great anticipation. The whole process probably takes nine months to a year to get to the finish line and, yeah, it’s completely crazy.
When I graduated from the university, I was going to be a lawyer. I had a very old Mercedes as my first car. It broke down. I had no money to get it fixed. I went to the local Mercedes dealership. I said, ‘Look, I’ll do a barter deal. I’ll sweep floors. I’ll change oil.’ Became an apprentice mechanic and then became a technician. Then I went to work for Mercedes-Benz as a technical specialist. I ended up at the age of 29 putting a deal together to become the managing partner of the dealership. And, ultimately, I went back to Mercedes-Benz and became the CEO of the United States.
I could always relate to everyone because I’ve been there.
Philly is my hometown. It’s a great city. Went to school at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Wayne (Huizenga) was buying Mercedes dealerships. He would send the paperwork up for me (as CEO of Mercedes U.S.) to rubber stamp. I’m not a rubber stamp kind of guy. I just took the paperwork and threw it in the corner and said, eventually the phone will ring. Sure enough, six weeks, two months go by and there’s Wayne on the phone. ‘What is the level of incompetence up there? Can’t you guys process this stuff?’ I waited a heartbeat. I go, ‘Wayne, have you and I ever met?’ Long pause. Wayne goes, ‘Oh, you mean I have to kiss the ring?’
I love movies. Alice and I go to the movies every Friday night — the two of us.
I’ve been back and forth in the United States driving 20 times. You can’t understand America with a flyover. Sorry. You’ve got to get in a car.
When Wayne called me about coming to AutoNation, I said, ‘Wayne I don’t know if I can live in Florida. Can we move this baby up to New York or something?’ He said, ‘no, no, we’re not moving anything.’ I go to myself, ‘How bad can it be?’ Now it’s like, God almighty, I wasted so many years of my life. Florida’s the best. Fort Lauderdale’s great. Sense of community, very dynamic, very entrepreneurial, very free enterprise, very diverse. Wayne’s the man who made the dynamic that’s Fort Lauderdale.
The secret to life, I think, is you need a sense of purpose. You need to be making a contribution to society somehow, some way.
This is what America wants. It’s command seating position, high seating position, whether it’s minivan or SUV or a pickup truck. They want to be above it all and looking down. Next, they like the style. They like the panache. And finally, they like utility and that can be a minivan or a pickup truck or an SUV. They’re not giving it up.
I didn’t leave much undone in life. There are many things that when you do it, you go, ‘Well, I don’t really know why that was on my bucket list.’ What you come to profoundly understand is that it’s all about sharing time with family and true friends and shared experiences, not running around standing on top of mountains.
I won’t miss waking up on Jan. 1 of any given year and having 75% of my schedule for the year fixed already.
Read more in Florida Trend's June issue.
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