Herb Riser was in a state of shock. He had just gotten off the phone with his banker and it seemed as if
all hope of extending his dealership’s floor plan financing had run out. The bank advised him that
they were about to enforce their rights under the terms of Herb’s credit agreement and repossess his
inventory for a subsequent fire sale to limit the bank’s losses. For Herb, this meant bankruptcy and
financial ruin for his business and, worse, his family.
Driving home that night, he felt so alone. At the light just outside his lot, Herb closed his eyes and
let his head drop back. “How did I let this happen?” The words were muffled within the confines of
his car. “How am I going to tell my wife?”
He couldn’t bear the thought of the anguish he was about to unleash upon his family. They had
young children, a large mortgage, and plenty of bills to pay. His employees were no better off with a
host of financial obligations of their own. Many of them had taken a chance on Herb, left good jobs to
come and work for him, and now this was how they would be repaid. From somewhere behind him, a
car honked and
Herb opened his eyes to see the green light ahead of him.
Looking to his left, as he eased on the gas, he saw the large lit-up dealership diagonally across the
street from his own. That dealership was prospering. Their inventory of vehicles turned every month,
while Herb’s own inventory grew dusty and worn by the elements. “What does he do differently?”
Herb begged for an answer from the great beyond, but his cries went unheard.
Herb had been in the car business for about twenty years. At every dealership that employed Herb,
he was the top salesperson. No one even came close to matching Herb’s productivity. The man knew
how to sell a car. Herb could sell just about anything on the lot, and he knew this, often bragging to
coworkers, “I could sell ice to Eskimos.” And his success was rewarded. Herb received generous
bonuses, and many awards to the dealership trickled down to him in the form of free vacations, Rolex
watches, and numerous other items.
Herb turned onto his street, a quiet tree-lined cul-de-sac that backed onto an inlet. The houses were
neatly framed by lush manicured lawns and driveways lined with flowerbeds. He pulled to a stop on
the road in front of his house. Lights were on in the kitchen and the living room. His family would all
be up, his wife cleaning dishes over the sink, the kids watching television, doing homework, or
playing. He couldn’t tell them; how could he ruin their sense of home and safety? They were
expecting him to walk in, heat up some dinner, and talk with them. For them, tonight was a night like
any other; but Herb knew that everything was about to change drastically.
At the National Automobile Dealers Association convention several years before, Herb was
approached by a dealer he knew from Staten Island. They got to talking and the dealer told Herb that
he’d grown tired of traveling to his Mitsubishi franchise in Rhode Island every month to review the
month-end financials and create the budget for the following month. He was looking for a buyer and
Herb eagerly jumped at the opportunity. He had long dreamed of owning his own store, of running
“his” dealership the way he believed a dealership ought to run, making his own rules, and reaping his
own rewards. He wanted to be one of the big boys and he saw this opportunity as his long-awaited
The first few months in his newly owned car dealership were slow, but that didn’t shake Herb’s
resolve. He attributed the low sales numbers to the ownership transition and was confident that things
would soon pick up. He even decided to roll up his sleeves and show his sales team how selling was
done by a pro. The numbers picked up a bit, but not the way Herb anticipated. He continued selling
day after day, month after month, but sales came hard.
Herb had trouble adjusting to his expanded responsibilities of ownership. Cash flow problems
began to occupy more of his time. He found himself visiting banks with increased frequency to add
new lines of credit, or strike new floor plan financing arrangements. He spent more time in bank
offices than he was spending on the floor of his own showroom, further exacerbating his cash-flow
problems. Herb was his own best salesman, even though his numbers paled in comparison to the
production he had enjoyed as a salesman at other dealerships. Juggling management responsibilities
along with sales was proving too much.
Herb got out of his car and stepped into the cold night air. He flexed his fingers inside his tight
black leather gloves and the moon glinted off the face of the Rolex watch he won years ago after
setting an annual sales record at a previous dealership he worked for. Now he stood on the porch of
his home feeling like an intruder, the person who was about to come in and shatter his family’s world.
He couldn’t do it, not just yet. Herb sat down in the old wicker rocking chair on the porch and
collected his thoughts. He wasn’t ready.
Herb was not a student of the auto industry. For him the business of running a car dealership was
all about one thing: sales. Customers were merely prospects to be conquered. “Overcome objections
at all costs,” he often told other salesman. “The customer doesn’t make a decision to buy; we do that
for them. That’s our job.”
Oftentimes, and reluctantly, the owner at Herb’s last dealership had to act as a mediator on behalf
of a customer who felt they were being treated rudely by Herb. His boss knew Herb could sell, that
was clear from the numbers, but Herb didn’t really understand the bigger picture.
“Herb, we’re not interested in just the sale. We want these customers for life and we want their
kids, and their kids’ kids. This dealership goes to great lengths to provide them with the products they
want and the quality service they can expect from us. Without them and their continued business we’d
be finished. You are by far the best salesman I have ever had, but sometimes you focus solely on the
sale and you forget that there is a whole lot more to making money here than just selling a car,”
Herb’s boss explained in a private meeting after a customer felt particularly bullied by Herb’s
aggressive selling techniques.
Herb’s hand rested on the front-door handle. His fingers gripped the knob. Just beyond the door
he could hear the kids running around upstairs, laughing. He closed his eyes and let the sound of
laughter fill his ears, letting his forehead fall to the door. He sniffed once, the tip of his nose burning
in the cold night air, and pushed open the front door.
“Herb?” his wife called from the kitchen. “You’re late tonight; I saved you a plate.”
Herb slid out of his coat and hung it in the foyer, carefully tucking his gloves into the pocket. He
reluctantly strolled into the kitchen and sank into one of the chairs around the table. His wife was
putting together his dinner, but he wasn’t hungry.
“You all right?” she inquired, noticing Herb’s demeanor. Normally, when he arrived home he was
more animated, happy to be home with his family after the long workday.
“I have to tell you something,” Herb said. He would do this quickly. He took a deep breath and
“What are we going to do?” his wife asked, slumping against the counter when Herb finished
telling her everything. Her face was blank and her eyes fixed somewhere faraway. Herb couldn’t bear
to look at her.
“How will we pay the mortgage?” she whispered, more to herself than to her husband. She began
to cry and Herb’s heart was breaking. Upstairs he could hear his children stomping around their
bedrooms, boisterous and lively. Downstairs the kitchen was filled with sobbing.
Somehow, Herb dragged himself out of bed the next morning. In the mirror he could see his
reflection shave, brush his reflection’s teeth, and run a comb through his reflection’s hair. He felt like
he was watching someone else from a million miles away. When he got to his dealership it didn’t take
long for his staff to sense that something was wrong. Herb shut himself in his office and avoided
conversing with anyone for most of the day. He was desperately trying to think his way out of this
whole mess, but for all his thinking, he kept coming up short. Numerous calls to his banker went
unanswered and unreturned.
The floor was quiet most of the day. Very few prospects walked through the showroom and the
service department closed early that evening due to a lack of business. When most of the staff had
departed, Herb came down from his upstairs office and began his nightly ritual of closing the shop.
A woman in her mid-fifties walked through the front doors just as Herb was making his way from
the service desk toward the showroom to lock up. Herb was slightly startled, seeing her standing by
the reception desk.
“May I help you?” Herb asked in a melancholy tone.
“I’m looking for a car for my daughter. She is graduating from Brown next month and I was
hoping to surprise her,” the woman gushed. “Do you have any convertibles?”
For a moment, the salesman in Herb stirred, but he suppressed the urge. “I’m sorry; I won’t be
able to help you.”
“Well, how about an SUV then? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a convertible.”
Herb stared at the woman and felt himself shrinking. “I mean I won’t be able to sell you any car
because I won’t be able to provide service support.”
“I don’t understand.”
Herb swallowed hard before continuing, “After this month, we will most likely no longer be in
business, I’m afraid.” Herb’s eyes dropped from her face to the floor, ashamed. “We won’t be here to
service your daughter’s car or provide any follow-up support. I’m very sorry. I can’t help you. I can’t
Herb tried to usher the woman towards the door, but she didn’t move. “Wait,” she said, taking a
step towards him, a look of compassion blanketed her face. “Tell me what happened?”
Herb looked at her, startled by the request, and considered it for a moment. He figured he had
nothing to lose at that point. Why not? he thought to himself. Herb offered her a chair at a nearby desk
and spilled the whole story. He held nothing back. He was brutally honest about his failings. Unknown
to Herb, his bankruptcy story was a familiar one to the woman, who had gone through her own
bankruptcy a long, long time ago.
“What is your name?” she asked once he had finished his story.
“Herb Riser,” he shook his head, embarrassed, before offering his hand. He had told this woman
his whole sad story before even exchanging introductions.
“I’m Susan Changer,” she replied, shaking firmly. “I’d like to help you.”
“You want to help me?” Herb replied in disbelief. “Why?”
Susan repeated the words someone said to her many years ago, “I’m just a person looking in a
very old mirror.” Susan began to share her own story of failure and the redemption she received
from an individual by the name of J.C. Jobs. “Here is J.C.’s office number. I want you to call them in
the morning. Just let them know I sponsored you. That gets you into the next training session for
They shook hands and parted ways. Herb eyed the phone number as Susan walked out the doors of
his dealership. Who is this J.C. Jobs? he closed his eyes and wondered to himself. I sure do hope he
can perform miracles, because that’s what I need. A miracle. With his eyes still closed and his hands
unconsciously wrapped around the piece of paper with J.C. Job’s number on it, Herb looked as if he