Leadership Lessons From the CEO of the Largest Car Collector Auction Company

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In this ongoing series, we are sharing tips, advice and ideas from real business people who are out there doing business battle every day. (Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.)


Who are you and what is your business?

My name is Dave Magers and I am the CEO of Mecum Auctions. Mecum Auctions is the largest collector’s car auction company in the world, holding approximately 22,000 lots at auction each year, spread across 18 annual events nationwide. Offers include classic and collectible cars, old motorcycles, old farm tractors and car souvenirs. In January of each year, Mecum holds the world’s largest collector’s car auction in Kissimmee, Florida, and the world’s largest collector’s motorcycle auction in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What inspired your creation?

The business was started in 1988 by Dana and Patti Mecum around their kitchen table in Marengo, Illinois. Dana Mecum has always been a type of car and comes from a long lineage focused on cars. His father was the largest US fleet dealer at the same time. Dana’s focus, interest, and experience in the car business come naturally from her family heritage. He is passionate about collectible cars.

Mecum is still a family business with Dana, Patti and their four children actively holding all positions in the company today.

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What was your “aha moment” when you stepped in to expand your existing success and vision?

During the first 24 years of Mecum Auctions, the organization achieved considerable success and was one of the leaders in the industry. However, the recognition and strength of the brand in the market was not representative of the success of the business. While Mecum was one of the largest in the collectible car auction business, it was not the most recognized brand. Starting in 2013, we began to make significant investments in the brand and Mecum as an entertainment company, not just as an auction company.

Among many other things, we moved our TV programming to NBCSN to extend our reach to viewers outside of the traditional hardcore car people. We have created and launched a new website. We built a new stage and a TV set. We launched a full magazine. We have created and launched a new online auction and bidding management system. We started our own transportation and financing business. Many other investments in addition to these examples were made over several years.

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Investing in brands is often difficult for an organization, as it requires significant start-up funds over a long period of time with uncertain profits accumulating much later. For Mecum, these investments made many years ago have driven the boom in the company’s success, especially in recent years.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you turn it around?

Of course, with huge growth comes the growing pains. Growth requires change and change is difficult for people. I remember reading the book Who moved my cheese? by Spencer Johnson many years ago during my career in the financial services industry. It is a great discussion about human resistance to change and how to overcome it. We have involved all employees in the planning process for our future and the changes we should undertake. I think all the employees felt that they had contributed to the process and invested in our success. Along with over-communication and extensive training, we have been able to avoid much of the resistance to change that is typically experienced in an established organization.

Notably, the most important challenge we had as a live event company was, of course, the pandemic. Mecum was in the middle of an auction at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, in March 2020 when the world came to a sudden halt. We returned home to our corporate offices in Wisconsin without knowing what the future holds for us in general, but specifically what Mecum has to offer as a live event organization.

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Over the course of two months, senior management developed a strategy, changed processes, and developed an 11-page security protocol plan to allow us to safely return to live event auctions with buyers and sellers in person. We started buying our plans from state and local health officials, governors, mayors, and site managers. Our planning led Mecum to return to live events in late June 2020. At that time, and for an extended period of time thereafter, we were not the only collectible car auction company conducting live events. , but the only company that did live events. period. More importantly, we were able to demonstrate that it could be done safely. As a result, our business has expanded significantly over the past two years, helping us achieve many event records and a world record for most sales in a year by a collector car company. and most sales in a single collectible car auction.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs for financing?

The key to financing entrepreneurship is to look for strategic capital, not just capital. Regardless of whether it’s capital or debt, look for a partner who brings something to the table in addition to just dollars. Find partners who understand your vision, share your enthusiasm for it, and are willing to customize your capital programs to suit your current and future needs. The business is going to grow and change. Your credit or capital facilities must have the ability to be equally fluid.

When looking for funding, make sure you have a clear description of your vision, what you intend to achieve, how you want to achieve it, and what the outcome of your efforts will be. Provide frequent, detailed updates on progress. Be transparent in the face of a flaw.

I always look for capital partners just like a job interview. Ask what your potential financial partners are contributing to the organization, as well as money.

We have been fortunate to have several very good debt partners who offer personalized personal credit flow facilities to suit our ever-changing business and unique needs.

What does the word “entrepreneur” mean to you?

Entrepreneurs do what they do because they have a passion for it. Yes, every business likes to make a profit, but for an entrepreneur, I don’t think that’s the most important thing. Successful entrepreneurs have an immense passion for what they do. They are not primarily motivated by money. They are moved by their passion. They accept adversity and challenge. They are agile and creative. It’s about building something and creating a legacy.

What do many aspiring business owners think they need that they really don’t?

You don’t have to know and be an expert in everything. Successful business owners understand what they do well and what they don’t do well. They seek to surround themselves with those who excel in things they do not.

Are there any particular quotes or sayings that you use as personal motivation?

I live in several. I like to say to my staff, “Even the Constitution has 27 amendments.” The thing is, you never get exactly perfect the first time. Everything is work in progress, and there is always room for improvement.

“You can never go wrong.” My boss at my first job, when I was 15, answered the questions that way. For years I thought it was his way of avoiding having to make a decision. Later in life, I realized how deep that simple statement was. Do the right thing and in the long run it will be the right decision.

Finally, my wife, Karen, and I have always lived by the motto, “Leave it better than you found it.” We try to fulfill it both in our professional career and in our personal life. No matter how small the improvement, if everyone aspired to this motto, the world would continue to improve.

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