Thursday, 20 September 2012 10:10

Michigan Dealership Owner Retires, Thanks his Employees with Cash Gifts

A Michigan car dealership owner will turn over his business to new owners later this month, but there was something he had to do first.

As he transitions into retirement, Howard Cooper wanted to thank his employees, so he surprised them with ‘thank you’ checks. He gave all 89 employees $1,000 for every year they worked at the Howard Cooper Import Center in Ann Arbor, located on South State Street north of Eisenhower Parkway.

Cooper said he hopes “it makes a difference in their lives like they have made in mine.”

Cooper, 83, sold his dealership in April to Ohio-based Germain Motor Company. Details on the transaction haven’t been available.

He declined to say how much the workers received, but mechanic Bob Jenkins’ check was $26,000. He has worked at the dealership 26 years.

“I was shocked,” Jenkins said. “You just don’t expect something like that.”

Sandy Reagan, who was hired at the dealership in 1966 as a bookkeeper, printed all of the employees’ surprise checks in advance, after Cooper clued her in to his plan. Both Reagan and Cooper wouldn’t reveal the total sum of the send-off gifts.

Reagan said Cooper received a standing ovation — through people’s shock and tears — when he surprised the employees with their checks. She said it’s “touching” that Cooper gave every employee the same amount per year, even people that were just hired in July. “If you were here for 6 months, you got $500. If you were here since July, you got $83,” Reagan said.

“The lady behind me had tears running down her face,” Reagan said. “I sat next to a person who drives the parts van and he’s been here almost 28 years. He doesn’t make a ton of money, but he got almost $28,000. I watched his face and he just said, ‘Oh my God.’”

Jenkins added, “The whole place was just in shock. People are still talking about it.” And as for his plans for the unexpected $26,000?

“Well, I’m going to put it in the bank, and my wife and I will discuss that,” he said. “I have two little kids — a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old — so the money will go to good use.”

Howard Cooper opened on South State Street in 1965 as a Volkswagen dealership. In 1972, it expanded with the addition of Porsche and Audi franchises, and then added the Honda brand in 1979.

When Cooper announced he planned to sell the dealership to the family-owned Germain Motor Co. — which now has 19 dealerships in five states — he made employee retention a condition of the deal.

“My employees are very important to me and the reason for my success,” Cooper told AnnArbor.com in April. “I know of a couple of buyers who would have paid more, but taking care of my employees was important to me.”

Cooper said he plans to maintain an office at the dealership until he’s ready to move on. He joked about purchasing an ice cream shop to keep him busy.

“The business has been my whole life for 47 years,” he said. “I love what I’ve done and I enjoyed going to work in the morning. I’m still an entrepreneur at heart and I intend to continue that way.”