We are in need of a motor gopher. It can’t be just anyone, not after our last, superb gopher-in-residence, Tom Foley (pictured at right). Tom took a break from Harvard to wash our cars. His break was less permanent than my own, which lasted all the way from never applying to Harvard in the first place.
Tom avoided scholastic reality for fourteen glorious months in our cozy car cocoon. He immediately mastered the art of not crashing our test cars, placing each key with the assigned driver, and dealing with overflowing recyclables. He then assigned himself tasks like detailing our Four Seasons test cars as if it was his life’s work, filling birdfeeders, updating issue indices, and assisting on photo shoots, all with humility, grace, and a beatific smile not often seen at the minimum-wage level.
We haven’t had many like him—perhaps a half dozen in our twenty-eight years. You know who you are. And then there are you who know who you weren’t.
The best motor gophers quickly realized that they needed to live up to a bar set long, long ago by the legendary figure we nicknamed Super Gopher. Bernie Moreno (above) came to the United States with his family from Bogotá, Colombia, at age five and became a citizen at eighteen. He came to the University of Michigan in 1985 “to be closer to the Big Three,” and we hired him as one of our first motor gophers. We soon found out what GM chairman Roger Smith had gotten a taste of when he’d received a letter from fourteen-year-old Bernie, outlining nine improvements GM engineering should consider (including a theft-proof door, aluminum engines, and combining Chevy and Pontiac).
He immediately made himself invaluable. (Candidates, note those five words.) No matter what we asked Bernie to do, he had already assigned it to himself and finished it. He figured out how helpful it would be if he moved the cars from our sixth-floor parking area to the first floor after the No Parking Before 10 a.m. curfew. How nice that the editors could skip the six-story trudge up the filthy stairway and jump into spotless, gassed chariots. Wait! How did the radio presets just happen to be on my favorite channels? Bernie somehow figured out what every single editor liked and would reprogram every test car’s radio every single day based on that evening’s driver. Yes, he did.
We sucked it right up. The fleet was pristine, the office was tidy. David E. Davis, Jr., was always “Mr. Davis.” Bernie’s collared polo shirt was always tucked into his khakis. Once, before I left on vacation to Mexico, I found a sheet of paper from Bernie on my desk, with my favorite swear words translated into Spanish for my use. Thoughtful, thoughtful young man!
Bernie Moreno graduated, married his sweetheart, Bridget, and left us. We would never be the same. But what happened to him out in the world is another story.
He started at Saturn as an analyst and field consultant. Then he had a child and moved to Boston, where, at age twenty-six, he took on the running of a Saturn store despite no dealership experience. It took him one year to make it the most profitable store in its owner’s portfolio.
After three more kids, he jumped at a chance in 2005 to buy a failing Mercedes-Benz dealership in Cleveland. He started with about twenty employees, twelve of whom had left Boston to work for him. Of course, he turned it around in a trice and began systematically buying more dealerships. Today, Bernie has about 800 employees (including the original dozen) and more than twenty-five stores in his Collection Auto Group, “One of the Best Places to Work,” says the Cleveland Plain Dealer. His many awards include Midwest Region Entrepreneur of the Year, Time Magazine/Ally Financial Dealer of the Year, and Northeast Ohio Hispanic Entrepreneur of the Year. He is president of all of his franchises and board member of an exhausting list of institutions.
So. Super Gopher became Super Dealer and—no surprise—an acclaimed member of the community, honored by Mercedes-Benz (Best of the Best seven years in a row), Porsche, General Motors, and the city of Cleveland, which named him Business Executive of the Year.
Bernie would offer this advice: your goals should be high, obstacles are really opportunities, and you shouldn’t chase money. “If you have a great idea and great passion for what you’re doing,” he likes to say, “money will find you.”
We are in need of a motor gopher, a really great motor gopher. We are paying minimum wage. And that’s the bar.
For more of Jean’s musings, go to JeanKnowsCars.com.
Bernie Moreno photo courtesy Dasha Slobozhanina.