Typically, In Tandem features a couple who has committed to one another in marriage. But, this week weâ€™re changing it up to present a family duo who has spent much of their life together working side by side at the No. 1 new and used auto dealership in Kentuckiana, The Sam Swope Auto Group.
At age 16, Patti Swope first began working for her father Sam Swopeâ€™s company driving a pick-up truck with an AM radio and no air conditioning to and from his car dealership on Shelbyville Road.
Her cousin, Dick, also started early in the business, sweeping trash and washing cars, but both have come a long way. Patti has been named Chairman of the Board, succeeding her father who just retired in mid-January after 60 years with the company, and Dick is now President and CEO of the auto group.
â€œWeâ€™ve both been involved our whole lives,â€ Dick said. â€œIâ€™ve been officially employed by the Sam Swope organization since 1977. Sam is my uncle, and my father is in the business in Elizabethtown.â€
Dick had an inclination early on that his career path would eventually lead to the family business. However, Patti, wasnâ€™t always so sure. She went away to college at the University of Denver, where she received a bachelorâ€™s degree in natural sciences.
â€œI did go to college thinking I was going to do something else and was not going to get into this business,â€ Patti said. â€œI came back to Louisville and Dad said, â€˜I guess you can sell cars until you figure it out,â€™ and Iâ€™ve been here ever since.â€
Along with Dick and Patti, Dickâ€™s brothers in Elizabethtown and his son, Will, who is general manager at the Richmond Honda dealership, are also involved in the family business.
Here in Louisville, though, Dick and Patti work closely together at the corporate office at Sam Swope Mitsubishi off Hustbourne Parkway. â€œOur offices are here together, so weâ€™re constantly interacting on some subject,â€ Patti said. â€œAlthough, itâ€™s funny: we can both be working on different things and not see each other for a couple days.â€
Despite the frequent collaboration with one another, the two still get along quite well outside of the office and have learned to leave work at work and focus on family when at home.
â€œWhen we used to get together as a family, we used to do nothing but talk business,â€ Dick said. â€œBut thatâ€™s changed over the years and we maybe donâ€™t take it as seriously as we used to when weâ€™re with family. I think weâ€™re a very close-knit family and we play together as well as work together.â€
One person who has always been keen on business talk, though, is Pattiâ€™s father, Sam, who spent most of their one-hour car ride together to Elizabethtown on Christmas talking about work.
But, Sam also has been one to dole out plenty of great advice to his daughter and nephew over the years, and has helped prepare them to become the successful business leaders they are today.
â€œOne of the best (pieces of advice) he has given me over the years is we donâ€™t have any enemies who walk through our doors, we only have friends,â€ Patti said. â€œAnd so we treat our customers as our friends, that theyâ€™re valued customers and that we always strive to give them the best experience possible.â€
As for Dick, the lesson Sam gave him in 1980 when the two purchased the Sam Swope Cadillac dealership has stuck with him to this day.
â€œThe thing that I remember him saying to me more than anything else, and again heâ€™s given us a lot of advice, is, â€˜The only way to be successful â€¦ is to surround yourself with quality people.â€™ … So Iâ€™ve always taken that advice very seriously, and I think weâ€™ve built a pretty strong organization with those kinds of people.â€
Not only did Sam instill plenty of wisdom in the second generation of Swopes, but he also taught them the importance of charity.
â€œBoth of our fathers are very involved in the community,â€ Dick said. â€œIâ€™ve learned at an early age that we owe the community that service because the community is how we make our living. We feel like itâ€™s a responsibility to give back to the community.â€
Dick has been a past chairman of The Lincoln Heritage Boy Scout Council and is currently the vice chairman and chair-elect of the board of the American Red Cross local chapter. Patti has served on the Board of Trustees of the Louisville Zoo and has volunteered with the Center for Women and Families, Metro United Way and many other organizations. She is now board development chair for the Kentucky Humane Society Board of Directors.
â€œWeâ€™ve been extremely blessed,â€ Patti added. â€œOur company has been successful because of the people in this community so my father has always emphasized to give back, so we give back as much as we possibly can not only of our treasure but of our time.â€
As Patti and Dick continue to build on the huge success of the past 60 years at Sam Swope Auto Group, they are also doing their best to bestow the same values Sam taught them upon the third generation of the family. Patti and Dick both assure they want to first make certain the next generation will feel good about and enjoy a career with the family business.
â€œThereâ€™s never been any pressure to get in this business,â€ Patti said. â€œWe only want family members to get in that want to get in. Whatâ€™s interesting now is we have two 21-year -olds who are in college, and weâ€™re encouraging them to get their college degrees and maybe even go work somewhere else for awhile so they can see what itâ€™s like somewhere else before they decide if they want to get in this business, because it is true, once youâ€™re in youâ€™re kind of in.â€
Family Business Doâ€™s
â€œCommunicate and listen to all of the stakeholders,â€ Patti said.
â€œAnd not just those who are directly involved in the day-to-day but all family members,â€ Dick said. â€œWe are a small family-held business. Itâ€™s important to make those people who arenâ€™t working day-to-day feel like they are a part of it.â€
Family Business Donâ€™ts
â€œDonâ€™t go off half-cocked and take out some issue on someone else,â€ Patti advised. â€œWe usually handle things pretty civilly even when we disagree.â€
â€œFamily relationships can become very intense and you want to make sure thereâ€™s communication and you donâ€™t want to let things fester,â€ Dick said.