Family fuels Reichenbach’s drive to succeed
By Leslie T. Snadowsky
You probably saw his kids grow up on TV.
For 15 years South Carolina State Sen. Mike Reichenbach produced monthly commercials for his South Carolina car dealerships that featured daughter, Olivia, and son, Isaiah, who helped tell those looking for new and used Chevrolet Silverados and Ford Explorers about their family-owned business.
Reichenbach and his wife, Charisse, have been married for 27 years. After he earned his MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and worked for the Ford Motor Company’s automotive strategy division, the couple realized their entrepreneurial dream by purchasing a car dealership in 2008 that grew into Mike Reichenbach Ford Lincoln in Florence. Mike Reichenbach Volkswagen in Florence and Mike Reichenbach Chevrolet in Okatie soon followed in 2013 and 2014.
Olivia, 21, just graduated from the University of South Carolina, and son Isaiah, 20, is a sophomore there, but when they were growing up, Reichenbach said he and his wife were able to successfully steer their business around their family.
Charisse would bring their kids to their dealerships so the family could eat dinner together, and as director of marketing, she always included their kids in their commercials. Even when their business was in overdrive, the couple decided to stay in their lane.
“While you work incredibly hard, the autonomy as owners meant my wife and I were able to attend all of the baseball games, the plays, the school functions,” said Reichenbach who is owner and president of Mike Reichenbach Automotive Group. “We always made a promise that the family would take priority over the ambition and the business endeavors, and we’ve always adhered to that.”
Reichenbach said they would compartmentalize so that when the kids were at school, they would deal with business, but when it was time to go home, they switched gears to jump start homework, dinner and family time.
“When my wife and I started in 1996 as a new couple with virtually no money, we still managed to be content because our priorities were in line,” Reichenbach said.
“That doesn’t mean we didn’t want for things, but we were still content. So when you come from that, you earn the luxury of realizing that an abundance of money or an absence of money doesn’t lead to contentment. Money will come and go. What we learned from some success in the car business is to be content with where your life is and give thanks.”
As a South Carolina state senator, Reichenbach has been active in his community as a past chair of the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce, vice chairman of the McLeod Health Foundation Board and board member of First Reliance Bank.
At his dealerships he employs 180 people and said he feels blessed to help provide for their families and dreams, referencing Bob Buford’s book “Halftime: Moving from Success to Significance.”
“At our three stores I undoubtedly could sell more and make more, but we prefer to pay our folks better,” he said. “We prefer to not try to hold out for the largest profits on a vehicle because that’s usually the second largest purchase someone makes.
If we’re able to accommodate someone getting their kids to school, getting themselves to work, getting somebody to a medical appointment by selling more vehicles, even at less profit, it gives us a chance to realize success can be translated into significance when you do right by not just employees but also customers and the community.”
Reichenbach acknowledges the challenges of running a family business can be turbocharged, especially when having to make tough personnel changes at the office. He said if you determine your moral compass, it puts the brakes on bad decisions.
“There’ll be plenty of opportunities to make decisions based upon the bottom line, but determine the type of person you want to be and what your decision-making model is, and then adhere to it regardless of the circumstances.”
He also encourages business owners to let “your yes be your yes and your no be your no.”
“In the car business there’s a lot of paperwork, and there’s a lot of communication between sales, consultants, managers and service advisors,” he said. “With three dealerships and 180 employees, mistakes happen. Even if it’s not financially the best thing for us as a company or hurts us short term, you back your people up and do what you said you’re going to do.
“I remember telling our kids over dinner that you get one opportunity to do right,” he said. “Take that opportunity, because overall it will work out. And it does. So you may feel the pinch right then. But just because something isn’t necessarily mandated in writing, if it’s the right thing to do, do it.”