One might think growing up with a father who had established a well-known auto dealership on Chicago's North Shore would prompt Mark Muller to follow in his dad's footsteps. Even though his older and younger brothers have always worked in the family's automobile business, not so for Mark.
In fact, his father, Michael, encouraged him to experience a different career path. After finishing undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and discovering that law school wasn't for him, Muller started on a path that took him to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, first as a runner, and then as a trader -- a background he feels benefits the operations of the Muller Auto Group.
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Auto BiographyMark Muller, Managing partner
1350 Park Avenue West Highland Park (847) 433-7900
Tag Line: You will not be disappointed
Sales hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Service hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Other dealerships in the family are Muller's Woodfield Acura, 1099 W. Higgins Road, Hoffman Estates; Muller Honda, 550 Skokie Valley Road, Highland Park; and Muller Acura of Merriville (Ind.).
Michael Muller established the first automobile dealership of the group in the early 1970s. The Muller family takes its slogan -- "There is always a Muller in the house" -- to heart. Michael and brothers Mark, Scott and Glenn are all managing partners of the four-store operation.
We talked to Mark Muller about the auto group and recent changes in the car business and his career.
What is the history of Muller Auto Group and what stores do you currently have?
"Like everyone else, my father started in sales and moved his way up to a general manager position. Over the years, we have owned several franchises, with the first one being the Pontiac dealership in Highland Park.
"In 1985, we were awarded the Acura dealership in Hoffman Estates, while in November 2011 we acquired the Subaru/Volkswagen/Nissan store in Highland Park. In early 2012, we opened a new generation-three Acura dealership in Merrillville, Ind.
"My father can usually be found at the Honda store, but he goes one or two days during the week over to the Hoffman Estates store where my brother Scott works. He works every single day of the week and often is here at the Subaru/Volkswagen/Nissan store. He visits the Acura dealership in Merrillville where my brother Glenn is, usually on Saturdays."
What made you decide to leave your career as a trader?
"In 2011, my younger brother began talking to the owners of this (Subaru/Volkswagen/Nissan) store and indicated to me that he thought it would be a good time for me to come into the family business. So I began splitting my days, trading in the morning and learning the automobile business in the afternoons, hanging out in the stores, going to car auctions, etc. During this time, we were negotiating for this store and by the time we bought it, I was fully committed.
"I have relied heavily on my father and my brothers, as well as one of our general managers, Jeff Harris, during these past two years, to learn the business.
"The timing was perfect. I was 50 years old and my career on the trading floor was winding down. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. In 2000, the trading floor went from open outcry to electronic trading. Although finding the transition to electronic trading came easy for me, the business model changed significantly moving forward."
How does your background as a trader benefit your role in the Muller Auto Group?
"I think I am more accepting of the digital environment because of the change electronic trading brought so many years ago. Rarely do people buy a car these days without looking at the Internet first. But also, part of being a good trader is learning how to manage stress. There, it was compressed into a shorter day. Here, you have something going on all of the time, and you have stress to manage constantly."
What is your business philosophy?
"It's all about taking care of the customers and that comes from my father. While many things have changed in this business, the way you deal with customers will never change. He didn't come from money, but he worked his way up the ranks. When I'm here, I don't consider myself better than anyone else. This is the influence that my father has had on my brothers and me. He walks right up to customers and introduces himself. "We're building relationships here and it starts with our own employees. My father walks around this store and touches every single person. He communicates with the sales staff, the service writers, the technicians, everyone. He knows that every single person is giving of themselves to their work, to this company. This is his life, being an entrepreneur and affecting how people live their lives.
"We have many people who have worked for us at our Acura and Honda stores for 10 to 25 years and they have bought houses, sent their kids to college, all because of the work they have done here. This is all based on the fact that he wants people to be happy. My relationship with my father and brothers is important. It's a family business and it's an important legacy, to his children, the community and to the people that come here.
"One thing we try to do is to consistently give back to the people in our organization. We want to make sure we reward our employees for their dedication, attitude and productivity. This translates to taking care of our customers because we want people to see the same faces every time they walk into one of our stores.
"One thing we do every year that few companies do these days is to throw a big Christmas party for all of our employees. Last December we had more than 350 people attend. We also have an annual golf outing at Chevy Chase (Country Club) and smaller events throughout the year to show our employees we appreciate them."
How do you view the future of all the brands your stores carry?
"All of our stores are at different phases of their life cycles and they all have different goals. Of course, growth is a goal at all of them. Here (Subaru/Volkswagen/Nissan), we need to get this store firing on all cylinders and have all the departments communicating with one another. As a store with multiple brands, we have to have three sets of sales staff, three sets of service writers and technicians specializing in each brand, which brings its own set of challenges. At the same time, cross shopping is a little bit easier here.
"Subaru is a wonderful surprise for us, in part because its reliability and safety is over the top. Volkswagen is great because of its German engineering and its fantastic partnership with North American dealers. Nissan is always in the top three of Japanese brands in the United States and has come out with almost all redesigned products, such as the Rogue and Pathfinder. They are really moving the needle.
"Acura is an outstanding brand of premium cars that are really beautiful. Honda is the same, producing wonderful family products."
How do you give back to the community?
"For the past three years we have worked with Dare2Tri, a group that helps youth, adults and injured service members who have a physical disability, as well as those with visual impairments or blindness. We help them run their indoor triathlon. I really like working with this organization. We also work with Family Service of Glencoe projects and with other local community organizations when opportunities present themselves."
What do you like to do in your spare time?
"I grew up in Glencoe and have lived in my current home since 2000. I met my wife, Lori, in college. We will have been married 24 years in 2014. We're an active family with our girls, Madison, 17, and Mackenzie, 14, and we like to do a lot of outdoor activities and go to watch Chicago's professional sports teams. I spend of lot of my free time exercising and running to stay fit."