Here at Garber, there are plenty of people who have worked in the automotive industry for 15, 20, 30 years.
At 24 years old, Porter Brown is not a seasoned vet…yet. But he hopes to become one.
“I want to continue to work for Garber, and I hope to say I have worked for the company for 35 or 40 years,” Porter said. “Who knows? The sky’s the limit with Garber.”
As the New Car Sales Manager at Garber Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Saginaw, Michigan, he is on the first leg of his career journey with the company.
But before Porter could get on the road that led to Garber, he had to dip his toes in the water first.
From Skis to Sales
As a high schooler growing up on Wixom Lake in Michigan, there were two things Porter loved: cars and water skiing.
“When I was a freshman in high school, my dad introduced me to a guy in Midland named Andy Lang who owns a waterski lake,” he said. “I went over to his house and he showed me the course for waterskiing. I started going over there frequently, and soon enough, I became a competitive water skier.”
While he saw success in the waterskiing world — even making it to the national tournament in Florida — Porter also decided that he wanted to pursue a degree in automotive management and marketing. He attended Delta College in Saginaw before transferring to Northwood University.
At first, working for a dealership never crossed his mind.
“I had no idea about working at a dealership,” he said. “I thought the Northwood Auto Show was really cool, so I thought, ‘What the heck, I’ll go into automotive.’ But honestly, I had no idea where that would take me.”
Then Andy — his ski coach and mentor — suggested Porter meet Andy’s son: Craig Lang, the general manager of Garber Chevrolet in Midland. The two had lunch, which led to Porter accepting a job as a lot attendant in August 2015.
“I was kind of like a porter,” he laughed. “Porter the porter.”
He was 18 years old and his career had started. He didn’t even know it yet.
Full Steam Ahead
After six months working as a lot attendant while going to college, a new opportunity fell into Porter’s lap.
“We would have a sales person go on rotation to help sell cars at the Midland Mall, so they’d send me down there to help,” he said. “One thing led to another and the next thing I know, I’m sending referrals from the mall down to the dealership. And everyone was like, ‘You should try selling cars.’ So I thought, ‘Well, OK, what the heck? I’ll do it.’”
Porter sold 12 cars that first month.
“I was excited…like that nervous excitement,” he said. “I was excited to have the opportunity. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I really can sell cars.’”
Throughout his collegiate career, Porter was a full-time student and full-time employee at Garber, switching from lot attendant to sales intern to sales associate.
Halfway through college, Porter knew he wanted to stay with Garber for the long haul.
“I was certain I wanted to make a career of working at a dealership,” he said. “I created a goal of being a GM for Garber one day. I kept asking, ‘What do I need to do to take the next step?’”
Same Story, Different Ending
In 2018, an opportunity came knocking on Porter’s door. He got the chance to interview for the New Car Sales Manager role with Garber Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Saginaw.
It didn’t go quite the way Porter envisioned it.
“I was still in school at Northwood, so I didn’t know what that would look like. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening sooner than I thought.’ I came and met with John Margaritis (the GM at Garber Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram) and had an interview. A couple of days later, someone else got the job. As nervous as I was, I was disappointed that I didn’t get it.”
Still, it was a lesson in growth – and a wake-up call for Porter.
“Reality set in and I thought maybe it wasn’t the right time,” Porter said. “But it lit a fire underneath me to kick it into gear and dig in so next time, I can’t say, ‘Oh I wasn’t ready.’”
Porter’s colleagues at the Midland dealership took him under their wings to help Porter be as prepared as possible for the next opportunity.
“There was a lot of teaching: giving me insight, having me involved in car deals, ordering cars, hiring people, firing people…they involved me in a lot of things that you do in leadership beyond sales,” he said. “I started to do as much as I could. The support was huge.”
In 2018, Porter got promoted to Assistant Sales Manager of New Cars. He also graduated from Northwood University. He now had new lessons under his belt and school off his plate.
When opportunity knocked a second time in December 2020, Porter was ready.
“I was excited and nervous,” he said. “I thought, ‘Hopefully I don’t get let down this time, but if I do, it’s on me.’”
Again, Porter sat down with John Margaritis. He interviewed for the exact same position as the first time: sales manager at the Chrysler store in Saginaw.
It was the same story… but with a different ending.
“Mr. Garber called me and said, ‘Hey, I think you should take this opportunity,’ and so I moved forward with it and got to take the role in Saginaw,” Porter said. “I was prepared. It was the training in between those two opportunities – when I got the job and when I didn’t – that made the difference.”
He said the support he received from leadership and his colleagues was a game changer.
“They have helped raise me from when I started at 18 years old to now,” Porter said. “I’ve gotten an unbelievable amount of support. The people are amazing. It’s like a big family.”
While he’s not quite a seasoned vet yet, Porter does have wisdom to offer to those who wish to pursue a career at a dealership.
“Make sure you are with the right company and you have the right people alongside you who support you and your future,” he said. “Big dealer groups often come in and make a pitch that you can be a general manager for a dealership in 18 months, but it’s like, well…not really. I worked in the business and went to school, and I still don’t know nearly enough to be a GM yet.”
Porter said it’s all about structured growth – which is exactly what Garber prioritizes.
“You need to find a dealer group who cares about you and wants structured growth,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference with Garber. We have structured growth and make sure people are truly ready and not getting thrown into a position. Garber wants to ensure you are capable of doing the job right.”
He said Garber has helped his own growth, both personally and professionally.
“Working for Garber has matured me a lot,” he said. “I had just turned 18 when I got hired here. I grew up in this company. Garber has helped me become who I am today. The support has helped me grow and set my sights on what my aspirations are for the future.”
What was your first job? Running my own lawn care business. I was 14, and I couldn’t drive. Luckily all the houses were all on the same street.
First car: A Mazda Sedan
What are three things you can’t live without (aside from food, water, air…)? Being at the lake, cars, and family & friends
What is something people would be surprised to know about you? I’m a pretty open book, but I guess I’d say the waterskiing and the fact that I did it competitively. I was doing tournaments for four years straight. I was going every weekend in the summer. One summer when I was 17, before I started at Garber, I did a bunch of local state tournaments to qualify for state and eventually, I went to Nationals in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Best advice? Andy was my mentor, and when I first started skiing over there, I thought I was a hot shot. I was pretty arrogant about it. I remember him telling me one time, ‘You need to be more humble with your approach.’ And I was really taken aback by that. He taught me about humility, and I started paying more attention to my dad and my mom and how humble they were with things, and the way Andy approached things. My wife made me a poster that says “Stay Humble, Hustle Hard” and that’s my motto.