It’s 2004. Melissa Perez is a recent high school graduate. She walks into Sunrise Chevrolet in Glendale Heights, Illinois. She’s looking to buy a car. She’s got her dad with her for support.
Melissa works down the street at another dealership. But she doesn’t want to purchase a vehicle there.
Wait. Why not? She works there after all, right?
Yes, but she doesn’t feel like that dealership down the road has the best morals and management. She knows she won’t be taken care of there. Not the way she deserves, anyway.
A few hours later, Melissa walks out of Sunrise with a new car…and a new job. She leaves the other dealership and joins the team at Sunrise as a receptionist.
And that’s how her fulfilling career with Garber began.
A New Home
Today, Melissa remains a proud Garber team member. She worked hard and moved up, earning the role of Human Resource Manager for two locations: Sunrise and Garber Chevrolet Highland in Highland, Indiana.
When Melissa walked into Sunrise 17 years ago, she wasn’t looking for a new job. That opportunity fell into her lap.
“When I came with my father to Sunrise, they asked me, ‘Oh, what do you do at that dealership? We are looking for a receptionist.’ So I filled out an application, and I wasn’t even done completing it when the office manager said to me, ‘Would you mind having an interview right now?’ I was so nervous. Interviewing for a job wasn’t something I was expecting.”
Melissa officially began at Sunrise in October 2004. Her ability to learn and grow catapulted her into another position.
“I started as a receptionist and shortly after that, there was an opening, so I started doing used car billing for RightWay locations in Illinois,” Melissa explained. “It was really nice because there was always something new to learn. There were so many avenues to take. I went from billing to doing deposits and it all grew from there.”
When it came time for Melissa and her husband to start a family, she received nothing but support from Garber.
“I had a conversation that I still wanted to work for the dealership, but my family would need to come first,” she said. “Garber agreed and said it’s a win-win. They said, ‘We want you to work here. We want you to be with your family. We have different roles that allow you to work the hours that work best for you, so you can do what you want and be the mom that you envision being and still be able to work and provide income.’”
When her children were young, Melissa chose to become a stay-at-home mom, run an at-home daycare, continue her education, and work at the dealership on nights and weekends.
She said Garber supported her throughout her different phases of life.
“Half of my life has been here with Garber; I grew up in Garber,” she said. “Since working here, I’ve become a wife and a mother. When I was working nights and weekends early on, my manager was always supportive of my goal to put family first. When I decided my kids were old enough, I could come back here full-time. They didn’t forget about me. At Garber, I don’t have to choose between family and work.”
A Growth Mindset
Melissa said Garber has a growth-oriented culture that has made her feel valued. That recognized value is what has helped keep her with the company – even when she thought about exploring other career paths.
“I went to school to become a paraprofessional to help teach in the classroom,” she said. “But I love and admire this company, and even when I was thinking of leaving and going to the classroom, I knew I still somehow wanted to stay at Sunrise”
Before she made the jump to the classroom this past year, an opportunity opened up that would allow Melissa to step into a new role full-time at Sunrise. She couldn’t pass it up, or leave a company she loves.
“I got my degree, but still, I decided to walk away from working in education because I knew the opportunity I had as far as a future with Garber,” she said. “I knew my future could be great with Garber. I’ve stayed because the management makes me feel valued.”
Melissa said her career growth is supported through constant education.
“The cross-training is incredible at Garber,” she said. “I’m a huge advocate of the idea that knowledge is power. There isn’t a glass ceiling here. The more I know, the more I can grow. Currently, I’m working with our office manager so I can train on different roles that she would do. She’s cross-training me to become an office manager in the future. I have a lot to learn but I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and to have such a great role model sharing her knowledge with me. At other companies, they can limit what you know in fear that you will come for their position, but with Garber, they encourage your growth.”
She said she sees others step into new opportunities across the company.
“Oh, there’s always growth,” she said. “Garber often promotes within, which is huge for our futures. At Sunrise, a lot of those in management positions started in entry-level and worked their way up. It’s nice to see because I don’t feel like I’m in my last position at Garber. I see my future and a long career at Garber.”
When it comes to daily tasks, Melissa explained that Garber doesn’t simply say, ‘This is how it’s done.’ A sense of understanding is cultivated here.
“Whenever I ask a question, it’s not just like, ‘Oh, this is how accounting goes.’ They break things down and explain the ‘why’ behind our actions,” she said. “There’s so much more than ‘This is the way it is.’ They definitely want you to understand everything you are doing.”
On top of the knowledge she gains, Melissa said Garber recognizes her as a person and a team member.
“There’s more to it than just this position for me,” she said. “They show appreciation for me; I definitely feel like their verbal recognition is huge. The morale of the office is consistent. They say things like, ‘We’re very proud of you; keep up the good work” … those types of things. We have a ‘Gung Ho box’ where employees can write down and recognize their coworkers who go above and beyond. We have an Employee of the Month, too. They notice the qualities of each employee and acknowledge the good job we do. I feel appreciated. They recognize my worth.”
What was your first job? I washed dishes at age 15 at the local VFW.
What was your first car? A 1989 Pontiac Bonneville. My dad gave it to me. It is hilarious because at stoplights (my dad didn’t know this at the time,) I had to have my foot on the gas and brakes; otherwise the engine would die. It was missing mirrors, the windows wouldn’t roll down, and I had a cooler in the backseat so the driver’s seat wouldn’t roll back.
What are three things you can’t live without? Family is always extremely important to me, coffee (just a little bit of creamer and I’m good), and music. I can listen to almost everything. My mood affects my music.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you? People would be surprised to know that I went to school to teach. I loved working with kids and being a part of their progress, but I also can be a part of people’s progress now in my role with Garber.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and who gave it to you? Luciano Garcia [colleague at Sunrise] once told me, “The only thing you can control is your own attitude. I really try to live by that. I’m not a negative person; I truly try to think about the positive. Otherwise, if you’re thinking about the negative, you’re going to have a negative attitude. When he said that to me, it really resonated with me and the way I try to live my life.