If you want to get a picture of the variety of opportunities available at Garber, look no further than Mike Van Eck’s career.
Mike – who is currently the Finance Manager at Garber Chevrolet in Linwood, Michigan – has been with Garber for over 11 years. In that time, he’s held roles at Gateway Financial Solutions, RightWay Auto Sales, and Garber Automotive Group.
He’s grown as a person. He’s helped grow the company. He’s seen it all… and he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“If I’m going to be in the car business, I’m going to be with Garber, plain and simple,” Mike said.
While he didn’t begin his career with Garber, he plans on finishing his career here. Every chapter so far has had its own lessons, growth, and fulfillment, starting from Day 1.
The Way to Gateway
Mike cut his teeth in the automotive industry when he was 21 years old at a different dealership in Michigan. But it wasn’t exactly roses and butterflies.
“I knew that dealership wasn’t my forever home,” Mike said. “The culture didn’t fit what I wanted. It wasn’t a great work environment, but I was young and needed to do my time.”
When Mike was 25, opportunity knocked. Or rather, called.
“Through a work connection, I learned about a job with Gateway Financial Solutions,” Mike said. “They called me and were looking for someone to be a right-hand person to help grow the company.”
After interviewing with two companies, Mike decided to join the GFS team.
“I was so excited about Gateway and what it could be,” he said. “I came in and started to learn something completely new. It was exciting to be on the ground floor.”
Three months into his new job, Mike received an unexpected offer.
“They pulled me into the office to meet with me,” Mike said. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, it was a good run. I lasted three months.’”
But Mike was wrong about his career ending. In fact, it was just beginning.
“They said, ‘We want Gateway to finance outside of our group and expand’,” Mike explained. “The financial market was just coming back from the ’08 crash. They said, ‘We want to do it now; what do you think?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s do it.’”
The Gateway team put a game plan together, formalizing the sales and credit departments. For four and a half years, Mike led the credit team as the Vice President of Originations. He helped Gateway grow tremendously, moving the company’s services into 12 states.
“We built something really special over there,” Mike said. “It was such a good team with limited turnover. A lot of people had grown their careers and moved into great positions. Then they said to me, ‘I want you to do the same thing in Collections.’ So I spent two and a half years as the Senior Vice President of Servicing for Gateway.”
But when Mike made that role switch, he got an unexpected wake-up call.
“That role was really challenging for me; I was not a great fit,” Mike said. “There were parts of the job I enjoyed — primarily the people. We put four new managers in place and promoted every single one of them. But I knew in my heart of hearts — even if it was hard to admit — that in order for Gateway to reach its goals, we needed someone who was passionate about that role and leading the charge. I knew I’d stunt that growth. I said to my manager, ‘I have a lot of bricks in this foundation. I’m not leaving the company, but I think it’s time for me to leave this role.’
Garber focuses on finding the right fit for the right person. People are the priority, which is why Mike was able to move onto a different role rather than leave the Garber organization completely.
And so, Mike began a new chapter with a different entity under the Garber umbrella.
The Right Way to RightWay
After seven years with Gateway, Mike began looking ahead to help determine what was next for him at Garber.
Identifying the right fit was not a quick “find a human, fill a role” situation. The process was intentional and focused. To weigh the options, Mike had several conversations with Dick Garber, Mike Crane (RightWay Auto Sales General Manager) and various General Managers at Garber dealerships.
“I was coming full circle and going back to the retail side of things, where my natural skills and passions were,” Mike explained. “I was looking for something that provided a great growth opportunity, but more than ever, I was looking for a leader I could learn from and connect with.”
After discussions with Dick Garber and Mike Crane, Mike decided to join the RightWay team under Mike Crane’s leadership. For nearly two years, Mike ran the RightWay stores in Flint, Port Huron, Lansing, and Jackson.
“I loved it,” Mike said. “I remember coming home and my wife said to me, ‘I haven’t seen you this happy or energetic in years.’”
While things were steady in Michigan, two RightWay locations in Georgia were in need of leadership and direction.
The company looked to Mike.
“In August 2018, Mike Crane asked me if I would take over our Georgia stores and move there,” Mike said. “I told my wife, ‘It’s a good opportunity. I think we need to give this a shot. But if at any point during this process, you are not 100%, then it’s a no.’ Family is the most important piece of the puzzle to me.”
After discussing the move with his wife, the couple decided together to make the jump to Georgia as a family.
“We just got to the point where we said we didn’t want to look back and think we missed a shot,” Mike said.
With effort and determination, Mike utilized his knowledge and skills to give the Georgia stores the best opportunity for success. But various factors — including the beginnings of a global pandemic — created immovable hurdles. In March 2020, the company made the decision to close the RightWay locations in Georgia.
But as they say, when one door (or a couple of stores) close, a window opens. For the Van Eck family, the view was looking bright in Michigan.
“We decided to move back to the Great Lakes Bay Region in Michigan to be closer to friends who were like family,” Mike said.
Before the move, Mike talked to Mr. Garber.
“I said, ‘Dick, this company recruits people every day. When we find a good person, we find a spot for them. I feel like I’m the type of guy we recruit.’ And Dick said, ‘I couldn’t agree more.’”
With the company’s support, Mike was turning the page and starting a fresh chapter. Like the ones before it, this chapter would deliver growth and fulfillment.
‘A Match Made in Heaven’
Taking Mike’s priorities and goals into account, Mr. Garber put the word out to the dealership general managers. The goal? Identify the right role that matched Mike’s skills with the dealership’s needs.
That’s when Mike and David “Tark” Tokarsky, GM at Garber Chevrolet in Linwood, Michigan, connected.
“After coming off of the closing of the RightWay stores, I needed a win,” Mike said. “One of the things that attracted me to Linwood was that I knew Tark was all in. I felt I could be a nice second pillar to the foundation.”
After several conversations, Mike joined the Linwood team. The decision paid off in every way.
“It was a match made in heaven,” Mike described. “We didn’t skip a beat. The results speak for themselves, and the store saw success. The team has done a tremendous job. It’s been a night and day difference. We have great people here.”
After seeing multiple sides of the Garber organization, what does Mike believe Garber offers to its team members that sets it apart?
“Garber gives their employees a path and an opportunity to grow, to succeed, to earn, to provide,” he said. “Within all of that, they also give the opportunity to live a balanced life. A balanced life equates to a better you. I’ve learned that through my time here at Garber. Hours worked do not equate to value. When you look at our company values, time served is not a value. My core values — what I choose to live my life with — align with Garber’s core values.”
With over a decade under his belt with Garber, Mike cannot imagine himself at any other organization..nor does he want to.
“I will forever be loyal to Garber because they were loyal to me first,” he said. “I started with Garber as a 25-year-old. Garber, Gateway, and RightWay have been a major part of everything that has shaped my life. When you care about the company you work for, the relationship isn’t just your steps you make or roles you’ve had. It’s your life. I’ve built my entire life with Garber weaving in it. They chose to invest in me, and I will forever be grateful for that.”
What was your first job? My first job was delivering the newspaper one day a week on Tuesdays. I was in fifth grade. My dad built me this cart to push the newspapers in; he built it out of iron and 2x6s. That freaking cart was SO hard to push! I’d rather carry the newspapers. I got paid $17 every two weeks. When I got my check, I’d cash it in, and my buddy and I would go to Big Al’s Diner. We’d order two malts with whipped cream and chocolate. Between those two malts and the tip, it was my whole check. Basically, what we worked for was the milkshakes…but it was worth it.
Favorite animal? Dog. We have a boxer/lab mix named Clyde. I got Clyde in June of 2010, so Clyde has been with me my whole time I’ve been with Garber.
What are three things you can’t live without (aside from food, water, air…)?
- My family
- Good food. I’m a foodie and love to cook, so I need GOOD food. My last supper probably would be a surf & turf meal of some sort.
- My social world/my circle of friends. I’m an extrovert so I need that social aspect.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you? I’m 6’3 and 300 pounds — I’m a big fella — but I can do the Worm dance move. I do the Worm twice a year: once in the spring, and once at the Christmas party. I’ve got to be conservative with it.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and who gave it to you? I thought about this for a week. For the Dodgeball movie lovers: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”
Okay, all jokes aside, the best realistic advice I would say I’ve ever received is, “Hope is not a strategy.” It’s about being intentional. You have to know where you are going and you can’t just hope. Nothing “just happens.” Magic isn’t real. You have to be clear about what you want to do. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes, but you can’t just sit around waiting.