Dave Sather's Money Matters: The man with a plan

By Dave Sather
April 16, 2013 at 4:04 p.m.
Updated April 15, 2013 at 11:16 p.m.

It doesn't take long to see that Marvin Rush is a man with a plan. The founder and chairman of Rush Enterprises actually has many plans.

Knowing this, I thought it would be beneficial for my Texas Lutheran University students to spend time with the Texas native.

One of the first things Rush shared was his five major goals. He wanted to own a GM dealership, a Cadillac dealership, a bank, and he wanted to do $1 billion a year in revenues and take a company public.

As he shared those goals with my TLU students, Rush had their attention.

Indeed, these were lofty goals. However, what is truly amazing is that these goals were set at age 20 - in 1958.

Furthermore, he has accomplished every one of those goals.

In the process, Rush Enterprises, headquartered in New Braunfels, has become the largest medium and heavy-duty truck dealer in the world. The firm is considered the premier service solutions provider in the commercial vehicle industry.

Furthermore, Rush is the first person ever to take a motor vehicle dealership public, and despite the well-chronicled disaster in the auto business in 2008 and 2009, Rush Enterprises remained highly profitable.

Rush has always been a goal setter, telling his audience that if you don't set goals, you have nothing to reach for. Additionally, he has never shied away from work.

Rush's first job began at age 6 when he swept out the bus station in inner city Houston. By age 10, a young entrepreneur was created when Rush bought three soda vending machines. One venture led to another, and at age 14, Rush started a business to repair, sell and finance TVs. Two years later, Rush was selling and financing used cars at his own dealership - at age 16.

In hindsight, there are plenty of successes highlighting progress in his life.

Rush is the first to call attention to his mistakes. One of his biggest mistakes was not taking a bigger interest in accounting. He learned the hard way when a controller of his had been embezzling, leaving Rush on the verge of bankruptcy. As Rush shared this, he told my students, "I did the only thing I could do - I put my head down and got to work. It took 18-hour days, seven days a week for months to reconcile our financials, but I learned accounting."

As Rush is apt to quickly get bored, he was presented with an opportunity to buy a string of tire shops. He bought them in 1980, and the economy soon entered a significant recession. Worse yet, Rush had borrowed as much as possible to finance the acquisition. When the economy sank, revenues plunged and banks would not lend additional funds.

Rush had to dump the tire stores. Although he avoided bankruptcy, he was a broke man.

Rush admitted he was mad at the world for 10 years after this, but he fully repaid his creditors and finally realized he had no one to blame but himself.

Rush then told the audience, "You will make mistakes, but mistakes won't kill you if you are not over-leveraged."

If you ask Rush why he has been successful, he will tell you it is because of his people. His father told him to hire great people, give them ownership, and if you make money, make sure your people make money, too.

These strategies appear to resonate with his staff as average employee tenure is 27 years.

Rush also tells his people "No matter what their position, they need to enjoy what they do - so make sure you're having fun."

Today, nearing age 75, Rush is on the prowl for more acquisitions, saying you have to look at many deals to find the one you want. Since he has blown through all of his goals set in 1958, he has a new goal - to make $5 billion in revenues by 2015 - a 60 percent increase over last year's record figure.

I certainly wouldn't bet against the man.

Not surprisingly, the highly independent entrepreneur said he never plans to retire.

As Rush concluded his lecture, I was impressed with his long-term vision and desire to think about and create opportunities. If anything, it was quite obvious that as long as Rush is around capitalism and the American Dream, they are alive and well.

Dave Sather is a Victoria certified financial planner and owner of Sather Financial Group. His column, Money Matters, publishes every other Wednesday.



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