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November 2005
Driver's Seat

Cyndie Mynatt likes to shake people up – just a little. She is an energetic brunette with a ready smile and contagious enthusiasm. About the last thing you might expect her to do for a living is sell cars. You would never guess that she runs two Ben Mynatt car dealerships and a used car lot.

     She says she loves to have a little fun with people’s prejudices, maybe even open their minds a little in the process. She says a cocktail party ice-breaker is her favorite. When the person she meets inevitably asks what she does, she ignores the new car part and makes sure everyone is listening when she says,       “I’m a used car dealer.”

“It’s so interesting to see people’s reactions to the used car dealer statement. You can tell right away what kind of stereotype they have by the way they react. You can see if they’re thinking ‘white shoes, white belt, plaid pants…’! I guess I’m out to break the stereotype.” She says it’s just one of the small ways she uses her position as a business leader to educate.

Thus she continues the game she used to play when her father, the company founder, was alive, and they went to social events together. ‘Gentle Ben’ Mynatt, founder of the Ben Mynatt Megastore in Concord, was a much beloved member of the community. A six foot tall, friendly man with white hair, he got a kick out of having his daughter in the business with him. His customers dubbed him ‘Gentle Ben,’ and the nickname stuck. It also led to the creation of the Ben Mynatt ‘bear’ logo.

Ben Mynatt used to relish the moment when people learned that the younger woman with him at any given event was his daughter, and in later days, that she was in charge of the business.

“They would ask him something and he would defer to me. He was always tickled to point out that I was in charge. He was never in charge of my stores. He let me run them from Day 1.”

 

Hooked on high octane

Cyndie Mynatt never imagined that she would follow her father into the car business, or that it would offer her the chance to educate people in ways that she never considered in college.

“Never, never, never,” she says. “But it turns out that I just love it. My degree is in Anthropology – Pre-Columbian Archaeology, actually. I worked at the Mint Museum in Charlotte; I started in 1979 as assistant curator of Education.

“My son was born in 1982, and I decided to stay home with him three years.

I was bored stiff!” she says, rolling her eyes. “I spent hours trying to think of what I could do next. Don’t get me wrong, the museum waswonderful. But I got to thinking about the family business, and I wondered if it was an opportunity I should be pursuing. I asked my father if there was a future for women in the car business, and he didn’t see why not.

“In 1985, I started in charge of rental cars. I became a leasing specialist.

Pretty soon, I had seen enough of the business, and I was hooked,” she says. “What is so amazing is that we run several distinct businesses all at once: new, used, parts, service, and body shop. They’re all under one roof. Separate, yet coordinating with each other. It’s a huge and exciting challenge, like a big puzzle,” she says happily.

 

Jump start on the car business 

Mynatt attended a couple of schools to learn the business, one of them being the year-long Dealer Candidate Academy at General Motors, and another in McLean, Virginia, sponsored by the North American Dealers Association (NADA). But her father was insistent that she learn the business on the job in what he felt would be a useful progression.

“From leasing, Dad said I had to learn about financing. After I had done that awhile, then he said I had to learn the used car side. That way, in the future, if somehow there were no new car deliveries, or there were strikes or whatever, I would always have a resale business to fall back on,” says Mynatt. “I loved it all.”

Mynatt says what interests her most is not the technical side, not even the future of hybrid cars. She defers to her staff when it comes to questions about what goes on under the hood. What offers her endless variety and holds her interest is people. They aren’t the people in anthropology texts, but the living, breathing kind that work for her, or that come in to buy cars. She says she finds it far more stimulating, with new challenges all the time.

 

People the driving force

     Growing up and into the business, Mynatt’s father taught her the value of giving back to people in the community. It was something he believed in strongly, and his daughter has faithfully followed, believing that helping people is the most important part of the business. Her resume reveals that she heads or serves on no less than a dozen foundations, boards of directors and civic groups, from the United Way of Central Carolinas and the United Negro College Fund, to the Cabarrus College of Health Sciences.

“We have always believed in giving back. We’re real active in Cabarrus County, and have been since my Dad started the business in Concord in 1976. We’re still relatively new in Salisbury, but we are getting more and more involved in Rowan County, with the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, and supporting the arts in any way we can. Salisbury has a lot going on. It has its own symphony and historical society. It really is its own trade center, not a bedroom community for Charlotte,” she says.

She also relishes leadership posts because she has learned that they offer the chance to effect change. Often that change needs to happen legislatively.

She says by far her biggest opportunity to do that is as Chairman of the North Carolina Auto Dealers Association (NCADA), a group composed of 700 franchise dealers around the state. She has been treasurer, secretary, and vice chair of the group, so her current chairmanship is the next logical step. She says it’s a chance to affect legislation and issues that matter to fellow dealers, and to customers.

“There’s lots of travel, I can tell that already. The NCADA is very active legislatively and educationally. We are trying to craft legislation in regard to manufacturer regulations, even state inspections. I can help if there is something we want to change. For example, how cars are taxed, licensing, the parts used in body shop repairs, workman’s comp. North Carolina is one of the most generous states for worker’s comp. You can get lifetime benefits, and other states are not that way. Of course it can be very expensive for business, but we were very active on that.”

 

Accelerating change

She continues: “It involves going to Raleigh and talking to our legislators. Last week I was in Washington. We are active both in-state and on a national level. I attend town meetings to learn what issues matter to people. We are always trying to craft change that helps people.”

     In addition, Mynatt says the NCADA is anxious to self-police in matters of finance and insurance, so that there never is a question about compliance with the law. This requires the most education of all.

     “We have to educate dealers about procedures that must be in place to fully comply with all the laws. No one wants what happened in Mecklenburg County, when computers were seized and there were accusations of car loan applications being ‘manufactured.’

“The truth is, the vast majority of dealers do it right, and we want to make sure they do it right,” she says. “We have to make sure advertising is compliant, too. There are certain things dealers must disclose in order to be compliant with the law. We even publish a book for all our dealers. And we have sell-out seminars, whether it’s on best practices, or how to run a more profitable used car lot,” says Mynatt.

 

Auto Show full speed ahead to raise money

As if all this were not enough, the Greater Charlotte Automobile Dealers Association selected Mynatt as this year’s International Auto Show Chairman. “It’s the biggest auto show between Atlanta and D.C.,” she says. “It covers every square inch of the Convention Center for four days, and raises a great deal of money for charity: law enforcement projects, children’s issues, and basic human needs.” Mynatt gives more credit to all the people who work the show for those four days.

     The Charlotte Automobile Dealers Association is serious about the human needs of fellow dealers, and even before the Auto Show, raised money for hurricane victims.

“We’re very focused on our brother dealerships, particularly now, in the hurricane-affected areas. Each state has helped identify the dealer families in need. Charlotte area dealers have sent a big contribution to NADA for the fund helping those families,” says Mynatt.

 

Revving up for the future

Cyndie Mynatt says she does not have her eyes on a prize new location. She says she’s not adverse to expansion, but that isn’t anything she’s focusing on right now.

First, she needs to see to the renovation of her Salisbury location, which was gutted by fire in August. A fluorescent light smoldered and caught fire in the middle of the night, destroying all but the shell of the building. “The cars just had smoke damage, and we took care of that,” she says. For the time being, salesmen work from tables and chairs set up under the shade of the overhang. Mynatt is not daunted; she takes the inconvenience in stride. She proves again that for her, it is not the material things that matter most.

“I’m as hands-on a dealer as anyone I know. We’re a people business, it’s all about people. We’ve been so successful because of what I call our ‘rising stars.’ I believe in hiring people who know what they’re doing, giving them top-notch tools and education, then letting them do their jobs. I am the head cheerleader,” she says with a smile. And with that, she’s off to meet with one of her many charitable organizations. For her, it is life as it should be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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