Typically, In Tandem features a couple who has committed to one another in marriage. But, this week we’re changing it up to present a family duo who has spent much of their life together working side by side at the No. 1 new and used auto dealership in Kentuckiana, The Sam Swope Auto Group.
At age 16, Patti Swope first began working for her father Sam Swope’s company driving a pick-up truck with an AM radio and no air conditioning to and from his car dealership on Shelbyville Road.
Her cousin, Dick, also started early in the business, sweeping trash and washing cars, but both have come a long way. Patti has been named Chairman of the Board, succeeding her father who just retired in mid-January after 60 years with the company, and Dick is now President and CEO of the auto group.
“We’ve both been involved our whole lives,” Dick said. “I’ve been officially employed by the Sam Swope organization since 1977. Sam is my uncle, and my father is in the business in Elizabethtown.”
Dick had an inclination early on that his career path would eventually lead to the family business. However, Patti, wasn’t always so sure. She went away to college at the University of Denver, where she received a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences.
“I did go to college thinking I was going to do something else and was not going to get into this business,” Patti said. “I came back to Louisville and Dad said, ‘I guess you can sell cars until you figure it out,’ and I’ve been here ever since.”
Along with Dick and Patti, Dick’s brothers in Elizabethtown and his son, Will, who is general manager at the Richmond Honda dealership, are also involved in the family business.
Here in Louisville, though, Dick and Patti work closely together at the corporate office at Sam Swope Mitsubishi off Hustbourne Parkway. “Our offices are here together, so we’re constantly interacting on some subject,” Patti said. “Although, it’s funny: we can both be working on different things and not see each other for a couple days.”
Despite the frequent collaboration with one another, the two still get along quite well outside of the office and have learned to leave work at work and focus on family when at home.
“When we used to get together as a family, we used to do nothing but talk business,” Dick said. “But that’s changed over the years and we maybe don’t take it as seriously as we used to when we’re with family. I think we’re a very close-knit family and we play together as well as work together.”
One person who has always been keen on business talk, though, is Patti’s father, Sam, who spent most of their one-hour car ride together to Elizabethtown on Christmas talking about work.
But, Sam also has been one to dole out plenty of great advice to his daughter and nephew over the years, and has helped prepare them to become the successful business leaders they are today.
“One of the best (pieces of advice) he has given me over the years is we don’t have any enemies who walk through our doors, we only have friends,” Patti said. “And so we treat our customers as our friends, that they’re valued customers and that we always strive to give them the best experience possible.”
As for Dick, the lesson Sam gave him in 1980 when the two purchased the Sam Swope Cadillac dealership has stuck with him to this day.
“The thing that I remember him saying to me more than anything else, and again he’s given us a lot of advice, is, ‘The only way to be successful … is to surround yourself with quality people.’ … So I’ve always taken that advice very seriously, and I think we’ve built a pretty strong organization with those kinds of people.”
Not only did Sam instill plenty of wisdom in the second generation of Swopes, but he also taught them the importance of charity.
“Both of our fathers are very involved in the community,” Dick said. “I’ve learned at an early age that we owe the community that service because the community is how we make our living. We feel like it’s a responsibility to give back to the community.”
Dick has been a past chairman of The Lincoln Heritage Boy Scout Council and is currently the vice chairman and chair-elect of the board of the American Red Cross local chapter. Patti has served on the Board of Trustees of the Louisville Zoo and has volunteered with the Center for Women and Families, Metro United Way and many other organizations. She is now board development chair for the Kentucky Humane Society Board of Directors.
“We’ve been extremely blessed,” Patti added. “Our company has been successful because of the people in this community so my father has always emphasized to give back, so we give back as much as we possibly can not only of our treasure but of our time.”
As Patti and Dick continue to build on the huge success of the past 60 years at Sam Swope Auto Group, they are also doing their best to bestow the same values Sam taught them upon the third generation of the family. Patti and Dick both assure they want to first make certain the next generation will feel good about and enjoy a career with the family business.
“There’s never been any pressure to get in this business,” Patti said. “We only want family members to get in that want to get in. What’s interesting now is we have two 21-year -olds who are in college, and we’re encouraging them to get their college degrees and maybe even go work somewhere else for awhile so they can see what it’s like somewhere else before they decide if they want to get in this business, because it is true, once you’re in you’re kind of in.”
Family Business Do’s
“Communicate and listen to all of the stakeholders,” Patti said.
“And not just those who are directly involved in the day-to-day but all family members,” Dick said. “We are a small family-held business. It’s important to make those people who aren’t working day-to-day feel like they are a part of it.”
Family Business Don’ts
“Don’t go off half-cocked and take out some issue on someone else,” Patti advised. “We usually handle things pretty civilly even when we disagree.”
“Family relationships can become very intense and you want to make sure there’s communication and you don’t want to let things fester,” Dick said.
Category: In Tandem
About the Author (Author Profile)
Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).