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EPISODE #005

#5 King of the Reset Button with Warren LeSueur

Warren LeSueur

Craig Willett:

Welcome to the Sherp’s cave. I’ve been excited to invite you into my office. This has been the place where I go to rest and recover on my climb to the top. I think to get to the top, it takes time to contemplate and think about your journey. As a Sherpa, I like to help and assist you along the way. I’ve climbed many a mountain in my life, and I’m sure you have too. I’d like to welcome you to the Biz Sherpa podcast. This is Craig Willett, the Biz Sherpa. As we explore the Sherp’s cave today, we’re going to take time to step back and talk to the “King of the Reset Button.” If you remember our first episode called, “The Reset Button,” I talked about the principle of looking at where you spend your time. The key is to look to find and have an objective to spend 80 percent of your time doing what you like in your business.

This means that you’re doing things that recharge your battery, but also bring great satisfaction from your employees and your customers. Otherwise, the business is running you and you’ll burn out quickly. Today, we’re going to talk to Warren who owns LeSueur Car Company in Tempe, Arizona. He is the king of the reset button. You’ll see from his colorful life how many times he’s reset and been able to derive more from his life and from his business. For you, what I hope you take from today is that the questions I’m able to ask and the answers he gives will give you motivation, make you feel that the challenges you face that you’re not alone, and also, that you have an opportunity to refresh and think about how you can spend your time being effective and productive in your business. This is Craig Willett, the Biz Sherpa.

I’m happy to welcome today into the Sherpa’s Cave, Warren LeSueur. Warren is not only a special guest for me to have on the show, but also a great friend. I’ll never forget the day after he listened to our first episode from our podcast, “Hitting the Reset Button,” he called me and he said, “Craig, I’m the king of the reset button.” He didn’t know what he was going to listen to. He told me he stayed up throughout the night, trying to think of all the ways he hit the reset button in his life. So, I welcome today, Warren LeSueur. Warren owns LeSueur Car Company in Tempe, Arizona. He started in 1975. In the first year, I think he did around $50,000 in sales. Is that right?

Warren LeSueur:

That’s about right.

Craig Willett:

Now, today he sells over $38 million of cars from his used car lot in Tempe, Arizona. It’s a family-owned and operated business. We’ll talk a little bit today about how to manage a family-owned and operated business with Warren. I think you’ll find him colorful, insightful, and motivating. I’m grateful that he’d be my first guest for our first video episode. Warren, I want to have you start by telling us some of your life. I know you shared with me one time that when you were 13 years old, you grew your hair so long they kicked you out of school. What happened?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I can say that it really wasn’t that long, but there were some pretty strict standards in the 1964, ’65 area. The dean at Scottsdale High School called 18 of us in and told us we had to either cut our hair or we were out of school. I have to selfishly admit that I found that as an opportunity to not have to go to high school. I don’t want anybody to get the wrong impression, especially the youth, because that isn’t really the best way to go. Because it’s important that you do your studies and that you learn.

Craig Willett:

Education’s important to being a business owner.

Warren LeSueur:

It is.

Craig Willett:

Not all dropouts do well.

Warren LeSueur:

They don’t. In fact—

Craig Willett:

In fact, you’re not a dropout, really. Tell me a little bit about how you eventually made it back into college and how that impacted your starting your business.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, it’s kind of a long story, but I’ll say that, when I left the high school at 13, a little soon after that, I ended up moving out of the house. I also quit church and I ended up moving back home because I had some bad experiences while I was out on my own for the first time, and plus rent was only 50 bucks a month, but that influences what you can have sometimes when you’re moving out with your friends. At 16 lifesaving, I came back. Then at 17, I decided to move to Hawaii.

Craig Willett:

That sounds like fun. Vacation?

Warren LeSueur:

No, this was the start of life. I had this lady that said that we could live with her, and her son had moved from Scottsdale and so they were already living there. She took one look at us and said, “No, you’re not living here,” because both of us had long hair. It was down to our shoulders by then. Then I took my 200 bucks, bought a $90 plane ticket, had $110 left, paid for a couple of weeks of an apartment, and it turned out that I was trying to get a job, and so is everybody else in Hawaii. It was hard to get a job at first, but I finally did land a job.

Craig Willett:

What’d you do?

Warren LeSueur:

I dug out palm trees by hand and I was a gardener. I worked for this Samoan guy who was—he was a real big guy. He’d put you to work and you had no excuses. You worked.

Craig Willett:

Is that the hardest you’ve ever worked in your life?

Warren LeSueur:

No, but he had a strong work ethic, and that was good to have. Then, they decided to hold my pay back for two weeks. Then the problem with that was that I had to eat.

Craig Willett:

Why did they hold your pay back for two weeks?

Warren LeSueur:

Just so that I’d have money when I quit, but the other thing, I had to move out of that place. I moved into almost like a closet with my roommate and went outside. It was the 4th of July. It almost sounded like I was in Vietnam. There were so much explosions and celebrations in Hawaii. This guy came up and took a knife to my throat and said, “If you’re going to live here, you’re going to pay protection money.” He was really drunk on whiskey. That was the last night I stayed in that place, and I moved to the jungle.

Craig Willett:

It doesn’t sound like a step up to me. What happened? Why’d you pick the jungle?

Warren LeSueur:

Because it was a lot safer than this guy. He looked like he was fresh out of prison.

Craig Willett:

Sounds like the rent was right too.

Warren LeSueur:

The rent was free, but there were helicopters overhead. The police were always looking for somebody that was living out there. It would rain. I was able to put together a newspaper for the first couple of nights, and then I raised enough money to get a space blanket to cover myself to keep myself out of the rain.

Craig Willett:

So, you were 17 living in the jungle in Hawaii, basically homeless.

Warren LeSueur:

Homeless.

Craig Willett:

Did you still have a job?

Warren LeSueur:

I did get a job, but I didn’t have any money for food. Another possible thing I should have prepared more for. I would have to panhandle for beans, which were 15 cents, and rice, which was 15 cents. A big score was a dollar for a sweet roll at the marketplace in Honolulu.

Craig Willett:

Sounds good. Well, how did you make it then out of the jungle and into college? Because I know you have a college education. What was that transition?

Warren LeSueur:

I will mention this, by the way, that I did take showers at the pavilions, and I was able to bathe in the King Kamehameha Highway, and I surfed every day when I wasn’t working.

Craig Willett:

I’m sure your mom was happy to hear that you did take baths and showers.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, it was nice. I didn’t risk much. I did buy a Hillman Minx. My first car that I’d ever owned personally, it was a Hillman Minx convertible.

Craig Willett:

I don’t even know what that is.

Warren LeSueur:

It’s an English car and a convertible. Anyway, at the end of my stay there, I sold that car, had enough to move back and had some money, because I made a little money on it too, and I moved back to Scottsdale.

Craig Willett:

Here’s the budding of a car career.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, that was the first car in the beginning.

Craig Willett:

It was the first profit that you’ve made.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah. After that, when I moved back to Scottsdale, here I’ve got this really good tan, and I’ve got hair now down to the middle of my back. Oh, that my Scottsdale High School Dean of Students could see me now. Then I end up getting a job putting on rock and roll concerts with Janis Joplin, Jose Feliciano, and Grand Funk Railroad. I had a mentor by the name of Andrew Cavaliery who had just gotten a degree in psychology, and Grand Funk Railroad was just starting to be formed together as a band. I talked to Andy at great length. He was a great mentor. He suggested that maybe I look at a couple of scenarios. If I wanted to go to Tokyo and start going on a world tour, I could do that with Grand Funk Railroad.

Craig Willett:

What would you do with Grand Funk?

Warren LeSueur:

Just helped with equipment and just a roadie, kind of a roadie.

Craig Willett:

Stage in—roadie, okay.

Warren LeSueur:

Or the other thing was go to college and make something of myself. He said that he thought that I was better than what I was. He encouraged that maybe I consider college. I ended up going back and taking a GED test for high school equivalency, and then took an SAT test, and then going to Mesa Community College, where I studied creative writing, philosophy and business. I remember I had this one teacher, Coach Nix, and he was failing me because I didn’t go run the mile all the time. I said, “Hey, coach, how am I going to get an A in this?” He was sort of like Bill Murray in Stripes. He said, “Swear you’ll come in first or second and I’ll give you an A.” I walked up to the quarterback of the Mesa Community College football team and said, “You and I are best friends around this track.” I ran the mile. That’s why he was failing me, I didn’t go run. Ran that in 5:26. Here I smoked and was not in condition, but I was so dedicated to staying in college that I ended up running that 5:26 and coming in second.

Craig Willett:

What a lesson, to not want to fail, to be able to put out like that. Not even train, just to be able to—out of this inner desire to be successful, you were able to run that.

Warren LeSueur:

Soon after that, I had this opportunity. It was the Kent State massacre. They had killed about five students, and I ended up taking the flag down at the flagpole with a thousand students around, and I thought, for sure, I was going to be kicked out. I was ushered into the Dean of Students of MCC. He wasn’t for the war in Vietnam, and he said that he brought me in for my own safekeeping. I didn’t think that maybe somebody would object to me doing that, but it was not a very popular war at that time. I had a high lottery number, so I didn’t have to go. But that was another thing that I was worried at that point I might have ended my college career.

Craig Willett:

Eventually, you did graduate. Is there something that you took in college that helped shape your career and that helped you choose the automotive dealership business for your career?

Warren LeSueur:

In business policies, they had two classes that you could take—I mean, two courses or two business studies that I did. One was on Raleigh bikes and the other one was on Volkswagen. I was trying to decide if I wanted to sell bikes or Volkswagens, but the Volkswagens won.

Craig Willett:

How did you start your business? Now that you get your college degree, tell me how you went into business. How much money did it take to get started as a car dealer?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I asked my wife to marry me. I worked as a carpenter for the guy that used to own Thomas Mall. I wasn’t a carpenter, but I learned how to be one quick, and I earned $1,000. My wife was working at a dress shop, and she was fired because the manager wanted to hire her sister that was coming out from Ohio. So, here my wife and I each had $1,000. I got hired on at the Phoenix Union High school to be a buyer for their school district. Then they froze employment in ’75, and my wife and I still decided we loved each other, decided we still would get married, even though we both were jobless, and we ended up moving in. I wound up curbing cars, and then later I got busted selling.

Craig Willett:

Tell us what curbing cars is.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, that’s where you sell cars out of your townhouse without a license. I got busted by the motor vehicle department and I was turned in by a jealous friend of mine who was in the car business. So, I ended up looking for this place, and I found the place where I’m currently located, I rented this place. It had a house on it and some little mountains with cactuses.

Craig Willett:

How big was that lot?

Warren LeSueur:

It was five acres, but they only gave me like an acre of it. So, we started there.

Craig Willett:

How many cars did you start out with on your lot?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, we had about six or seven cars, eight cars we built up. I would get up at four in the morning, and I saw my father do this as a high school moonlighting teacher. So, I would get up between four and six and go buy the cars, and then get back to my car lot. I’d already started having customers. I’d have to sometimes come out in a room to sell a car because we didn’t have a lot of employees. We ended up detailing the cars, cleaning them up. They were $200 to $500, $600, $700 cars, and we would sell them. Sometimes people would come out and say, “Wow, there was a car that sounded a lot like this that morning. I wish we could have gotten it,” and I said, “Yeah, I wish you could have too.” And I sold him that car.

Craig Willett:

That’s interesting. Tell me a little bit about what you were not expecting, other than the Department of Motor Vehicles shutting you down for curbing cars, what challenges did you face that you weren’t expecting as a business owner when you started up, and then maybe tell also a little bit about hiring your first employee?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I was told that mechanics were a frill. You didn’t really need to do that, but I didn’t believe that. I believed that I was only as good as my weakest link in that car. So, I hired a mechanic to work for me to do it on the side, and I hired a guy to detail cars. I had some really good employees. I’ve always hired really good people. Here we were off and reconditioning cars, and Bernie Waller, who worked with me for 26 years, I ended up hiring him. He could reseal an engine better than anybody. In my time, in the early days, I bought and sold 5,500 Volkswagen Ghias, Squarebacks and Buses. We were just making these nice. We were doing Indian blanket seats from AMC Pacers later. We were painting and putting in fender beading.

Craig Willett:

So you were doing more than just going out and finding a car in the morning and selling it later on in the day. You were able to really dress up some cars and really make them more marketable.

Warren LeSueur:

We had pride in our work, and we also knew how important it was, because we were selling a lot of these cars to friends and people that we knew. We didn’t want to have enemies. So, we were trying to have a good product.

Craig Willett:

Well, all business owners tend to ask the same question. I hear this often from our listeners and from other people I associate with, and that is, “My business seems to monopolize my life”. Can you share with us how many days a week you were working when you started your business and what impact that had on your life?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I didn’t have a rich father, but he gave me a wealth of friends, and I ended up having that $2,000. I had to work seven days a week, and I might get up at four or five in the morning and then finish about eight o’clock by conking out and falling asleep. But seven days a week for seven years. All of a sudden, my wife decides that she wants to go to church and ruin everything. I’ve got two or three kids, and they’re screaming. My wife, she used her blackmail, she cried and she said she wasn’t getting anything out of church. So, she guilted me into going. Fortunately, church was 9:00 to 12:00, and the lot started at 12:00. I tried to do something good and I went to church.

Craig Willett:

Did that make a difference in your life?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, then I found out about this keeping the Sabbath day holy, and I worked six days a week instead. What ended up happening is I ended up doing better because I had some rest. I found out that resting was really good. The Lord built the earth in six days, and then had the day of rest. So, He had done this before, and who was I to argue? And I learned it from Him.

Craig Willett:

I’m a firm believer in taking the time to sit back and reflect and also recharge your battery so that you can focus on being more effective. We can wear ourselves down. Are there other changes you made in your personal life throughout your career that have helped you have more energy and helped you be more successful in business?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I had a period right after I had gone to church, that I realized that I was hanging out with some of the wrong friends and I had some wrong influences going in my life. This was a reset time, and I had to change my life, change my friends, and work towards important things. One way that I did for a change is I read the Book of Mormon over two weeks, completed it in that amount of time. It was really eye-opening and it changed my life completely so that I could actually change from that. Then after that, I really developed a love for books. In college, I’d always read all my college textbooks from beginning to end because I was bored stiff listening to the teacher.

Craig Willett:

That’s interesting. My dad used to tell me one of the things he would do is read the encyclopedia or read the dictionary to get a better vocabulary. I always thought that was difficult. I tried it. You’re probably one of the first persons I’ve met that have read his college textbooks.

Warren LeSueur:

I got a good education. A lot of teachers, even back then, Margaret Mead says to “not teach students what to think, but how to think.” I didn’t get indoctrinated too much because I was always doing my own thinking and my own reading, but I read a lot of books after that, and I developed an insatiable desire to read and also kept up with starting the Old Testament and realizing I was in this for a long-term. I just completed the Old and New Testament again last week.

Craig Willett:

Great. What have you learned? What has reading done to enhance your success as a business owner?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, there’s an old saying that a person that doesn’t read, lives the life of one. A person that reads lives the life of a thousand. I really see the importance of picking up somebody’s book. They might have spent 30 years in their life learning how to do something. You can read about it in eight hours, and it’s such a way to resonate with your own soul, to learn about others and their experiences.

Craig Willett:

I think that’s great. I really like that. I find that that’s really important and have found that in my own career to take that time to ponder and reflect. It gives you the ability to brush off some of the stresses of business and focus on what’s important. There’s a lot of different functions at a used car dealership that have to go on. What do you choose to do, and where do you spend your time that makes it the most rewarding to you and most valuable to your employees and to your customers?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I’m blessed with some really great employees and some really great family. Over 45 years, they’ve all learned how to do what they do. They overlap with one another in their specialties and their abilities. We’ve got really good men that run the lot. A lot of my salesmen are sons, but some of them aren’t.

Craig Willett:

Some are nephews.

Warren LeSueur:

Some are nephews and some are not related. They all know what to do and how to do it. We’ve taught them every phase of the business so that they have the ability to make their own decisions. It’s very important to empower people, because if you micromanage, you don’t get anything out of them, but if you empower them, they can reach for the stars.

Craig Willett:

With all of your experience in business, you’ve managed to do one of the great things in business, and that is to successfully own and successfully operate a family-run and family-owned business. Can you share with us any insights in what’s made it successful as a family-owned and family-operated business?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I believe that everybody has their dreams, and you have to help them with those dreams and achievements. A good thing about my family is they’ve all ended up getting college degrees. That’s something that I always encouraged them to do. The last one that’s working on it right now is becoming a pilot and going to college. Everybody’s achieved in education, and then we also listen to podcasts and read and we’re into continuous improvement.

Craig Willett:

I think that’s great. How do you get along? Do they have other outside interests, or are they always working at the family business?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, sometimes it can be tough because they become competitive with each other because they’re salesmen too.

Craig Willett:

That’s tricky.

Warren LeSueur:

In comparison to anything like that, you can’t really do that or else it’s a bad situation. What they do though, Kris is an Ironman, and he also started a CrossFit gym with his wife, Tiersa. They really like to help people. As I’ve seen him do this, he’s always helping somebody get into a better physique, lose weight, and get healthy.

Craig Willett:

I think that’s a key to success in business anyway, being willing to help people. I’m sure his gym’s successful, but that probably makes him successful at the car lot.

Warren LeSueur:

It transfers very easily, because Kris also tries to help at the car lot. Each of my sons and my nephews and my brother and all the family of employees that we have take ownership and try to be of service and help. They do work hard at it. Jimmy, he actually runs the—or hikes the San Tan and hikes mountains all the time to stay in shape at night. Then, Steven was—

Craig Willett:

Was he a cross-country runner and a marathon?

Warren LeSueur:

No, Steven was a cross country runner though, the next one. Steven had a girlfriend, he wasn’t a runner, but this girlfriend set a good example of running, and he became a track star.

Craig Willett:

Chasing girls!

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah. Then he got a scholarship for running, and now he runs and he rides a bike throughout the San Tans. He does that every day. In fact, if we don’t exercise, we just feel lost. Then Kelsey, my only daughter, has qualified for the Boston marathon twice. Unfortunately they’re not having the Boston marathon this year, but she’s a runner, and then so JT lifts weights and runs. And my-

Craig Willett:

I had a college roommate who was a marathon runner, and you know what? I thought, okay, I’m a swimmer, so I’m going to go out and work out with him. He’d take off on Saturday mornings and he’d run 20 or 30 miles. I thought, okay, I’ll see what I can do. I made it one block, and I turned around and headed back to the dorm, but that’s my marathon experience. But my friend, Steve, he was really good at. So, I admire people who do that.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, and then Carolyn, my wife, Carolyn, she runs marathons, and she also now has made it just a half marathon. I think she could still do full marathons, but she ran the Phoenix marathon and got this big badge and plaque for running six or seven of those. She’s been running a long time and Tiersa runs the marathons too. It’s a really good, important outlet, especially life is very stressful, so if you can work out that stress through running and exercise, it’s really one of the secrets to running a business and being able to cope with all of the things that come at you in life.

Craig Willett:

How do they achieve in sales? Your lot just sends cars flying off of it. You have quite an inventory, but you’re able to sell. What helps them interact? I mean, it’s competitive, but how did they keep going and how did they keep the customers happy?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, we get a lot of repeat business and these guys are continually working with those customers both before and after. We want to have customers for life. We have a lot of people, some families that have nine cars in them, but they do take ownership and I try to really, really work good—

Craig Willett:

We’ve got five in ours.

Warren LeSueur:

Five, yeah, that’s great.

Craig Willett:

We’re not nine, though.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, that’s great. It’s really important to take care of people like you. We’d want them to take care of you and your businesses.

Craig Willett:

You’re to be commended. What a great thing to be able to give them the freedom and the flexibility to do what they need to do, and you give them time outside of work. So many businesses expect so much, that they don’t have the time to stay sharp in other ways. Warren, one thing seems unique about you being a two-time cancer survivor. You seem to have compassion, you seem to have the ability to step back and let people determine their destiny, which I think each of your children and some of your nephews, and I think—don’t you even have some grandchildren starting to work down at the car lot?

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, we have some that are starting to work on their days when they’re not in school, or on Saturdays. Yeah, it’s a good thing to teach kids to work because the younger you start teaching them how to work, the easier it will be for them when they do have to work like all of us.

Craig Willett:

Now, being a two time stage four cancer survivor, I’m sure there’s some health advice you’d offer to those who are listening and those who are watching today, some ideas that may help them with their health.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, one thing that’s helped me, and of course I didn’t really recognize it that much until I did have stage IV cancer twice, and that’s the Lord’s law of health, the Word of Wisdom. It was done in 1833, and it seems to be a formula for people that get cancer or diabetes or heart problems or inflammation or arthritis. So, it’s sort of the go-to diet. If you ever are sick or need to dial things back in, it’s something really good to read and to learn about. I know that it’s helped me in my situation. I hope to keep this cancer in remission now.

Craig Willett:

Aren’t there some challenges to having a lot of family at the same place of business? I find that a lot of businesses don’t survive because family relationships make it difficult to interact.

Warren LeSueur:

We’re no different than any other family. We have those highs and lows and those points where we get along and those points where we don’t like each other, but all in all, I think we realized that we do love each other. I’m going away for a retreat for a few days at the end of the year with all of them to let them know that. But for the most part though—

Craig Willett:

Not to Hawaii, to the jungle, are you?

Warren LeSueur:

No. No, to another cool place though that’s pretty secluded. Anyway, my kids have to get along, but they realize that, and my nephew and my brother, but they also realize that each person is indispensable because they have talents that they bring to the table.

Craig Willett:

What do you do? There’s a lot of different functions. I can say this, and I hope this isn’t embarrassing, but I can say that I’ve been a customer at your car a lot on a number of occasions. Anytime I’ve been there, you’ve not been there. So, you’re doing something else that’s more behind the scenes, perhaps, I don’t know. Where do you like to spend your time and why do you do that?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I buy cars, and I find that that’s a full-time job. So, I have to do research, and my wife helps me research, and I have a daughter that does. We have a lot of stuff to do to prepare before we go out there. A lot of guys will go out and drink a cup of coffee and start waving their arms and buying cars, but you really have to prepare. It’s not something that you can do any other way than prepare, at least the way I do it. So, it turns into a full time job.

Craig Willett:

You do your homework on what’s coming for sale, what it might be worth, what might be wrong with it?

Warren LeSueur:

I might have 30 seconds to make a decision. I might want to take five or 10 minutes before I take that 30 seconds and make a good one. There’s nothing like buying a car that’s been wrecked or that has a lot of inherent problems that says it in their description. Today, I bought eight cars, but I’ve spent 20 hours doing that.

Craig Willett:

I have a friend who told me one time that you make money when you buy, not when you sell. In other words, if you’ve done your homework right and you buy at the right price, you will always make money when you go to sell.

Warren LeSueur:

There’s an old saying, merchandise well bought his half sold, but everybody in that function is important. I couldn’t do it without my salesman, without my mechanics, without detailers, without lot attendants and without sales assistants. So, we’re all very important to this, and so is the customer, satisfying the customer.

Craig Willett:

You have a knack for it too. I think one time you told me that everybody else was telling you, “Don’t buy cars” because the pandemic started, but you went and did something that most people weren’t willing to do.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I ended up getting a lecture for having 565 cars, but I said, “You never can tell when it’s going to be really difficult to buy a car.” When the pandemic hit, cars were cheap for about the first few weeks when the sky was falling, but after that, they really firmed up and it was hard to buy. And there was a far greater demand for cars than there was a supply. Now, we’ve been having record breaking months at sales, and it was a good thing that I had extra cushion there. It’s always very important to build out an inventory, or to have reserves in your life, whatever you do, to fall back on if you need to.

Craig Willett:

One thing that I mentioned in last week’s episode, as I was introducing people to who you are, that you’re a two-time stage IV cancer survivor. What have you learned, and how has that changed your perspective on life and on business?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, one way that it all started, I was on the road a lot to buy cars and I ate meat three times a day. I went to manufacturer dinners where they fed me the finest of steak and lobster. Anything I wanted, I could have.

Craig Willett:

Sounds good.

Warren LeSueur:

Then when I was done, they gave—I had a credit card and I could go charge anything that tasted good. So, I didn’t go for the healthy stuff. I went for the stuff that really tasted good. Before I knew it, I weighed 300 pounds and I was getting hives, I was getting kidney stones, tired, did not feel good. I ended up having an experience where I kind of fell down and couldn’t get up. I was so heavy. I ended up realizing that that wasn’t the road I needed to be on. I put together these drinks. I’d used to think that if you went to Chipotle and had four large Minute Maid glasses of lemonade, that you were really pulling it over on them, that you could have that. But it turned out that—

Craig Willett:

Was it all you can drink?

Warren LeSueur:

All you can drink. I was addicted to drinking those cold drinks because I’d be out in the hot sun, and I ended up making lemonade out of stevia and organic lemons, and I lost 40 pounds doing that.

Craig Willett:

Wow, that’s a good jumpstart to drop in weight.

Warren LeSueur:

It was. Then I was reading USA Today, where Bill Clinton had just had a quadruple bypass and a heart attack. I was reading about Dr. Dean Ornish, and he had suggested to Bill that he go on a plant-based, whole-food diet. I talked to my wife, and I said, “Honey, this really sounds like a smart idea. I don’t want to die from all of this.” I was putting a lot of strain on my heart and body. I adapted a whole-food, plant-based diet, and that was really helpful to do that and difficult to do on the road. But I had a lot of ethnic foods that were really good. Can’t beat Mexican food if you’re trying to do this with whole-food pinto beans and Asian food. There are a lot of good ways to substitute, and resets are all about substitutes too. You have to have a substitute for what you’re doing to reset.

Craig Willett:

Other than surviving cancer and being able to be in business today, how did it help you focus better on business; where you’ve had to reset some personal habits in your life that allowed you to be more effective in business? How has it helped you be more effective?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I think I got to go back to surviving stage IV cancer twice. I ended up having to find a doctor that could do the modality that I needed, and I found that every doctor had his own modality. Without being proactive, I was really at risk and danger. So, I had to find the way that I had to go, and through some networking and reading and podcasts, I was able to do that. I did pencil proton therapy at Scripps in California, and that really was a game changer and a lifesaver.

Craig Willett:

Your habit of researching cars and getting into the details and trying to understand really helped. You were able to take principles you used in business and apply to actually help save your life.

Warren LeSueur:

Exactly. These are gold mines that you have to go down to figure out. As you reach these crossroads and you have to reset your life, you better have at your disposal all these books or podcasts. Without that, it’s really hard. You can even listen to the wrong author of a podcast and go the wrong direction, but you have to use your discernment too on what you’re hearing. Anyway, I ended up going to this doctor and he said that I really had to do a plant-based diet, which I was already doing. Then I got the cancer back, and then my next doctor said that I had to tighten up. So, no cheese, no butter…

Craig Willett:

Uh-oh, cutting out the real stuff.

Warren LeSueur:

No red meat at all, ever, but I could have fish, but all of this stuff would contribute to my cancer, and also weight would add to it. I lost 105 pounds because I bow to threats.

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s great. What have you been able to do in your business—Well, let me go back. I know you minister to prisoners in prisons. I’d like to understand what your message is and how you teach them, in prison, principles that you’ve learned in your life, but also in business and how you apply that; because to be able to preach or minister in prison, you have to have pretty good compassion. So, are there any stories you have from your car business to where your customers really feel that you and your family have compassion for their customers? Because it seems to me, you get customers that come back time and again for generations.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, we try to always treat everybody like we’d want to be treated. When we’re dealing with—I’m mentoring a celly right now, as he calls him, and it’s important to try to prepare him for when he gets out of prison. One of my goals right now, and I’ve contacted all the lawmakers and got informed letters, is I want to see prisons turned into schools. There is a tremendous amount of people out there that are going to waste. This one guy has been in 10 years. He hasn’t been able to successfully take a GED test. I want those things to happen, and I think helping customers or prisoners or anyone, you have to have a love of mankind. I do want to help people, either with cars or with mentoring or helping anybody I can.

Craig Willett:

Can you think of any customers, much like prisoners—I’m sure you’ve had a few that have come to you and thanked you for helping them, especially when they get out—but have you had any customers that have come back to you that have commended you, your dealership for how they’ve been treated, and what are those stories like?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I remember one day we had a guy, I hope he doesn’t mind, but he came out—kind of long hair on a motorcycle.

Craig Willett:

Sounds familiar.

Warren LeSueur:

He went to one Volkswagen dealership and they wouldn’t help him. He came to ours and we treated him just like we treat everybody. He ended up buying a $48,000 Volkswagen Touareg. He was Andrew Weil. I hope he doesn’t—he might hear that I said this.

Craig Willett:

Oh, great. I hope he does.

Warren LeSueur:

He heads the Integrative Oncology department at U of A, I just read his book on Integrative Oncology. It’s really a great book if you get a chance to read it. Then I had another guy right after that—the same day—that came out, and he had a cotton candy hairstyle. It was a really long Afro. He went to the same first dealership and they didn’t even look at—they said, “No, we’re not helping him.” Nobody went out to talk to him. He came out to our lot, and we treated him really well, but only because we treat everybody the same, and it turned out the next day this guy was going to ASU, and he came back with a regular boy’s haircut with his father who was a head of banking in Switzerland. His father said, “Thank you for treating my son with dignity.”

I think that it’s really hard not to treat people—everybody—the same, and you never know who you’re going to be helping. That’s only a bonus, but you should always be kind. In fact, this is my motto: “Always be kind, have a good attitude and never give up.”

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s a great motto. So, what kind of feelings do you get, like when the father came? How does that give you an emotional charge?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, sad to say I wasn’t there, but my sons and sales team were there, and that made me proud of my sons, proud that they had learned to teach each other well.

Craig Willett:

That’s got to be really satisfying, to know that when the cat’s away, the mice are playing the right game.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah. The cat’s gone all the time. I’ve got my duties to do. I tried to talk to one of my sons earlier today, and he said, “I’m just too busy. I can’t talk to you.” I said, “That’s okay.” Because I usually am too. That just shows you the strong work ethic that is taking place at the business.

Craig Willett:

That’s great. What role does money play in your life?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, would you like to hear the part about financing with a million dollars? First, I’ll tell you that I don’t really care that much about money, but it’s not a real central focus for me.

Craig Willett:

What is your focus? What motivates you to continue operating a dealership?

Warren LeSueur:

I have 32 employees and family members and everybody, and I want them to all be able to eat. That’s a motivating factor, to make sure that everybody’s doing okay.

Craig Willett:

Okay.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah. But I have a time where money did play a factor.

Craig Willett:

Okay. I’d like to hear that.

Warren LeSueur:

This was during the panic of 2008, and I was in the Bay buying cars. I got a call from—Volkswagen of America had loaned me, one of two companies in the United States, they floored me $1 million.

Craig Willett:

Flooring is a loan to a dealership.

Warren LeSueur:

Flooring is financership—financing your cars.

Craig Willett:

But you have to buy Volkswagens.

Warren LeSueur:

Buy Volkswagens and Audis, and I had a lot of Volkswagens and Audis. I ended up, while I was talking to this person and being fired for my line of credit, I said, “By the way, how much was my line of credit?” Because they never did tell me. He said, “Oh, it was a million and a half.” I thought, “Oh, that’s great.” I jumped on an airplane. Oh, and he said, “You’re going to have to pay it back, but we won’t really pressure you to pay it back right away. We’ll help you.” And they were good about that. I got right back in the airplane, flew to the sale and bought $500,000 worth of Volkswagens.

Craig Willett:

To max out your line?

Warren LeSueur:

To max out my line. They were cheap, because everybody—the sky was falling, and things were really awful.

Craig Willett:

I’m sure they weren’t happy with you for going out and extending—

Warren LeSueur:

They called me right away, and they said, “What are you doing? What are you—” I said, during the depression, my grandfather paid everybody back and he didn’t leave anybody without getting money, being paid in full. That was the kind of grandfather I had and the upbringing I had. So I said, “Let me assure you, I’m going to pay you back.” Then pretty soon, maybe a week after, I gave him $300,000 as a good faith thing.

Craig Willett:

I bet you, they were happy.

Warren LeSueur:

It helped a little bit, except the next thing I did was—gas went to five bucks a gallon. Unfortunately, I’m a car man a little too much through and through. I bought 70 Tundras the next week.

Craig Willett:

That’s a gas guzzler, isn’t it?

Warren LeSueur:

They were gas guzzlers and they had a problem. They had artificial acceleration, so they would take off on their own if you got in the car and they were dangerous. I called the Toyota dealers and they said that they couldn’t fix them, they didn’t have a part for it. But I knew that National Highway Institute of Safety required that Toyota fix these cars. So, I contacted one of the heads of Toyota and I said, “Look, I just bought 70 Toyota Tundras, if you come here to this place, you can show your good faith with the National Institute of Highway Safety and fix them all. They did it the next day. I belong to this think tank, and it said the gas would come down within 30 days—within a month—and so don’t freak out by all this. Then I ran ads saying, we’ll trade your gas sipper for—no, your gas hog for one of our sippers.

So, I got tons of trade-ins of all these gas hogs, and then I ended up—within 30 days to the day, everything changed. All of a sudden, those worthless Tundras sold off the shelf like hotcakes. And I couldn’t give away a Prius, but I was able to sell those big people movers that people had that they were driving. So, it worked out really good—that transition—once again, the reset.

Craig Willett:

When there are extremes, you’re not afraid to reset and take a risk during the times of extremes.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, it’s good to be a contrarian. When things go bad, then it’s good to react the opposite way, because there usually are fixtures that are going to help in the situation, but it is a risk.

Craig Willett:

Great. Well, I think that’s wonderful. I appreciate you sharing that.

Warren LeSueur:

But I was able to pay the loan back too, by the way, really quick, and I stayed in Volkswagen’s good graces.

Craig Willett:

Good. Well, while we’re talking about money, have you been able to diversify from just the business? Because it seems like the business has consumed a good part of your life and has represented an income stream, not only to you, but to your family. So, how have you diversified so that you’re not at risk if something were to happen to the business?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I ended up becoming a wildcatter and fracking, and there were a group of us. There were car dealers and some guys from Silicon Valley, and we started drilling our own wells. Then after that, we had quite a production of natural gas and we ended up selling it; we had a pipeline. Then gas went really low, and we almost went bankrupt. It started coming back. We ended up selling everything to the Bass family and to Exxon and did well off the gas.

Craig Willett:

Not bad customers.

Warren LeSueur:

Now, I also had a friend that I called and I asked him, “What would be a good thing to put money into?” He suggested that I do captive insurance, and that was Craig Willett. Craig has a much better story than I have about all of this, but having a separate income stream and a separate way to put your money—take it out of your business and put it in something else—it makes you more efficient within your business. Because honestly, I was getting to a point where I might have to get a fork loader and stack the cars. It’s good to take money out of your business to do something else and have a positive revenue stream. I recommend that, but I’m also very grateful to Craig Willett, because he got me to do something and step out of my comfort zone.

Craig Willett:

I think that was about nine years ago.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, it was.

Craig Willett:

That’s probably built to a good reserve. I don’t think it’s appropriate to mention here, but I’m grateful for the friendship, and I’m glad that something I might have said has paid off for you. It’s a principle I believe in. It was the subject of our third episode on the Biz Sherpa. It saved me, and I’ve shared some of my story about that, but I think the principles we talk about here are important for all business owners, and even in our everyday lives. One question I want to ask, in closing, and this is one I want to ask every one of our guests. What was your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I’ve had two failures. One of them was that I was talked into something that I didn’t do. I invested in cypress wood in Chile, and it turned out that that was quite a con, and I got nothing out of it. I ended up flying down there to check it out and it was a con. That was a pretty good failure to have, but it made me wiser after that. But at the same time, I will tell you that, maybe one of my biggest mistakes is that I didn’t take enough risk. So, calculated risk is still a really good thing to do.

Craig Willett:

In what way, when you say you didn’t take enough risks?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I just know too many stories of people buying worthless land all over the valley for $1,000 an acre, and then it being worth $400,000. Those are the kind of seeds of risk that you can take. There have also been stocks that you could buy, especially when the sky is falling, like we just had during the COVID-19 opportunity in March, that there are always those moments where you can take advantage of a situation if you read the situation.

Craig Willett:

You certainly have a contrarian mentality, and not everyone has the stomach for that, but I think it sounds to me like it’s paid off well for you during those times, that you’ve been able to go contrary to the popular opinion and make it do. So, you truly are an independent thinker. Warren, we’re grateful that you’ve taken the time to join us. I’m honored that you’d be my first guest on our show. Your family means a lot to me, and I’m grateful to have you here, to be able to share things that have allowed you to reset many times in your life. Because I think often, as business owners, it’s easy to feel that life needs to be great every day and we need to always be improving, and that’s true, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Life is not a straight trajectory up. It sounds like you’ve had many times where you’ve stepped—and had every reason to feel—to be able to blame the system or whatever, that you weren’t able to make it, but you’ve fought through many difficult circumstances and have been able to come out on top.

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, and I think life is set up that way so that you have to—anybody that doesn’t have some medical problem or some business problem or family problem is dead, because everybody’s going to have that. How you meet that adversity is extremely important and to be prepared in advance for that.

Craig Willett:

I think that’s one good point that I think you’ve made. You’ve been prepared for a lot of the challenges or been prepared to know how to research and fight through them because of principles that you’ve applied in your life and in your business. Warren, I’m honored that you’d be our first guest on our first video episode of the Biz Sherpa.

Warren LeSueur:

Well, I’m grateful too, because when I first heard the Biz Sherpa, I recognized something in Craig that his goal of trying to help mankind—trying to do something really positive by helping others that have these responsibilities—it’s really a tremendous responsibility to have a business and to still function and have a regular life. I recognize the nobility of Craig in what he’s doing, and also am still so grateful for the influence he’s had in my life.

Craig Willett:

Well, we might edit that part out, but we’re grateful for you. Revisiting Warren, about being a cancer survivor—stage IV—twice, you’ve recently come off your chemo treatments and some other medications, is that right?

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah. I was on her for about six months. This cancer could return again too, in a few years. I’m prepared for that, but they do take a PSA test, and if it starts increasing, then they will give you some chemo or things like that.

Craig Willett:

How did you continue to operate your business while you were receiving chemo treatments?

Warren LeSueur:

Well, it was really difficult, but I only had to have a half hour treatment a day when I was doing the pencil proton therapy. I had a place in San Diego and I had a place in Northern California, and I just drove between them; it’s about a hundred miles. I would be pretty tired by the end of all that, and I’d still go look at all the cars and put hands on and do those, but I always listened to these podcasts as I was doing it, which kept me a little more alive doing it. I remember sometimes I would fall asleep at an auction, but I still was able to do it.

Craig Willett:

But not with your hand in the air, right?

Warren LeSueur:

I had to push myself. No, I’d go sit up on the stand where the auctioneers were just finished. I remember one day I fell asleep, but I still pushed forward and I still did everything I was supposed to do, and I never missed a beat the whole time.

Craig Willett:

Wow. That’s pretty amazing. So, it takes more in life than to have just a good attitude. It takes perseverance to be successful. It sounds like you haven’t let a number of things get you down. You’ve been able to move forward, and I’m grateful for your example.

Warren LeSueur:

One thing I do every day, and even right now—I just finished the chemo this last Saturday—is I’ve been walking six miles a day in the desert, and it’s pretty hot right now iIf you consider that we’re in August.

Craig Willett:

You’ve got to do that early in the morning though, don’t you?

Warren LeSueur:

Yeah, but then I couldn’t buy cars. Logically that would be good, but it’s good to build your reserves up too, and so I exercise every day. If I don’t exercise, I really feel guilty about it. Exercise is something for an entrepreneur that wants to go for the long run, is you better exercise and be in good shape.

Craig Willett:

I had a car accident that caused me to change my habits and I started exercising, and I find that it’s a regular part of my life. I might even add that to the Biz Sherpa Scorecard, as far as something that we need to be doing regularly to see how you’re doing on that.

I’m glad to welcome Warren today to my Sherpa’s den here in my office, and grateful to welcome you for the first time here. This is Craig Willett, the Biz Sherpa. Enjoy your climb to the top.

Speaker 1:

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