CEO Connect with the candid Scott Fink

Scott Fink has amassed an auto empire in the Tampa Bay area—the Fink Auto Group.

Fink Auto Group includes Genesis of New Port Richey, Volkswagen of New Port Richey, Hyundai of Wesley Chapel, Genesis of Wesley Chapel, Mazda of Wesley Chapel and Chevrolet of Wesley Chapel. The crown jewel is Hyundai of New Port Richey, which has been the highest-volume Hyundai dealership in the United States for eight consecutive years.

In March, Fink Auto Group was acquired by Lithia Motors, but Fink retained ownership of Volkswagen of Wesley Chapel and the soon-to-open Subaru of Wesley Chapel.

Bridgette Bello, CEO and publisher of Tampa Bay Business and Wealth, interviewed Fink in front of a live audience at Office Evolution, in Tampa. This transcription has been edited for length and brevity.

What has been the most exciting thing that has happened to you since being on the cover of TBBW?

The most interesting thing is I got a lot of “thank yous,” related to the philanthropy that my wife and I, and our family, does in the community. Most of that falls under the radar. Your story highlighted that. I liked the fact that the story was really not about selling cars. There have been a lot of stories about selling cars. And that’s okay. But that’s not the real story. I was very pleased with that. The other thing was getting some communication from high school, or early college, friends, saying I knew you’d be successful. And I’m thinking, did you ever talk to me? [laughter]

Talk about why giving back is important to you and why it’s important to your family?

My thought process was not always that way. I had a couple of dealerships early on, when I first came to Tampa Bay, and we sold those. I had an opportunity with Hyundai of New Port Richey. I wanted to take a little different approach and pivot on my business philosophy, recognizing that I wanted to build a loyal base of customers.

We had to do it one transaction at a time. I started to think about little things like, who was driving these cars? They’re moms, and dads, and they have kids. Their kids play soccer and mom goes to this office, and dad goes to that office. We have to be supportive if we want to be successful.

One of the things I was very proud of, early on, is every car that we sold at all the dealerships, we peeled off a certain dollar amount and we put it into an account. So when someone came to us to sponsor the Little League, we had the money. The two things that really stuck out to me was there was an article written about a family. This guy’s wife and two children died of asphyxiation. They were from Ohio, only had been here two years, and he didn’t have the resources to transport his deceased wife and kids back to Ohio to be buried. So we paid for that. We didn’t ask for anything, we just paid for it. And then a woman, you may remember, there was a sinkhole up in Holiday and it swallowed her car. She lived in a $40,000 trailer and she didn’t have any resources. So we replaced the car. Things like that, where you can make a material difference in the community.

You talked about your vision versus your reality. I really got sucked into that conversation from the perspective of being a business owner, and an entrepreneur, and where you thought you were headed, and where you ended up. This is a room full of business owners, and CEOs, and people who are operating the companies that are running this community. Can you talk about vision versus reality? And how you deal with that?

I think you’re all going to know this, right? We’re kind of taught that life is linear. You work hard, graduate high school, get good grades, go to college and you do well, and maybe you go to grad school, or medical school, whatever it is, you start your business and it’s just a march up the hill.

Those of us who are here know, that it is a complete fallacy. Life is littered with potholes and hurdles. We like to say at the office, sometimes the waters deep, it’s dark and it’s cold. And you know what, sometimes you just have to go in and you don’t know what you’re going to encounter.

What I learned is, whatever plan I had, I recognized that I needed to keep my eyes wide open and seize opportunities when they’re presented, because it’s just not linear. Accept the hurdles. Jump over the hurdles. If you can’t jump over the hurdles, go around the hurdles and just keep moving forward.

What’s the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?

It kind of relates to what I just said. The old expression, “Put your head down, work hard and you’ll get success.” That’s not true, right? You must keep your head up. You must keep your eyes open. Now, you must work hard, but too many people get tunnel vision and they don’t recognize opportunities when they’re presented.

When we were doing the interview, you spoke about a 60 Minutes special that touched your heart and changed the trajectory of what you were doing and your giving. I’d like for you to share that story with the room.

It was probably 2011. For those who remember, and looking around the room many of you will remember, the recession was brutal. Houses were vacant. It was a bad time. They did a segment on 60 Minutes, it was around Thanksgiving, and the story focused on a guy, and his two kids, whose wife just died of cancer. He got evicted from his home and with his last $1,400, he bought a bread truck and they were living in a bread truck. He would drive around at night, so they were safe, and during the day he would find a parking lot and sleep. The kids would brush their teeth in the gas station.

This story really hit my wife, and I, pretty hard. We looked at each other and said, “Wow, we’ve got to figure something out. We have to try to help because I bet the situation here in our own community is far worse than that.”

We did some research and we found that the need here was great. We thought about starting our own foundation and then we realized we didn’t know what we didn’t know. We started asking a bunch of folks about how we could help and that’s when we met Tim Marks [CEO of Metropolitan Ministries]. He and I hit it off and partnered up. I joined the board. For those who are familiar with Met Mini at the time, it did unbelievable work but was very Tampa-centric.

I spent a lot of time in Pasco County so Tim and I pushed the board to expand our footprint to Pasco, and it’s been just fantastic.

I’m proud to say we’ve got an $11 million project on the table. We’ve got a grant from the state of Florida for $5 million. We’ve already raised $1.5 million.

For those of you who read Scott’s story, he’s a kid from the projects in Brooklyn. If you could look back, what would you say to that kid from Brooklyn?

That’s a hard question. If you read the article, it’s not like we were hungry. But all we ever did was talk about money. And I make a joke of it because we talked about the fact that we didn’t have any money and the things we could not do. When you grow up like that you don’t know what success really means, right? Success is having enough money to go to dinner or having enough money to pay the rent or make a car payment. I remember my dad didn’t buy his first home until he was 52 years old, because my parents grew up as orphans.

I would say Bridgette, to answer that question, I wanted success. I wanted independence. I didn’t know what it meant, at the time. I just knew I didn’t want to lay in bed at night, every night, worrying about money. And it’s kind of worked out.

Photos by Ryan G Photo[image_slider_no_space on_click=”prettyphoto” height=”300″ images=”14642,14641,14640,14639,14638,14637,14636,14635,14634,14633,14632,14631,14630,14629″]

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