S & H Leasing
Back To His Roots Again… and Again… and Again
Keith Harper Learns the Lesson of a Survivor:
Catch all of the Good You Can... From all of the Bad That's Thrown at You!
BY RICK SINGLETON
Keith Harper is a man that has received his fair share of ass whoopins. According to him, that’s exactly what’s got him where he is today. Harper claims he has matured into a man of experience, patience and tolerance. Furthermore, he says he has no bitterness or qualms with the road he’s traveled and the challenges along the way. “I have no regrets,” Harper states without hesitation, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for all the things I’ve done and all of what’s happened to me. I wouldn’t be me.”
Harper, the owner of S & H Leasing, LLC (Elkhart) seems relaxed and confident in his own skin today. While he certainly seems to be humble and quite down to earth, you can see without looking too hard the many battle scars that he wears. “I’ve learned so much about business over the years, about people, hell about life.” Harper says convincingly. “You know when you’ve had everything and you’re sittin on top of the world, and then one day the rug gets yanked out from underneath you; man it’s a wake-up call to say the least.”
Like many auto dealers, Keith has been in the car game most of his life. And like many people, he woke up one day and it just sort of happened. “I was only 19 years young at the time,” Keith recalls, “I was young. I didn’t have a job and one day, my in-laws at the time said ‘hey, we know this cat that might be able to get you a job. Now here I am in the 70s, hair all the way down to the middle of my back and I’m going to interview for a sales job. Next thing I remember is I’m sitting in an interview, sitting with this dude, suit and tie, whole nine yards and he asks me what I want to make.” Harper recounted the event as if it was happening right then. “I say ‘what do you mean?’ and this big guy, 6 foot 8 inches tall, is sitting right across from me and he kinda of challenges me with ‘how much do you wanna make this year?’ For just a second he kinda startled me, let’s say I didn’t see it coming, but it set me back a little, just for a second. Then almost in defense I get real cocky and say ‘I wanna make $20,000’. To my surprise this giant of a guy reaches across the desk, sticks his finger nearly down my throat and says, ‘look, sonny boy, if you don’t make $20,000 this year you won’t be here, and you better remember that. Well I made $20,000 that year to the nickel.”
That was the year that Keith found himself working at Gates Chevrolet making what most people would consider a lot of money for that period time. And in fact, more money than Keith had ever made in his young life. But that was just the beginning. Keith learned the ins and outs of the car business and the sales game very well. Over the next 15 years he made more money than he ever dreamed of. “I was making a small fortune, especially for Van Gates. I was making so much money I began to feel invincible.” Harper said as he relives his past. “I was young, arrogant, I mean really cocky, successful, I’m sitting on top of the world. Then one day out of nowhere the bottom falls out.”
The 'out of nowhere' time that Keith refers to was about 15 years later when he was a buyer for Gates used car lot. He discussed the day that changed his life forever. “I was going to pack up and head to Florida to go purchase cars for the company. I drove home, walk inside and my wife lays the bomb on me. ‘We need to talk', she said, 'I can’t do this anymore.’ Of course my reaction is okay, what’s wrong? Soon all these questions are racing through my head. ‘What did I do wrong? What happened that I don’t know about? What can I do to fix it?’ That’s when she says to me, ‘It’s nothing to do with any of that. You just weren’t there.’ And then she hits me with ‘You need to leave.’ That was total devastation for me. My whole world just ended without any warning. Emotionally, I was devastated.”
Keith tried to pick up the pieces and make sense of it all but no matter how hard he tried he could not pull himself back together. “I went from the top to being lower than a snake’s belly. I lost my family overnight. Here I am kissing them goodbye, I mean goodbye, goodbye. I can’t begin to tell you the pain I felt.” However that wasn’t the end of Keith’s problems. His mind was no longer on his work and it became evident to everyone. “I could no longer perform. My heart wasn’t in the game and within a month I was let go. I lost my job – fired.
So at 35 years old Harper went from having a good job, fancy cars, a great family and lots of money… to pretty much the bottom of the pit. “I ended up going to a nut job place… a rehab center. I guess is the proper way to say it, but when you’re living it you feel like it’s a nut house and you’re one of the nuts. So there I am with 24 hour counseling; and all of these folks- druggies, alcoholics, people in need of some sort of help. I’m only there for a few days but it felt like years. That was the worst of the worst for me but that’s also about the time the Big Guy saved my ass by knocking me out. And that’s when you go back to your roots and you find your faith.
According to Harper, that difficult time made him better and stronger and it may have saved him. “For many people, that’s the end, for me it was the beginning. It was difficult but an amazing lesson. Look, if this would not have happened I would have never known my kids like I do today. There was no dad – kiddy time back then. This gave me a second chance to be a father again. I was fortunate enough to be given another opportunity to spend time with my kids. I took being a father all of the time for granted.” Keith stated in a very somber voice, “After the divorce I’m a father one week and the next week I don’t even get to see my kids. It made me realize that my ex-wife was a fantastic mother, I was a horrible father. It made me appreciate my kids and that time so much more than ever before.
Eventually the tables turned a bit for Harper as he became a full time father. “My ex just kind of turned the kids over to me one day, kinda. She became involved in other things and it was my time to take the ball… or should I say I took the ball and ran. I got involved with them in everything I could. I took them to all of their games, all the school functions. I did it all. Soon we became so close, me and my kids.” He chuckled as he said, “You know what? I’d never made a ponytail in my life; then one day I’m in trouble. That’s when you realize you better learn quick.” Keith says he feels extremely thankful for his second chance to be a father again but he is adamant that if it were not for his setback he would have never had the fortunate break he got. “If this whole thing wouldn’t have happened I would have never been given this opportunity. I would have most likely imploded from my success or what I thought was success. I am so thankful for that, you have no idea.”
Today, Keith’s children have grown and are on their own but he has once again an opportunity to teach, mentor and help others. “About 7 or 8 years ago, I opened my own place, S & H Leasing. It’s given me yet another chance to be a father-like figure again, I teach employees every day, all day. I spend every day training my guys about the obstacles that I faced and remind them of my mistakes so they don’t end up like I did.
I teach them about character, character, character. Character has become a huge deal to me.” Keith’s comments reminded of a lesson he once learned, “A guy said to me once, “You walk in to a customer with two things, your word and you’re wallet. You need to walk out with both.”
As we concluded our conversation, it struck me how sincere and humbled this man was. I could see the scars showing through his weathered emotions. Just before he walked out he turned and said,
“Always put everything in perspective.
They’re gonna put me in a box one day.
No shoes and maybe a kinda nice suit…
or heck they might burn me.
Either way they’re gonna put me in a box.”
As a romantic, what I heard him say was- “soon we will all pass on and none of this other stuff will matter… except for your character; who you really were.” Hmmm, that might be something to think about.