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John Kendall Garff
Ken Garff Honda Downtown
Salt Lake City, Utah
"We are Builders' is our family motto, which means we invest in people, in our faith, in our community, in our local schools and in our family business."
"'We are Builders' is our family motto, which means we invest in people, in our faith, in our community, in our local schools and in our family business," nominee Garff said. "My grandparents and parents were all builders, and I am honored to carry their name and to afford this same legacy of opportunity and philosophy of sharing with our employees and with our community."
Garff is a 1986 graduate Woods Cross High School in Woods Cross, Utah. He received a B.S. in accounting at the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City in 1992 and an M.B.A. from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1995. He earned numerous scholastic honors and was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, as well as a student government leader.
Garff's family business was established by his grandfather, Ken, in 1932. When Garff was 10 years old, his dad asked him to help out at Ken Garff Imports, a Mercedes-Benz dealership. "The first day, my dad handed me a broom, showed me the sawdust all over the shop floor and said, 'Your job is to sweep up all that sawdust, then put it in those barrels so we can recycle the oil. This is our family business and it carries your grandpa's name, so make him proud,'" he remembered.
His grandfather passed away in 1997, but Garff still feels privileged to work with his father in an enterprise that now encompasses 50 dealerships in six states, employing more than 5,000. Garff has held many jobs within the organization. He was named CEO of Ken Garff Automotive in 2002 and president in 2012. He is proud to have been one of the early pioneers in online automotive sales when he founded Vehix.com in 1996; as well as other business entities, including a fleet-lease and credit company in 2016 and Arivo Acceptance, a sub-prime auto lending company in 2017.
In 2006, Robert Garff (chairman), Brett Hopkins (COO) and John Garff (CEO) pioneered what they describe as the first public-private partnership in the automotive franchise dealer sector. At that time, Ken Garff Automotive was looking to expand outside of Utah, but only with new acquisitions (meaning the Utah stores would remain 100 percent family-owned). According to Garff, "We put together a business plan, pitched it to three private equity groups and all three said yes, but we chose to partner with Ian Cumming, chairman and CEO of Leucadia National Corporation [which was re-branded in 2018 as Jefferies Financial Group]." The partners then formed a start-up dealership acquisition entity called Garcadia. "From 2006 to 2018, we bought 28 dealerships in four states [California, Iowa, Michigan and Texas] and grew Garcadia to more than $3 billion in revenue," he said.
In 2018, Garff acquired Jefferies Financial Group's 72 percent stake in Garcadia. "We became the first private company to buy out its public partner in the automotive franchise dealer sector," he said. "Others have followed our lead by bringing public money into the dealership space, however, we were the first to complete a buyout, making the transaction one of the largest acquisitions in the history of the auto retail arena."
After Hurricane Harvey in 2017, the Garff management team sprang into action to ensure that all of the 703 employees in his eight Houston-area stores were safe. All Houston-area employees were then invited to take a week off to get back on their feet or to help family members and neighbors, and he ensured that the Garff family would fund 100 percent of normal payroll. In addition, Garff flew to Houston eight days later and documented the individual losses of the 112 flood victims in his employ.
"Within 40 days of the hurricane, we had paid out 77 documented employee claims and the remaining 35 claims, mostly for uninsured home repairs, were paid in full and all home repair work was completed by Christmas," he explained. "I couldn't sit on the sideline, not when we had the resources and the resolve to make a difference."
Garff added, "The 'We are Builders' family motto is painted above the main access door to our home as a daily reminder to our five children to look outward and to serve others."
An important benefactor of educational initiatives, Garff is on the board of Success in Education, which enriches students through learning. This public 501(c)3 organization was founded by the Garff family and offers three distinct programs, including Road to Success (literacy program used in 135 elementary schools in Utah); Keys to Success (college prep and workforce readiness incentive available in 62 high schools in Utah); and Code to Success (computer programming certification course) .
Garff also contributes millions of dollars to various charities and in 2017, he and his siblings donated $12 million to the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business to build the Robert H. and Katharine B. Garff Executive Education Building in honor of their parents. In addition, he supports numerous local organizations and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Garff was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Craig A. Bickmore, executive director of the New Car Dealers of Utah. He and his wife, Amy, have five children.