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Was the Glitter Really Gold?

As I was beginning in my business career, I owned and operated an auto auction business in Albany, GA. I had worked a couple years in the auto auction business in Palatka, FL and now that I had ventured out on my own, I loved being my own boss. It was now was all up to me to run the business and its success depended on the decisions I made and the people I employed to assist me in the operations.

I worked hard, long hours. Frankly, that didn’t bother me at all. I was young, welcomed the challenges and relished being my own boss.

My auction house was for auto dealers only. At least, that what I advertised it to be. When a new “dealer” came to the auction to do business, we let THEM fill out a registration form and it was up to THEM to fill out their pertinent information, including their dealer’s license number. We just took THEIR word for it, that what they filled out was, indeed, truthful and correct. Remember, this was in the early 70’s - way before the Internet and the ability to verify information immediately. Dealers filled out the new dealer form and we welcomed them as trusted customers to our auction.

After a few years of running this business, I felt that I truly knew the business and that I had a gift for accessing situations and people as they entered my business. One auction day, an empty automobile transport truck that could haul six cars entered the auction yard. It was followed a brand new Cadillac driven by a very well dressed man carrying an alligator skin briefcase. I watched with great anticipation as he entered the office and filled out the new Dealer Registration form. Needless to say, I was elated when he soon told me that he had come to purchase six late model cars! Most of my dealers did not look like this and I was impressed by his presence and his obvious wealth.

True to his word, he indeed, did purchase six late model cars. He paid for his cars with bank drafts - a customary method of payment during that era. What that meant was; we kept the titles, put them into the draft (an envelope that had a copy of his company check printed on the front) and then we would take the drafts to our bank who would send them to the customer’s bank for them to pay upon customer’s approval and then the funds would then be deposited into my account.

I was elated that we had a new customer and one that purchased ‘late model’ cars, which meant more auction fees!

The only problem was; the new dealer never went to the bank he had given us drafts on to pay the drafts. About ten days later our bank informed us that the drafts had been returned unpaid. We retrieved them from our bank and placed a call to the new dealer at the number he had written on his registration. We found out that the number was a non-working number! We attempted to reach him by mail to no avail.

What we did find out was he had taken the cars to the state of Alabama, which at the time was a no-title state where car ownership was determined by license tag registration, and he registered the cars and bought a tag for each of them. We also learned that subsequently the cars were taken to Kansas City (hundreds of miles away) and sold them through an auto auction there, where he received payment from the auction company. He received immediate payment as he produced what was then legal ‘title’ (by virtue of an Alabama tag registration).

I never did see or hear from him again, nor did I ever get paid for the cars. Yet, what he had done by his ‘shenanigans’ was to cause me to re-evaluate if I wanted to remain in the auto auction business in Albany, GA or look at pursuing the real estate development and brokerage business back in FL, which, shortly thereafter, is exactly what I did.

And, it all worked well. At that moment, the real estate market was on the verge of exploding in Florida and everything unfolded in a very positive way. I benefited from a bad experience because I took a positive action.

I believe that in life, my successes have often been the result of a failure. Instead of letting failure defeat me, I learned from it, redirected my path and navigated around it. If I would have let this experience get the better of me, I could have become a suspicious and bitter auto auction owner. I would have been miserable and probably would have run that business into the ground. Making a positive course correction meant a better life for me and my family.

What ‘glittered’ and first appeared as ‘gold’ in and of itself wasn’t gold, but what emerged as a result of that experience, turned out golden!

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