If growing up in a third-world country taught David Karangu one thing, it was how to focus on his goals.
Mr. Karangu, owner of Fairway Ford of Augusta, said his hard-knocks upbringing in the east African nation of Kenya turned him into the ambitious businessman he is today.
In Kenya, a country of 10 million people, there are few elementary schools, even fewer high schools and only one university. Only the best students are allowed to move up the educational ladder.
The difference between a comfortable life and poverty is only one mistake away at times.
``From day one you knew you had to compete,'' he said. ``You grow up knowing your whole life depends on your ability to maximize your potential.''
Mr. Karangu has certainly maximized his potential -- at age 31 he is the youngest owner in the entire Ford dealership network.
He was merely a sales manager at an Orlando dealership when he purchased Fairway Ford from its retiring owner in late 1997.
He has taken Fairway, then a struggling low-volume dealership, and doubled its inventory to 300 vehicles, expanded service department hours and hired more qualified sales staff.
In just two months, sales doubled from the previous year, and the area's self-proclaimed ``new volume dealer'' was born.
And the improvements aren't over yet, Mr. Karangu said.
``We're definitely looking to expand even more,'' he said. ``We want to increase the inventory to 500 vehicles by the end of the year.''
Mr. Karangu was born in Atlanta to Kenyan nationals in 1967. His father, an economics professor, moved the family back to Kenya when David was 5 years old.
At 16 the family moved back when the father accepted a teaching job at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.
The school would eventually become the junior Mr. Karangu's alma mater. He graduated with degrees in accounting and marketing and soon found work in sales jobs at dealerships.
``It was something I just sort of fell into,'' said Mr. Karangu, adding that he once wanted to be a lawyer. ``I discovered it was something I really enjoyed.''
Soon after learning the ropes, he started dreaming of owning his own dealership and started building a nest egg for that very purpose. In 1996, he enrolled in the industry's national dealer training program, a requirement for all dealers.
``I went from living very comfortably in a nice house and everything to going to half my income level so I could attend the training,'' he said.
For a while after he completed the course, he had nothing to do but wait for the right opportunity to come along.
The thought of starting his own business didn't worry him, but the waiting was driving him crazy.
``Knowing I was ready but unable to start was tough,'' he said.
He got his break a year later when a friend in Orlando told him of the opportunity at Fairway Ford, a six-acre lot off Washington Road in the booming bedroom community of Evans.
Mr. Karangu saw potential in the dealership. It was modern looking, in a prime traffic location and had an upper-income customer base.
He quickly purchased it using his savings and a line of credit through Ford Motor Co., which he used to leverage a bank loan.
Since then, business has been so brisk that he plans to pay off his creditors in full this spring.
Little touches like adding a children's play area and keeping the grounds spotless make customers feel comfortable, he said.
``Repeat business has been the biggest thing with us,'' he said, adding that about 1,500 new and used cars rolled off the Fairway lot in 1998. ``Being out here in Columbia County, people in Evans and Martinez know this is the place to come.''
He's even considering opening a second dealership somewhere in town although no formal plan is in the works, he said.
So far the strategy has been to market the dealership aggressively using broadcast advertisements to highlight its wide inventory of vehicles. Mr. Karangu has steered clear of trumpeting the ownership change and has kept himself out of the advertisements.
Fairway, located in the heart of the metro area's growth zone, is not concerned with drawing in customers from other dealers or from other areas of town, he said.
``We're not trying to compete with the dealerships on Washington Road and Gordon Highway,'' Mr. Karangu said. ``About 20,000 people drive by our dealership every day -- that's who we want to capture.''
Mr. Karangu works 12-hour days, six days a week so he doesn't have much time for a social life, he says. However, one group he does make time for is the Boys and Girls Clubs of Augusta, a nonprofit organization dedicated to disadvantaged youth.
Although he doesn't consider himself a role model, Mr. Karangu said he hopes he can light an entrepreneurial fire in at least one child.
``I want them to start dreaming about whatever it is they want to do,'' he said. ``I want kids out there to know they can achieve their dreams.''
May 5, 1967, Atlanta
Married to Jane, one daughter
President, Fairway Ford of Augusta Inc.,
Morgan State University, Baltimore, Md.; bachelor's degree in accounting/marketing
Mr. Karangu was born to Kenyan natives residing in Atlanta. He grew up in Kenya but received his higher education in the U.S. He aspired to own his own car dealership shortly after going to work at several car dealerships in Florida. With help from a commercial loan and financing from Ford, Mr. Karangu purchased Fairway Ford in Evans from its retiring owner in fall 1997.
Boys and Girls Clubs of Augusta; board member
Labels: David Karangu, How We Did It: Lessons from Africa's Successful Entrepreneurs, Secrets of Self-Made Millionaires