Howard Cooper gives $1,000 per year of service to 89 employees as 'thank you'
Editor's note: This story has been updated following an interview with Howard Cooper.
What would you do if your boss, as a way of saying thank you while he prepared to retire, gave you a check for $26,000?
When Bob Jenkins, a 26-year mechanic at Ann Arbor’s Howard Cooper Import Center, got just that at 7 a.m. Wednesday, he couldn’t stop his knees from shaking.
“I was shocked,” Jenkins said. “You just don’t expect something like that.”
Photo from howardcooper.com
Jenkins was one of 89 employees at the 47-year-old auto dealership — located on South State Street north of Eisenhower Parkway — that received a “thank you” check from Howard Cooper as he transitions into retirement.
As the ownership officially changes hands this month, Cooper gave his 89 employees quite the generous send-off: $1,000 for each year of service worked at the dealership. Cooper first reported the news to radio host Lucy Ann Lance on 1290 WLBY-AM Wednesday morning.
“I wanted to thank my employees and that was a way I could do it,” Cooper told AnnArbor.com. “I hope it makes a difference in their lives like they have made in mine.”
Sandy Reagan, a 46-year employee at Howard Cooper, said it’s “touching” that Cooper gave every employee the same amount per year, even people that were just hired in July.
“If you were here for 6 months, you got $500. If you were here since July, you got $83,” Reagan said.
Howard Cooper opened on South State Street in 1965 as a Volkswagen dealership. In 1972, it expanded with the addition of Porsche and Audi franchises, and then added the Honda brand in 1979.
When Cooper announced he planned to sell the dealership to the family-owned Germain Motor Co. — which now has 19 dealerships in five states — he made employee retention a condition of the deal.
"My employees are very important to me and the reason for my success," Cooper told AnnArbor.com in April. "I know of a couple of buyers who would have paid more, but taking care of my employees was important to me."
Cooper said he plans to maintain an office at the dealership until he’s ready to move on. He joked about purchasing an ice cream shop to keep him busy.
“The business has been my whole life for 47 years,” he said. “I love what I’ve done and I enjoyed going to work in the morning. I’m still an entrepreneur at heart and I intend to continue that way.”
Reagan, who was hired at the dealership in 1966 as a bookkeeper, printed all of the employees’ surprise checks in advance last week, after Cooper clued her in to his plan. Both Reagan and Cooper wouldn’t reveal the total sum of the send-off gifts.
Reagan said Cooper received a standing ovation — through people’s shock and tears — when he surprised the employees with their checks.
“The lady behind me had tears running down her face,” Reagan said. “I sat next to a person who drives the parts van and he’s been here almost 28 years. He doesn’t make a ton of money, but he got almost $28,000.
"I watched his face and he just said, ‘Oh my God.’”
Jenkins added: “The whole place was just in shock. People are still talking about it.”
And as for his plans for the unexpected $26,000?
“Well, I’m going to put it in the bank, and my wife and I will discuss that,” he said. “I have two little kids — a 5-year-old and a 9-year-old — so the money will go to good use.”