Successful businessmen strive to keep God in the driver’s seat
By Aaron Epp
John Attrell’s father, Bob Attrell Sr., worked in the automotive industry for more than 60 years, purchasing his own car dealership in 1975. When John was in college, he had no intention of joining the family business. He studied drafting at Humber College and planned to pursue a career in that field.
God had different plans. Today, John owns Attrell Toyota in Brampton, Ontario, a family-run dealership that employs more than 60 people. John’s brother, David, is the company’s service manager, and their brother, Bob Jr., owns a Hyundai dealership the family started in 1990. John’s son Philllip is a sales manager at Attrell Toyota, and his son Joel works in the company’s IT department.
“It was really God’s prompting in my life through different friends and family to come into the business,” says John, who committed his life to Christ as a teenager and today attends Bramalea Baptist Church in Brampton with his wife, Kimberley.
Bob Sr. entered the automotive industry as a technician in 1960. He began working for Toyota Canada as a service representative before the company promoted him to the sales department. After working there for six years, he acquired the Brampton Toyota franchise in 1975. He ran the store for 17 years.
But as Bob Sr.’s passion for the automotive industry grew, his passion for serving God decreased and he stopped going to church. An influential figure in John’s life felt that if John worked with his father at the dealership, it might have a positive impact on Bob Sr.’s spiritual life.
“I just really felt that it was something God wanted me to do,” John says of his decision to leave Humber College and enter the family business. “But more so, [it was] my pastor. He thought it was how God would lead my father back to the Lord. So, that was why I really wanted to do it.”
Through a combination of John’s influence, a lot of family prayer, as well as a trip he took with his wife to Israel, Bob Sr.’s heart was drawn back to the Lord and he rededicated himself to his faith in 2000.
John recalls the day his father told him the news. Bob Sr. had been vacationing with his wife in Florida, so the two had not seen each other for a few months. Bob Sr. paged his son to come into his office.
“He had his back to me, which was unusual,” John remembers. “When he turned around, he had tears rolling down his cheeks.”
Bob Sr. told his son about his decision to once again follow Christ.
“I was ecstatic,” says John, whose father passed away two-and-a-half years ago. “We prayed and talked, and it was a very emotional moment for both of us.”
Faith plays an integral role at Attrell Toyota.
“The core of Attrell Toyota’s beliefs is a Christian biblical heritage that has passed down from father to son,” the company’s website says. “With these biblical principles, we have operated the dealership with integrity, honesty, hard work and a faith that believes God has been the driving reason behind our success. Our goal is that we constantly strive to treat our customers the way we would want to be treated.”
John says a typical week at the office for him includes a variety of different tasks. He enjoys working with his staff, being in contact with customers from time to time and continuing to grow the business.
He tries to keep a Christian emphasis on everything the business does.
That can be challenging when you work with people who have a variety of different beliefs, but the challenge is not insurmountable, John says, “as long as you operate on principles of honesty and integrity [and] people see that you’re the man you claim to be.”
“I try to keep God in the forefront in all the activities we do,” he says. “I want to make it God’s business and not mine.”
Randy Collins, owner and CEO of the Collins Family of Companies in London, Ontario, approaches his business with the same attitude. The companies he started with his wife, Audrey, include Ultimate Automobiles, a car dealership; Ultimate Marine, a boat dealership; and Hully Gully, “the Ultimate Toystore,” which is the largest motorsport showroom in Ontario and was Canada’s first motorsport lifestyle showroom.
Hully Gully boasts more than 200 units and thousands of accessories and services available for fishing boats, personal watercrafts, jet boats, outboard motors, dirt bikes, street bikes, touring bikes, ATVs, snowmobiles, snowblowers, lawnmowers, generators and more.
Not bad, considering it all grew out of the Collins’ love for snowmobiling. Randy is a pipefitter by trade who bought a farm with Audrey in Varna, Ontario and moved there with their young family. The family grew to love snowmobiling and were soon selling and servicing snowmobiles out of their barn. In 1971, the Collins’ moved into the automobile business full time.
“Whether you’re selling [automobiles] or servicing them, or selling accessories, it’s all about people, and it’s about serving the customer,” Randy says when asked what he enjoys most about his business.
Leading employees is also a highlight of his work.
“Teaching people to do the same thing and … [making] it fun,” Randy says. “It’s really important that you can have fun serving people.”
He also sees his work as a ministry, operating the business with integrity, doing his best to lead his employees in a Christlike way, and giving back to the community as well.
“The values we have are based on solid values—we’re pretty upfront about that,” Randy says, adding that the company’s core commitments to enthusiasm, excelling, teamwork, trust, continuous improvement and encouragement.
“My mom passed away last September [and] we added the word encouragement because she was such an encourager,” Randy explains, adding that his mother taught him, “Do your best and let God do the rest.”
It’s kind of [in] your example, what you do [and] what people recognize in you. Hopefully they see Christ-likeness in what you do.”
According to The Globe and Mail, 2012 was the second-best year on record for automotive sales in Canada, with Canadians purchasing a total of 1,675,675 cars and light trucks. That was an increase of 5.7 per cent from 2011, when 1,585,519 were sold. It’s a good time to be an automotive dealer in this country.
How should Christians approach vehicle ownership? Is it okay for Christians to own luxury vehicles?
John Attrell believes that ultimately, Christians are called to use their resources wisely. An expensive car isn’t key, but purchasing one that is reliable and durable is perhaps important.
“I think the key part is [that] you need to be a good steward,” he says. “You don’t have to have a super luxury vehicle, but you want to make sure it’s quality and will last over time.”
He adds that the auto industry has changed dramatically since he first got involved with it in 1980. Gone are the days of the oily salesman in tacky white shoes, working on a back-lot to trick you into buying a used car that’s a clunker.
Organizations like the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association exist to cooperate with government and its members to establish fair and uniform business practices, standards of advertising and training, and proactive programs to enhance customer service for consumers.
Most dealerships are well-run and professional, with highly motivated staff, because a car dealership is a large investment and owners want to see a return on that investment.
Randy Collins agrees that Christians need to decide for themselves how much money they are willing to spend or not spend on a vehicle.
“I think that different people have different aspirations, you know?” Randy says. “I know a lot of Christians that don’t have a whole lot of wealth, and I know Christians that do have a lot, and I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference in the Lord’s eyes with one being different from the other.”
When it comes to what Christians should do with their money, he adds, the Bible is clear: Honour the Lord with your wealth by giving from the first fruits of your labour.
“You can’t out-bless God, you can’t out-love him and you can’t out-give him,” Randy says. “The more that we give, the more we bless and the more we love, I think it makes our heavenly Father happy.”
Randy’s definitely found that to be true in his own life, and continues to rely on the Lord in whatever he does, including running his business.
“We couldn’t do it without Him, and we want to give Him all the praise and all the glory, and [we] hope He’s well pleased with what we’re doing,” Randy says.
“Without the Lord, I’m duck soup.”
Aaron Epp is a freelance writer and Senior Correspondent for ChristianWeek newsmagazine. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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