Mitsubishi Motors Dealer Partner Spotlight – Planet Mitsubishi on Achieving the Dream and Expanding Access
Mitsubishi Motors North America, Inc. (MMNA) is celebrating dealer partners who go above and beyond for their communities. They provide more than just a great place to buy a car – they help their hometowns thrive in the good times and heal in the challenging times. They rise to the occasion in support of the community, whatever the occasion may be. This month, we are proud to feature Helmi Felfel, Planet Mitsubishi dealer principal.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH Helmi Felfel
Dealer Principal, Planet Mitsubishi
- The year was 1989, and you were getting ready to graduate from UNC Charlotte. The automotive industry was not on your radar. What changed? A friend of mine needed to buy a car, and I was the only person he knew who spoke Arabic and English, so I went with him to the dealership to help translate. Well, I got him a pretty good deal, and ended up impressing the sales manager in the process! He said he recognized talent and said to call if I was ever interested in the car business. I’d never considered it before, so it took me 18 months to call him back! When I finally did, it all came together quickly. He asked if I could be there the next day for training, and I rushed to the store and bought my first business clothes: four shirts (two white, two blue) and two ties. I remember it so well. The only problem was… I didn’t know how to tie a tie. A neighbor had to help me! Six months into the role, I knew I was going to do this for the rest of my life.
- You grew up in Kuwait, the son of two educators, and came to the U.S. for college. How does your upbringing shape you today as a business owner, manager and father? I want to give people the same chance I was given as a wide-eyed, soon-to-be college graduate. I didn’t inherit a dealership. I held every single position in the sales department before I was given my first opportunity to be a general manager in 1998. Now, I am living the dream, because of all that the automotive business has given me and my family. In hiring, I look for good people. I joke that I look for people who live “like their grandma is watching” – people I could trust with the keys to my business or the keys to my house. These are the people I know our customers can trust. I look for diversity – people of every color, every background and every gender. I believe in treating everyone fairly, but not the same. Understanding and appreciating our differences is important. And I believe in Karma – I have never given anything to anyone that didn’t come back tenfold.
- Giving back to your community is not just something you do as a small business owner; it is core to who you are as a person. Tell us about that. Giving back to our community is the most important thing we do as a business, and my wife and I feel it is the most important thing we do as parents. This is the U.S.A. – the greatest country in the world, but there is still so much need in our community. We recently donated a 15-passenger van to a sports camp, so disadvantaged kids could have the opportunity to be kids – to play and laugh and learn what it means to be part of a team. Of course, we don’t sell 15-passenger vans, but we found a way to do it. It was not a matter of if, but of how. In 2019 alone, we supported more than 15 different, local causes. And we prioritize local causes, because we can make a bigger impact. In 2020, the pandemic hit our business hard, but we still gave often, even if we couldn’t give as much.
- As we emerge from the pandemic, what are you most excited about? We doubled down and pushed hard during the pandemic, but the business still had a bad year. We had to dismantle much of the employee team that we worked so hard to build. This year, I am most excited about bringing everyone back together – stronger and more resolved than ever before. I am a believer in the Mitsubishi leadership, the direction we’re headed and the brand. You can buy a new Mitsubishi for the same price as a pre-owned vehicle. They’re rock solid. And there is nothing like new product to energize a business! The all-new 2022 Outlander is a game changer for us. I have not parked mine anywhere in town that people haven’t asked about it.
- What are you most proud of, and what is most important to you in your next chapter? When my wife and I were younger, we wrote down some goals. There were some silly ones, like “to own a boat.” There were some lofty ones, like “to own 20 stores.” And here we are today… what a life! (I still don’t own 20 stores, but I do own a boat.) Now that I am older, I dream of paying it forward. There are my boys (13, 14 and 18 years old) – I’m so proud of them. They ask every day when I get home how many cars we sold, and if I give them a small number, they give me a hard time (or the side-eye). They are eager to learn the family business. But I am conscious of all of the other car girls and car guys out there dreaming too, who may not have the access to what my family has now. There is so much to this business – financing and floorplans and processes and associations. Working hard and wanting it isn’t enough. You need someone to help and guide you, someone to take a chance on you. Expanding my business, so others can have a part of it too… I want that to be a big part of my legacy.
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