Nadir Djavaherian on Authentic Connection Building
CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee
Auto Plaza Group
Nadir Djavaherian, owner of Auto Plaza Group, reflects on his entrepreneurial journey and the friendships that have guided him to personal and professional success. He stresses the importance of approaching new connections authentically.
“I think if you're trying to force things to happen, I think human beings have a radar that goes off. I've always just tried to be genuine and upfront, and it's worked for me.”
Alana Muller 0:09
Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong.
I'm your host Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower the community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.
Alana Muller 0:41
Hello, listeners, welcome back to Enterprise.ing podcast. When Nadir Djavaherian was just six years old, he and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri from Iran. After high school, he began buying and selling used vehicles after saving money he earned as a local tennis pro two country clubs. Eventually Nadir opened his own small used car lot. Over the past 25 years or so, Nadir has grown his business and now owns seven new car dealerships, a wholesale operation, and is developing a multimillion dollar two-dealership campus in St. Charles County, Missouri. Nadir, welcome to the Enterprise.ing podcast.
Nadir Djavaherian 1:16
Thank you, Alana, great to be with you.
Alana Muller 1:18
Well, I'm so pleased to connect with you. I know we were actually introduced by a mutual friend, Jason Koelling, from Enterprise Bank; who I know you've been working with for many years. In your introduction, I shared a little bit about your story, but take our listeners through your journey to learning about cars, to developing a deep understanding of the automotive industry, and now being the principal in the industry itself.
Nadir Djavaherian 1:42
Sure, well, like you said, I started out outside of the industry, and saved a few dollars teaching tennis lessons locally, and then started buying and selling a few cars, and just sort of worked my way up slowly through the different aspects of the car industry. And fortunately, that industry, our car industry, which I love, has so many different facets to it. It's possible for somebody to do one segment of it and never really have to be exposed to all the other parts. I stopped buying and selling these cars and got off into wholesale and got off into export and got off into retailing high-end used. And then today, we have those dealerships that you mentioned.
Alana Muller 2:28
That is amazing. When you first started buying and selling just kind of as a side gig, did you imagine that it would be your full-time career?
Nadir Djavaherian 2:38
You know what? Not right away. Let's put it that way. Because when you're starting out desperate, you're just micro-ambitious. You're just trying to make it to the next day, the next week, the next month.
Alana Muller 2:49
Yeah, I love that expression. Micro-ambitious. I've never heard that before. I think that is so smart. And in this gig economy that we find ourselves I think that people are very micro-ambitious. I think that's kind of cool.
Yeah, I think you can set your sights too far out. I always tell my kids and, and young kids in general, who I feel like I have so much pressure on them. I always try to advise them, only when they ask by the way, you don't have to think about 10 years ahead or five years ahead. You know, one month, three months, two months is enough.
Alana Muller 3:22
Yeah, gosh, I agree with you. I always found it amusing, in interview situations, when somebody would say, "Where do you want to be in five years?" Because my real answer was, “I have no idea where I want to be in five years.” So to be able to imagine that I think is difficult. And I like sort of taking it in more bite-sized chunks. As you look back on your career journey, it all seems to work together. But I don't know that, at least for me, I don't think I could have said it five years before that any of those things would happen.
Nadir Djavaherian 3:51
Yeah, I think there's a handful of people who know they want to be an astronaut when they're four. Yeah, or a fireman or whatever. But like everything else in life, that's the 10% to the left of the bell curve. And then there's the 10% to the right, who don't know what they want to be on their deathbed.
Alana Muller 4:06
Yeah, absolutely. I know that through your own hard work and determination, you were able to build this incredible business and no doubt building reputation and developing relationships throughout the St. Louis community played an important role in that journey for you. What approach did you take to connecting with others in a meaningful way?
Nadir Djavaherian 4:25
I started off attending Chamber of Commerce meetings and so-called networking events. And it never really clicked for me that way. You go to your first Chamber of Commerce meeting and it's 50 new people. By the third one, 45 of them are the same people. And you already know them, and everybody seems a little too eager to transact business right then, when it doesn't feel natural yet, so I don't know if I was ever really any good at that. So I just really focused on developing friendships, and trying to be genuine and helping people. And then when their automotive purchase came up, I was a natural possibility for them.
Alana Muller 5:07
Yeah, I think that makes sense. And you're right. I mean, if it doesn't feel natural or authentic, people don't really want to do business with you. So the idea that you were able to cultivate friendships, I think is really important. I really like how you describe that. Did you find that even through the work you were doing at the country clubs, with being involved with tennis, did you find that you would have conversations about professional life? Or were they mostly focused on the sport?
Nadir Djavaherian 5:33
At the country clubs, I was a kid back then, I was in my 20s. And I met a few people who were much older, and we would talk about business things. But I wasn't really hard and fast into the car business yet. You know, there was one man in particular who owned a lot of real estate and he took a liking to me. I was the tennis pro. So on rainy days, he would come hang out with the tennis pro. And we would just chit chat. I learned a lot from him in my 20s. And of course, you know, you don't even realize you're learning when you're learning at that age. It's sort of accidental learning.
Alana Muller 6:07
Yeah, but in such a great way. I mean, I suspect that if you go back over the course of those conversations, I bet there are lessons learned that you're still using today, or that helped to guide the direction that you took your business.
Nadir Djavaherian 6:20
100%. Yes, of course, those folks always give us, you know, lifelong lessons.
Alana Muller 6:26
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Nadir, you talked a little bit about your engagement with young people and advice that you share. And what whether it's a young person, or just a business connection, how do you make those connections mutually beneficial? How do you essentially show appreciation or connect back with the community?
Nadir Djavaherian 6:43
At the dealership level, we do a lot of community sponsorships and events and a lot of different activities with local high schools and local charities. We have a big presence in a local St. Louis Christmas charity that takes presents to underprivileged kids. And so we do a lot of that stuff at the dealership level. I just try to give, I don't try to make my giving conditional. And I know that sounds corny, but that happens to be my default. So it works well.
Alana Muller 7:14
Is there advice that you share with people about how to cultivate relationships? You're talking a lot about authentic friendship building, and I really admire that and appreciate that. Is there particular advice that you share with people about that?
Nadir Djavaherian 7:26
I think you hit the word on the head: authentic. I think authentic and genuine is the right word. I think if you're trying to force things to happen, I think human beings have a radar that goes off. Yeah, I've always just tried to be genuine and upfront, and it's worked for me.
Alana Muller 7:45
Yeah, I think that that is fabulous. Can you talk about one interaction? You mentioned the real estate guy that you talked with at the country clubs, but is there one person, or one interaction, that resulted in a major breakthrough for you, either personally, or professionally? Maybe a mentor or somebody who really guided you in your career?
Nadir Djavaherian 8:04
Gosh, that's such a tough question. A buddy of mine told me the other day, he said, "My father told me that you can learn something from everyone." You know, I'm 58 years old, I really thought about that. And I thought, I hope I've been doing that my whole life. So, you know, I try to find inspirational behavior with a lot of different people. And so I'm not trying to evade the question, but there's been a few people in my life who have been very formative. I had an uncle who was very entrepreneurial, with whom I spent a lot of time growing up. The man I mentioned at the country club was a really successful man that I really kind of admire. And then there was a gentleman who taught me how to play tennis. He was an Australian Davis Cup tennis player, and he got me into the tennis business. He was a formidable person in my upbringing. And out of sheer coincidence, I lost track of him 30 years ago, and he called me yesterday, out of the blue.
Alana Muller 8:58
Oh, my goodness.
Nadir Djavaherian 9:00
Yeah. Yeah, it was so fun to talk to him, you know.
Alana Muller 9:02
How did he find you?
Nadir Djavaherian 9:04
He called the local tennis club where we last had a connection, where we both were, and he asked them for my number. And of course, they took his number and said, he'll call you back. But it was great, because I got to tell him now he's 75, and I'm 58. And I got to tell him how important he was in my formative years.
Alana Muller 9:24
So wonderful. It's such a nice thing. I mean, talk about a virtuous cycle just it made you feel great and made him feel great. I think that's a really nice story.
Nadir Djavaherian 9:33
I agree. And you have to ask yourself, what made that man at 75, after 30 years want to reach out to me?
Alana Muller 9:40
Yeah. Do you know what it was? Do you know what sparked the reconnection?
Nadir Djavaherian 9:43
I don't know other than, getting older and nostalgic, and realizing that we are today because of where we were yesterday, because of those kinds of thoughts that I think become more and more prevalent as one gets older. I think it's that kind of thinking, you know.
Alana Muller 9:59
Right, absolutely. When you think about the conversation, you're talking about this guy, who taught you to play tennis, the real estate fellow who you played tennis with, and your uncle. Did you know when you were having some of those initial conversations, or some of those early conversations, did you realize that they were sort of imparting gems? I mean, I know you said it was sort of accidental learning. But did you realize the gift that you had right there before you?
Nadir Djavaherian 10:26
Gosh, that's a tough question. Maybe a little bit, I knew I was listening to them. And I knew I would copy them in any way that was appropriate and possible. But you know, I don't think any young person is really, you don't have the sense of gratitude to know that you're listening to wise people. Maybe we just tried to copy and we're not that grateful yet, or something. I don't know.
Alana Muller 10:51
I get that. I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your dealership business. And I just kind of asked you about what are the changes that you've seen in the industry over the past 25 years?
Nadir Djavaherian 11:01
Oh, boy, a ton. The car business is so dynamic. And that's what makes it fun. It's just constant. I always tell a lot of our key managers, "Be prepared to reinvent yourself every 60 days." And man is that true, it's just amazingly volatile and dynamic. It's just such an efficient model and an efficient system. In an already efficient economy. Everything in America is pretty transparent and efficient. All the markets are, and this car business. It's almost like the stock exchange, where when one thing changes, it affects you know, the entire dealer body, dealers are quick to adapt to new changes. We just had two really great years after COVID. And I thought, even as a veteran, I thought that the changes after COVID would take six to 12 months to take hold, they took about six to 12 days.
Alana Muller 11:55
Oh my goodness.
Nadir Djavaherian 11:57
It was amazing how we went from having no cars in stock, and having double the margins for that two-year period, to the markets immediately correcting, where cars are starting to get in greater supply, demand has fallen a little bit, the margins have shrunk back to closer to normal. So it's a very dynamic business and very volatile. And maybe that's what makes it fun.
Alana Muller 12:23
Probably, I mean because just as you said, be ready to remake yourself every 60 days. I mean, it's being on your toes at all times. And probably every industry has something like that. But that was one of the industries that we heard so much about during COVID. And almost could feel it because there's such a consumer piece to it. So people are always talking about their vehicles and access to cars or the inability to access cars. So I think that's so true. And it's great that you're working with your team to be ready for those changes as they come.
Nadir Djavaherian 12:54
Yes, yes, for sure. Maybe it's only in these volatile periods where there's opportunity. You know, there's not a lot of uncertainty in the status quo.
Alana Muller 13:03
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, even as you talk about the margins, coming back to something that looks more like what we would call normal, it's sort of the lack of volatility that creates that. So you wish for some of that volatility. So it makes a lot of sense.
Nadir Djavaherian 13:17
A good friend of mine in St. Louis says the car business is where rich people go to get poor and poor people go to get rich.
Alana Muller 13:26
You know, that's good. I like that. I think that's a good adage, a great way to think about it. Nadir, as I close out my podcast, there's always a couple of fun questions that I like to ask my guests. So if you'll indulge me, my favorite one is this, it's: if you could meet with one person, anybody living, not living, fictional and nonfictional? Who would it be? And why?
Nadir Djavaherian 13:45
Oh, boy. Oh, gosh, that's a good question. Let me think about that. I've actually thought about that question. When you're sitting around, it would be fun to take the Wright brothers on a Learjet and you know, and talk to them about it or to take Henry Ford in a brand new, you know, high-tech Ford vehicle, or to take Benjamin Franklin for a ride in a Tesla, you know, those kinds of imaginary engagements always, you know, you could write a book about that, right?
Alana Muller 14:12
Gosh, that would be a fun book. I would read that book. That's a good one. Really fun. Yes. I love that. I got to ask you, what's your favorite car, are you allowed to say?
Nadir Djavaherian 14:21
You know what, I usually drive a Ford. I have a Ford Mustang that I drive a lot. Right now. I'm driving a Hyundai Santa Cruz, which is a little sport utility thing. And it's a lot of fun, but I'm pretty simple. When it comes to stuff like that. I'll play around with an exotic toy every now and then, but generally, those Fords and Hyundais.
Alana Muller 14:41
Nice, really nice. And what's currently on your nightstand? Reading anything? Listening to anything?
Nadir Djavaherian 14:47
On my nightstand are all the books I hope to read one day.
Alana Muller 14:51
You know, I've heard this before. I've heard this before about the piles and piles of books that get loaded up and no time to actually indulge.
Nadir Djavaherian 15:00
I'm beginning to think I'm a book collector and not a book reader.
Alana Muller 15:02
People talk about books, bourbon, cars. I get a lot of that from different people. So I appreciate that. Well, I have loved getting to know you. This has been super fun. I'm grateful to you for joining us on Enterprise.ing podcast. Nadir, if people want to go somewhere to learn more about you and so learn more about you and Auto Plaza group, where should they go?
Nadir Djavaherian 15:22
We have two websites. There's nothing about me on there, but maybe you gave me a new goal to set up. But our two websites are Clementautogroup.com and Pettusautogroup.com. So I've got these two young partners, and both of my car dealership platforms are under their last names for obvious reasons.
Alana Muller 15:46
Fabulous, Nadir Djavaherian. Wonderful to have you on Enterprise.ing podcast. So nice to be with you.
Nadir Djavaherian 15:53
Thank you so much.
Alana Muller 15:56
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