Full speed ahead: Alumnus trades boardroom for car lot
All Dave Magers ever wanted to be was a car salesman. He loved classic and exotic cars and didn’t really care if he sold any. He just wanted to be around them. Life steered him in another direction, but his passion never faded.
Magers ’77, MBA ’86, is a car guy from birth. His dad loved cars, and his grandfather and uncles were mechanics. Growing up, his family had a one-car garage, but they always had at least four vehicles.
He and his dad restored their first car together—a 1927 Chevrolet—when Magers was 14. At about that same time he bought his first car, an Austin Healey Sprite.
“I didn’t have a driver’s license, so I wasn’t supposed to take it out of the garage,” Magers recalled. “One day my friend and I decided to take it for a spin when my parents weren’t home. I tore the driver’s door off backing it out of the garage.”
The consequences didn’t lessen his love for the automobile, which endured into adulthood and marriage. Over their 33 years of married life, he’s often reminded his wife Karen (Roop) ’79, of his original ambition.
Now 61 and having completed a fabulous career at COUNTRY Financial—where he spent more than three decades with the Farm Bureau family of companies—Magers has finally arrived in the car business.
The transition was made possible by Dana Mecum, president of Mecum Auction Company. Mecum’s specialty is selling collector cars. The company is described as follows online (Mecum.com): “The Mecum Auction Company is the world leader of collector car, vintage and antique motorcycle, and Road Art sales, hosting auctions throughout the United States.”
Magers and Mecum met through David Burrows in 2008. Burrows had been vice president of marketing at COUNTRY before leaving to run the Bloomington Corvette Show, which Mecum purchased.
Burrows asked Magers if he would be available to meet Mecum and provide some advice. That was August of 2012. Magers soon had an offer to work with Mecum handling legal and financial issues. The opportunity was enough for him to leave his role as chief financial officer at COUNTRY in his rearview mirror.
“On January 1, 2013, I retired from COUNTRY after 35 years,” Magers said. It was time, at last, to go sell cars.
Magers’ long-suppressed automotive ambition didn’t include peddling just any car. Ferrari was the nameplate he’d always wanted to sell. He’s doing exactly that, along with just about any other brand on wheels you can think of, as he travels the country helping Mecum put on high-energy auctions.
Magers hangs out in places like Austin, Las Vegas, Denver, the Monterey Peninsula, Anaheim, Louisville, Dallas, Chicago, and Kansas City, to name some stops on the company’s annual tour of two dozen cities.
Mecum does things in a big way. The company annually takes more than 15,000 vehicles to market. That’s a value in the range of about $500 million per year. Mecum’s biggest event is a 10-day auction in Kissimmee, Florida, with some 3,000 collector cars up for sale at an estimated value of $100 million. It is the largest collector car auction in the world, Magers said, drawing even individuals unable to make a purchase.
“No matter what your pocketbook looks like, or if you’re just coming as a spectator, there’s something for you at a Mecum Auction,” he said.
The real joy for Magers is in the emotional connection that people have to certain vehicles. There’s no question that when cars sell for $5 million to $7 million it’s a lot of fun, Magers said, but there’s no beating the excitement of certain special moments. It’s something he sees regularly in his work.
“I really like the stories where there is a lot of emotion and sentimentality attached to either the sale or the purchase of a vehicle,” he said.
Last year in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a man told Magers and Mecum he was there for the very same car he’d known in his childhood.
“I’m here to buy a ’56 Buick in your showroom,” the man said. “I remember when I was a kid, we loaded up and took a drive to get milkshakes, and I spilled mine and stained the back seat. I’m here to buy that car, stain and all, and I’m going to give it to my dad for Father’s Day.”
Magers told the camera crew during a production meeting to be prepared. When the time came, Magers said, the man placed bids on the car unemotionally until the hammer fell, indicating he had the winning bid and had purchased the car.
“He fell apart, head in his hands,” Magers said. “It was the best moment we’ve had.”
Magers considers himself lucky to be doing work he’s dreamed of for three decades.
“I truly enjoy what I am doing. I have to remind friends that it is still a business, with all the challenges of any business,” he said. He is grateful this encore career allows him as “a car guy for my life, and coming from a family of car guys, a great opportunity to converge professional training and ability with personal interest.”
Job satisfaction comes from the diverse nature of projects that range from auctions and finance to legal, regulations and sales.
“Being away from the mega corporate environment allows me to get involved in all aspects of the business, move quickly without numerous committees and meetings, and get timely feedback on what works and what doesn’t,” Magers said.
He travels regularly to New York City, where he’s immersed in the minutiae of negotiating network contracts. NBC’s sports network is where you can catch Mecum Auctions on TV, usually multiple times per week.
“I’ll be sitting in 30 Rock (NBC headquarters) just outside the SNL studio in a meeting with NBC executives and ask myself: ‘How did I end up here?’”
Television is particularly interesting for Magers, who “never thought about overnight ratings before.” It’s also fun to occasionally work with celebrities. The Mecum group has done business with Jerry Lee Lewis, Richard Petty, David Spade and Josh Flagg from TV’s Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles.
“What I like about the celebrity side of the business is when we get together, they aren’t celebrities,” Magers said. “We are all just car guys.”
Weekdays he lives in a Chicago condo and makes 80-mile daily trips to the Mecum offices in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Weekends are spent in Bloomington with Karen, who is director of the Bloomington Eye Institute.
His local roots are strong. His mother, Irma, was a florist at Novak Flowers. His father, Jack, worked for the phone company. One of the main reasons Magers pursued a job at COUNTRY was that it is based in his hometown, which he did not want to leave. He grew up in a neighborhood separated from the company’s headquarters by a cornfield.
An accounting undergraduate, he was inducted into ISU’s College of Business Hall of Fame in 2010. He and Karen received the Distinguished Alumni Award this year. They remain very connected to Illinois State, attending events throughout the year and supporting the University. There are two scholarships in their names. The Karen and David Magers Scholarship Fund, established by Karen who graduated from the Mennonite School of Nursing, supports undergraduate nursing students. Their second scholarship, the David and Karen Magers Insurance Scholarship Fund, was established at the Katie School of Insurance and Financial Services. This College of Business scholarship provides financial support for junior and senior students majoring or minoring in insurance. Both funds were established in 2009.
“ISU will always be important to Karen and me,” Magers said. “We still have a great many friends at ISU and friendships all over the country that started at ISU. It still feels like home every time we are there.”
Redbird Prime: New experiences for alumni 55+
Alumni Relations staff members have taken notice in recent years that the University’s “prime” graduates have adopted a very active lifestyle. What was once viewed as a time in life to empty the calendar with children raised, grandchildren to enjoy, and retirement plans either made or executed has instead become a season with a heavy schedule.
Individuals from age 55 on now travel and volunteer more often, are actively engaged in community initiatives, and often even start a second career, as did Dave Magers. Alumni Relations staff asked how Illinois State could engage with this group’s busy lifestyle. The answer resulted in the start of an alumni group dedicated to those 55 years or older, which led to the creation of the Redbird Prime Alumni Network.
From social and professional events to educational opportunities and outings, Redbird Prime helps expand an alum’s network of contacts and continue his or her Illinois State University experience. The network will offer several services tailored to the interest of Redbird Prime alumni, from travel programs and campus events to giving opportunities that support each person’s passion.
One event sponsored by the Redbird Prime Alumni Network is the Half Century Club reunion weekend this spring. Attendees will celebrate their 50th anniversary of graduation by reminiscing about their time on campus and witnessing the progress the University has made within the past five decades.
To learn more about the Redbird Prime Alumni Network, visit Alumni.IllinoisState.edu/Prime. To get involved in the planning of programs and activities for the network, contact Colleen Rice at cglongo@IllinoisState.edu or (800) 366-4478.