Along with a number of commercial properties, Jerry — with his son-in-law, owns the Ford/Lincoln and Hyundai dealerships in Puyallup. Jerry is a Christian businessman and community leader. The values and goals he has set for his company are very evident in his dealership. Not only what is written on the walls and on paper, but a culture and atmosphere that reflects those values in many ways.
In meeting Jerry for the first time in this interview, I was impressed with his humility, wisdom, and endurance. Jerry has had his ups and downs in his career and life (His wife Germane has been fighting lung cancer for over 30 months). He turned his life over to God in 1986 and relies on his faith as he has taken on challenges.
Tom: Where were brought you brought up?
Jerry: My Dad moved here from Montana and was in the car business. I attended a Catholic elementary school and High Line High School.
Tom: When did you meet your wife Germane?
Jerry: “In grade school. She has been my only love of my life.”
Tom: How many years have you been married? Any children or grandchildren?
Jerry: “46 years. We have two daughters and six grandchildren?”
Tom: How did you end up in the car business?
Jerry: “I started selling cars for my Dad and found out I was pretty good at it. When I was in my mid-twenties I bought into a Dodge dealership. It competed with my Dad so he wasn’t all that happy about it.”
Tom: Has managing employees changed much since those days?
Jerry: “We have 154 employees and yes, a lot has changed. Loyalty — or lack of it — has been a big factor. Many young people today are looking to next job or company that will serve them best. I am sure at IBM in your day Tom, many people would work for the company for life. It is really all about a lack of sufficient training.”
Tom: When in your life did you find Christ?
Jerry: “A mentor pastor shared the gospel with me in 1986. It was a time in my life that I was lost and struggling.”
Tom: How did things change in your life as a result?
Jerry: “I found a quiet place of sanctuary and peacefulness down by the [Puyallup] river where I would spend hours at a time asking for God for direction in my life. As a result of praying and meditating after 4 days, I was given direction through 5 words:
Faith has been an on-going process. My health had to be addressed. I had a bleeding ulcer at the time. Alcohol was an issue so I checked myself into the Betty Ford Center and the rest was history. I made family a priority over my business. I began a journey to get involved more with my community. I joined Life Center Church where I am still a member today.”
Tom: Can you tell me how you activate your values and the positive culture at your company?
Jerry: [Jerry gets up and brings back a small placard he had created, outlining the mission, vision and values of the Korum companies.] Jerry pointed out some highlights that centered on integrity, honesty and customer and team commitments. He also showed me the A to Z of Success in Life, which he also created, that lists 26 key factors and values to be successful (a copy of this will be provided at the Roundtable). Excerpts: “A stands for Attitude which is key to relationships, happiness and emotional health;” “Z is for Zest which is the passion that energizes our purpose.”
“Steve Gandara, of the company Excellent Cultures” Jerry explained, “helped me with our culture. He introduced me to the term ‘MOLO,’ which stands for More Of and Less Of. What should our team be doing more of and less of, in order to succeed? Unfortunately, I told my wife about this and she gave me her list of what I should be doing more of and less of.”
Tom: One of your visions from the river had to do with your involvement in the community? Can you expand on your community involvement?
Jerry: “We formed the Korum for Kids Foundation. We donate to a number of charities who support children. I myself was dyslexic as a child and one of my children had some learning disabilities, so I am focused on some of those issues. We have a strong commitment to our local YMCA. The name of our local YMCA – one of the most impressive in the country — is the Mel Korum Family YMCA, named after my father.”
Tom: Jerry, is there a particular scripture that has had a great effect on your life?
Jerry: “I strongly believe in the Matthew 7:7 Principle – Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. If you don’t ask (whether it’s for a sale or a woman’s hand in marriage) you’ll never get it!”
Tom: Jerry, you are 72 years old. What are your plans for the future?
Jerry: “My son-in-law is transitioning into full ownership of the business. He is one of the most well-educated, astute business people I have known. Over the past several years of transition, I have had to learn to allow him to apply his style of doing business. It has actually gone pretty smoothly. I hired attorneys and accountants that were advising me how to make transitions, but what made our transition work came from the heart, not from my advisors. I come from the old school of hands-on management; John is a professional executive who counts on gathering the right people around and giving them the freedom and tools to do the job. It has been marvelous to watch him at work.”
Tom: If you had one word to describe the focus of your daily life, what word would that be?
Jerry: “Invitation. Being open to new people, whether you invite them or they invite you. You can learn so much from new relationships. For example, I was invited to an event where I had the opportunity to meet one of the top generals of our country. He came from a family of distinguished military careers. He was considering a military career when he asked his father’s advice about being successful in the military. His dad’s advice was be ‘FEISTY’: F stands for Focus, E for Energy, I for Integrity, S for Solving problems, T for Take the blame and Y for Yes. That kind of interaction with people enriches and blesses me.”
Based on this extraordinary conversation, I would have to call Jerry Korum “feisty.”