Sitting at the helm of Harper Auto Square, Shannon leads a busy life doing what he has come to love. This self-described eternal optimist and servant leader tackles each day immersed in supporting the people around him in their various roles and carrying on the legacy of those who came before him.
It’s an interesting thing being born into a family business. But it’s not always exactly what you think. Just ask Shannon Harper. “You’d think my first word was car and maybe my dad stood by my crib saying the word over and over,” he jokes. “But it’s just something that was always part of our daily life. It was a topic of conversation always.”
Shannon officially joined the team at Harper Auto Square, the family business, when he was just 13, doing filing, something he admittedly wasn’t a fan of. “I was much more suited for the wash bay, more physical activity rather than sitting in a glass box doing filing,” he says. He eventually was moved there. It was in the wash bay where he really began to learn the trade and “drive nice cars in and around the lot.”
Over the years, Shannon transitioned through many different roles with the company, always growing in his work and responsibilities, but there was a moment in 2009 when he seemed to move into the next chapter of his career. “My dad’s former partner, Dale Underwood, passed away.” Prior to Dale’s passing, Shannon and his father, Tom, the company’s owner, spent a lot of time visiting Dale in the hospital having frank conversations on the subject of what was next. “He laid out a lot to me about how important Dale was to him and how he needed me to kind of step up into those roles,” Shannon recalls. “I think that was the first opportunity of really going from doing to leading.”
You can see how much that moment means to Shannon. His eyes tell the story of having a great mentor and friend in his father. Tom passed away in May of last year, one of the biggest challenges Shannon has faced to date.
Shannon learned the trade from the best there was out there. He also learned what it meant to be a leader. “Those guys lived and breathed humility, and they cared, genuinely cared, very much,” he says. “They would do anything for their employees and for the customers.” Shannon calls it “servant leadership,” a different way of looking at the role of a leader, someone whose job it is to support those around them. He is committed deeply to that role. “We’re not at the top; we’re at the bottom,” he says. “Our job is to support those who are actually doing all the work.” And accounting skills are helpful too, he adds.
Shannon’s the type of guy who gives out his cell number to every customer he meets. I gather from speaking with him that he’s also the type of guy who is constantly looking to create a culture people want to be a part of. That’s been helpful, especially over the last decade or more as the automotive industry has dealt with a heavy transition in how customers approach car buying.
“The transparency of the internet worked out extremely well for us. It brought to life information that we were never aware of and allowed, through online reviews, to show that hey, you don’t have to take my word for it; here are 10,000 people who said it’s a great experience.” And as the market transitions to focus on more efficient models, Shannon looks forward to bringing more of those models to the dealerships.
A self-proclaimed “car nut,” Shannon loves his job. It’s hard not to feel that. “That makes what I do very, very easy,” he says. “Because I get to come to work every day and talk about something I love.” So it might be easy to forget that this 36-year-old is managing 13 franchises, a collision center, and a car wash. It’s a constant exercise in creatively improving himself—and empowering his team.
But whatever he’s doing is working. “Every single one of our general managers has started at the bottom and worked their way up,” he says. “My responsibility is to create an environment where our future leaders grow in their skill sets and learn.” That includes giving them the space to make family a priority. For Shannon, that’s his wife, Emily, and his two young daughters.
Shannon seems to really understand work-life balance, something I dare say we could all take note of. Aside from his family, he also finds space to disconnect from devices and bike.
So if he’s not at one of the dealerships—hard to believe that being possible given how much he shoulders—you can find him in that realm. “There’s something about it that I think allows you to think clearer and kind of de-stress,” he says. “I would be a stressful mess if I didn’t have the ability to go out there and go on a long bike ride.”