Against all odds, automotive dealer and veteran Mike Shaw never quit
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Ever since the early 1970’s, South Texans have gotten pretty familiar with his face; many have even purchased vehicles from him.
But when I got the chance to sit down with automotive magnate Mike Shaw, I learned more about the person behind all of those televised car deals.
Shaw’s life is filled with breathtaking ups and downs that would easily crush a mere mortal.
“I never quit,” said a serious Shaw during a recent three-hour interview with me at his family home in College Station; a few blocks away from his beloved Texas A&M University.
Shaw is patriotic, down to Earth, and definitely no-nonsense.
“There’s only one answer: no excuse, sir,” said Shaw, sternly.
In all his 75 years, he never made excuses and never gave up when, time after time, he could have easily done so.
Just take the time in the 1960’s, when a recently married Shaw, a distinguished military graduate, delayed his entry into Vietnam by studying for and earning his MBA from A&M.
He also was expecting his first child with his wife, Nancy.
“My wife got pregnant and, at that time, if you — if they were pregnant, they wouldn’t send you to Vietnam,” recalled Shaw. “It was kind of an unwritten law.”
Then the bottom dropped out.
“‘She (Nancy) lost the child at seven months, and 30 days later, I had orders to go to Vietnam,” Shaw said. “It was kind of a bam, bam — really tough time for us.”
It didn’t get better. Shaw remembers his sendoff on the West Coast by some of his fellow Americans.
“When I left the country and I exited in Washington state, they were throwing tomatoes at us,” Shaw said.
When he arrived on the battlefield, his war experience was jarring.
“The worst day of my life,” remembered Shaw. “For those who have ever gone into a war zone, it’s the unknown — you have no idea. The whole time you’re there you’re saying God just let me get this done and get home.”
A year after returning home, Shaw faced a new challenge on the homefront, trying to get a job in the car business.
It would take a fellow A&M alum and All-American Tommy Vaughn to offer him a car sales manager position in Houston.
Shaw’s successful reputation there got the attention of a member of the H-E-B grocery family, who owned car dealerships in Corpus Christi.
Shaw wanted his own business, but he didn’t have the money. So he figured out a plan.
“We (Shaw and the H-E-B owners) spent the weekend with them in Rockport,” he said. “Next thing you know, October ’73, we were in Corpus and they gave me sweat equity of 4 percent a year if I stayed five years. So I said ‘Yes.” The rest is history. I was there over from ’73 to ’88.”
Shaw would build an automotive empire of car dealerships, but, eventually, it all crashed down around him during the 1980s oil bust.
Shaw lost it all. He was broke.
He took on a general-manager job at another car dealership. His pay was eventually cut.
His wife, Nancy, would work overnight shifts as a nurse just to help the family of three make ends meet.
“I didn’t take a day off for five years,” Shaw said, with determination in his voice. “You know, I just sucked it up. Nancy sucked it up. We did what we had to do.”
At 43 years old, Shaw was starting over.
“It was tough on the kids, tough on the whole family, and we were there (at the dealership) for five years, and then I started over at 48 in Denver.
A tenacious Shaw never gave up. He came up with a plan to use the equity of his Texas home to purchase a new Denver Subaru car dealership.
And once again, Shaw would build back his automotive empire. It even included two shops in Corpus Christi; the same city where he originally lost everything.
“It was hard to leave Corpus Christi,” said Shaw. “You have friends — friends that you have when you did you start making when you’re 25, and up you go through all the stuff you go through with your kids. That’s home. Corpus was really home for us. “
Shaw ended up rising to the top again. He was even named Time Magazine North America Dealer of the Year. His comeback was seemingly complete.
But then, something else was looming that could have taken Shaw down for good — Cancer. Twice; bladder and prostate.
“It’ll get your attention, and you hear the “C” word,” Shaw said. “The next thing you hear “C,” you hear death. You know, it scares the living hell out of you.”
Against the odds one more time, Shaw refused to accept defeat.
“I’ve been cancer-free ever since,” said Shaw.
Faith, family, and core values that he learned as an Aggies cadet and Vietnam veteran helped him survive and thrive.
In the “last” chapter of his life, Shaw feels so blessed to have overcome the odds. Now, the philanthropist vows to continue to give back in big ways — to his community and veterans groups.
That includes generous donations to Driscoll Children’s Hospital and MD Anderson (where he received his cancer treatment), 4-H and the Nueces County Livestock program, and more to veterans events and programs.
His latest gift is to our KRIS 6 Flag for a Flag campaign.
Shaw brought last year’s Field of Honor event to Corpus Christi; a patriotic dedication to fallen military members.
For five years running, Shaw’s Turkeys for Troops program has fed hundreds of our veterans and their families in need.
More Veterans In Focus stories are available here, along with resources for local veterans.
Contact Veterans In Focus reporters: Greg Chandler at [email protected] and Pat Simon at [email protected]