By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition November 2012
We listened intently as Robert C. “Bob” Vackar, the CEO of the Bert Ogden Auto Group told us his story. Bob was born in Gonzalez, Texas in December of 1943 to Mittank and Charlotte Vackar. His father who worked for a lumberyard in Gonzalez was later asked to transfer to the Rio Grande Valley. His father was to manage the John F. Grant lumberyard in Edinburg, which he later owned. Bob had only one sister, Susan, who passed away he told Texas Border Business.
Bob graduated from Edinburg High School and then attended Texas A & M University as a Corp Cadet, graduating with a degree in Accounting. After graduation, he went to work for Shell Oil Corporation and simultaneously attended South Texas College of Law in Houston for two years. Bob was then drafted into the U.S. Army for three years, one of which he was stationed in Vietnam. He returned to Shell Oil Company as a financial analyst for 12 years.
How Bob met Janet
When Bob tells you the story of how he met Janet, you immediately think of a love story out of a movie. While living in Houston as he was walking through his apartment complex’ parking lot, he saw a bumper sticker that read ‘Bert Ogden Rio Grande Valley.’ Even though he didn’t know the business name, he was very familiar with the Rio Grande Valley.
Moved by curiosity, he began looking for the owner of the car, only to discover that it belonged to Janet Ogden. When he saw her, he couldn’t resist meeting and talking with her; all too soon, Bob and Janet had fallen in love. They were married in 1978 and moved to the Valley in 1982 after their daughter Kristen was born.
Starting from there, the couple began a new chapter that evolved the Bert Ogden Auto Group into a conglomerate that employs hundreds of people. This opened another chapter of altruistic actions that benefit the Valley as well.
Bob returned to his hometown of Edinburg to work with Bert, his father-in-law at the original Bert Ogden Motors dealership. At the time, Bert had only one dealership and it was located in Edinburg. “Bert and I reached an agreement to work together. He wanted to semi retire and we agreed to grow more dealerships.” Consequently, Bob came aboard to a management and accounting position.
Bob pointed out that Mittank his own father had cancer, which gave him a strong reason to relocate to the Valley. Upon reflection he said, “Janet and I both grew up here and we wanted to be closer to Bert and Dorothy and also for our daughter to know her grandparents.”
Everything began to fall into place and at Bert’s insistence, Janet got involved in doing the television commercials. “At that time, Bert and TV personality Johnny Canales had worked together on doing TV spots for the dealerships always ending the commercials with the tag words “Dale Gas!”
Bob said that when Janet’s parents passed away, she wanted to do something to honor them. She picked up the tag words “Dale Gas!” and that is why they still use that ending for today’s Bert Ogden commercials.
On June 6, 2012, during the VOLVO ribbon cutting and grand opening, Janet, also known as Ms. ‘Dale Gas’ addressed the group. “Yes I would like to speak, I just want to say that this is really a special occasion because this is where it all started, on Dad’s first piece of property, he built it here in 1973,” she said trying to hold back the tears. Her voice was full of emotion as the memory of her father and the founder of the first Bert Ogden dealership remains strong.
It is impossible to talk about the current Bert Ogden Auto Group without remembering the late Bert Ogden. He had connected very well with the predominantly Hispanic community. Bert had left an important legacy; he sowed trust, helped others without hesitation, and conducted business in good faith.
These were trying times for everyone and Bob said; “One of the first challenges that I faced was when Bert and Dorothy were both killed in an automobile accident, and for that reason I was asked by the franchise lines to reapply as dealer principle. Once all of that was cleared up we were able to move forward with our lives.”
Today, they have grown from one store to 14 auto dealerships and by the end of 2012 they expect to have 15. As in every business, things sometimes turn out differently than planned. Bob said that their company experienced a significant drop in car sales in 2009, “It was close to a 50% drop.”
Things have changed and through strategic sales planning, careful financial management, great service to the customer, and the variety of brands, they have since reported steady growth. “We sold less than 10,000 new and used vehicles in 2009, and our recovery back to a normal range took a full year until we saw sales go back into the 12,000 range. Today we are looking at a projected number closer to 15,000 in total sales of new and used. It is a great sign of recovery and growth for our Valley. In my opinion it will continue to hold steady through at least 2015.”
Like any one in business it is important to be inspired, in Bob’s case inspiration comes from those who work around him. What has become unique with the Bert Ogden Auto Group is the implementation of a strong employment program with the University of Texas Pan American (UTPA) to hire Valley students and graduates.
“We are happy to say that currently we have 26 UTPA alumni onboard,” Bob said. One of the implementations of their corporate philosophy is to hire from within the Valley. “We have over 700 employees and are happy to say most are homegrown all the way up to our dealership General Managers, and we feel a responsibility to their 2,400 to 2,600 dependents,” He also credits the Bert Ogden success to their loyal customers and the community. Bob is grateful to have come this far in his life and to have honored the family name.
He also credits Janet for this success; however Janet feels differently. She says that Bob is the one creating the businesses and opportunities and the success is his and of the staff.
Whether they know it or not, whether they planned it or it just happened, they are a major driving force in the communities where they serve and for that reason they are among the largest taxpayers in those areas.
On September 26, 2012, Bob was the keynote speaker at the College of Business Administration’s 2012 Accounting Symposium held at The University of Texas-Pan American. A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 150 students heard lots of sound career advice during the symposium, titled ‘Beyond the Numbers: Accountants as Leaders.’
Bob recently became a member of the College of Business Administration’s Advisory Council. “I believe the strength of a school of business is accounting. If you have an accounting degree you have the ability to read and understand the financials.”
He has hired 26 UTPA graduates at Bert Ogden and his goal is to be at 50 by the end of the summer of 2013. Besides a strong work ethic, potential employees also need to have people skills and be confident self-starters. Hard work is a primary key to success according to Bob. “When I was working through my career I never asked anyone what the hours were going to be and I never asked what I was going to make.”
With so many years in business, Bob has seen it all, from the Mexican peso devaluations to the market crash in 2008. He says that the car industry is in a healthy recovery from the decline of 2009’s recession.
“When Bert opened his first General Motors store at the corner of Business 281 and Trenton Road in Edinburg, he was selling approximately 200 new and used vehicles, consisting of GMC, Buick and Pontiac, later adding the Valley’s first Mazda line. Fast forward to today’s economy we are hopeful to end 2012 with a strong close; it is shaping up to be a good year for all of us,” he said optimistically.
What he has accomplished is more than anyone has been able to do in South Texas in the car dealership industry; his Bert Ogden Auto group is now one of the leading auto groups in the U. S. . He said that his immediate growth plans are at their limit currently, but the Harlingen Auto Complex is in the works.
“We are expanding the corner of Altas Palmas Drive on the Expressway to include JEEP, CHRYSLER, DODGE and RAM right next door to the newly opened HYUNDAI dealership. In the near future, our KIA store will relocate from downtown Harlingen to this same Auto Complex,” said Bob.
He said that for the long-term growth of the company he would continue to apply the same disciplined manner pointing out that there are still multiple opportunities in the market, which will be considered and evaluated individually. As he likes to say, “If it is good for the Valley then it gets greater consideration.”
What Janet says about Bob
Janet says that Bob is sensitive to the needs of his employees. “He feels that each person has a value and takes the time to get to know people and make them feel special. This is something he puts into practice daily in his work with the dealership group. He not only makes that difference in many lives, he has helped each of us feel empowered to go and do something good as well,” she said.
Janet went on to say that Bob inspires some young kids that have worked in the dealerships while in high school and then gone off to college to come back as departmental managers. “There still today remain many who worked for Bert and Dorothy, with over 30 years of service to this company. We are fortunate to have each and every one,” she said.
However, nothing could be more important to Bob and Janet who dedicate so much time to business and to humanitarian work than their family. Bob said, “Janet and I have one daughter, Kristin, who is married to Will McCullough III. Will is a Rice University graduate and works as our Corporate Operations Manager. They have our first grandbaby, a boy whom we affectionately call ‘Walnut’.”
Bob and Janet are very active in Valley organizations, such as The Easter Seals, ‘Hope on Wheels’ for the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Cancer Center, The Valley Boys and Girls Clubs, and The Palm Valley Animal Center just to name a few. Bob added emphatically, “I am proud to support our Valley Veterans and current military personnel and do what I can to help them.”
Even though time is tight in his schedule he leaves time to also do what he likes. “When I can afford the time, I enjoy hunting white-tailed deer and exotic animals.”
Janet focuses on Family First, and the projects that are most dear to her are anything to do with children and their self-esteem, next would be saving our Valley pets. Janet expressed, “Nothing makes me happier than to see dogs and cats of any kind get adopted out to a happy home!”
We at Texas Border Business are proud to bring you the story of Robert C. “Bob” Vackar a creator of businesses and opportunities. He has applied the golden rule in his life by giving back to the community, consequently creating a legacy of his own. TBB
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient.