Car Salesman to Social Entrepreneur
|© Photograph by Alex Harris|
I was on the USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War. In the Philippines, I saw poverty like I had never seen before. I came to understand what poverty meant, and it just left an indelible brand.
(After many years in the computer and financial services industries) I moved back to Hanover and started work in the car business. I sold cars for five years. It’s a brutal business. I was disillusioned very early by the way I saw some people being treated. Poor people really don’t get a fair shake when they come in to a dealership.
I watched this guy driving off in a car that was going to die within a year—and he signed a loan for five years. How can you do this to people? I quit within a week. That was the impetus for starting Bonnie CLAC, the nonprofit we created to provide low-interest loans and fuel efficient cars to the rural poor living in New Hampshire.
My friend Leo and I ride bikes together in the morning, and we started talking about how we could set up a business that would help poor people buy cars. I came up with an idea about guaranteeing the loans. Focusing on new, fuel-efficient cars was where we wanted to go. A low-income individual is often in a job where he doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t show up for work. When his car fails, he has expenses for repairs, he doesn’t get paid, and he’s getting a bad reputation for not showing up at work. Where’s the fairness in that?
We knew if we could get that person a reasonable interest rate, it would have a tremendous payoff. But we wondered, how do we get banks to agree to do this?
Read Robert's full story in Encore »