Mike Rase: Building Relationships, Our Key to Success
By Rachele Smith
The year was 1995. It was a time when “Still in Love” by East to West topped the Christian music charts, the World Wide Web was taking flight, and kids, both young and old, were flocking to theaters to see Walt Disney Picture’s Toy Story surge in popularity “to infinity and beyond.”
But closer to home, Mike Rase, the vice president and general manager of Paretti Jaguar Baton Rouge, was just starting out in the car industry, and he was about to experience something that still influences both his personal and professional life today.
Rase’s story begins with a man driving a Harley Davidson motorcycle onto the lot of a Jag dealership. According to Rase, the man had a dog on his back, sported a long ponytail, and was wearing a T-shirt that said “Satan Sucks.” As the first new sales person at this car dealership in 18 years, Rase was selected to help him.
“Being young and not one to be a typical car guy, I wanted to treat him like you are supposed to treat a fellow human being, so I waited on him,” said Rase. “He asked some questions and then left. I thought it was all over, but then he came back a few hours later, and said, ‘I want you to know I’ve been to a lot of different car dealerships and nobody would wait on me. You were the only person that greeted me today.’” The man returned later and purchased a car.
Through the years, that same customer has continued to return and has purchased additional cars. “He just doesn’t want to deal with anyone else in the car business,” Rase said. “He is an extremely religious man and does a lot of mission work. He takes in people who have had drug addictions and gives them jobs fixing motorcycles and gets them up and running and back out into society. He’s a gentleman, and I consider him a friend.”
For Rase, the lesson learned that day was instilled in him through his Christian faith: human dignity. And by doing what he knew was right and just, a lifelong connection was made. The experience also helped Rase realize his basic business intuition was correct.
“Certainly, there is a stigma with people (working) in the car business,” Rase said. “When I came into it, I wanted to be different. I didn’t want people to see me as that typical car guy. Every day, since the day I started, I’ve tried to not let anybody see me in that light.”
Rase has extended that business idea to his employees at Paretti Jaguar of Baton Rouge. “That means being up front and honest and making friends with the folks, understanding their families. We have a lot of repeat business, and I think that’s because we take care of customers at the end of the day,” he said.
Building relationships is key, according to Rase, who was named general manager of Paretti Jaguar when the Paretti family of dealerships in Metairie expanded to Baton Rouge in 1997.
“My father-in-law said, ‘We gotta do this (move to Baton Rouge); go make this happen.’ I was a baby in the business. In hindsight, I can’t believe he (my father-in-law) went out on a limb and really fought for me to be able to become the general manager here,” he said.
Back then, the local dealership had only six employees, including Rase. Today, 36 employees are needed to run the company, which also includes a state-of-the-art Jaguar Land Rover facility. And in February, the Baton Rouge team earned the coveted 2018 Land Rover Pinnacle Award for outstanding overall business performance, one of just 16 dealerships across the country to do so.
“It’s an all-encompassing award,” said Rase. “It’s not just about how many cars you sell. (That’s) great because it’s not an award for me. It’s an award for everybody here, for 36 people who all equally won that award, and that’s pretty nice.”
Rase lives in Covington and has commuted to the capital city for 20 years. He admits he is a “people person” and said he enjoys the personal interaction with his customers. “It’s fun for me to hear what’s going on with their families, and I’ve seen the kids grow up and now we’re selling the children cars, and then it’ll be the grandchildren. We grow with them as time progresses,” he said.
In today’s world of cell phones and emails, it can be hard to maintain that personal connection, but Rase believes there is power in that one-on-one relationship with people.
“It’s really (about) that connection. Did I make your day or not? Can I surprise and delight you somehow today? (Anything) to be different than that phone going off,” he said.
As the father of four children, Rase knows it can be tough finding the right balance between work and family. But he credits his wife with helping him keep it together. “I will say without Stacy, none of this is possible. Having that lengthy commute, I’ve missed an awful lot not being at home. My wife has made it all happen on the home front,” he said, noting his four children, all raised in the Catholic communities around St. Anselm Catholic Church in Madisonville and St. Peter Catholic Church in Covington, have all been successful students in and out of the classroom.
“Mom takes care of business. She’s the enforcer of a lot of things,” he noted, but when things go really bad, he said, Dad gets a call. “I enjoy being ready and able to go out and tackle whatever that problem is.”
As his children get older and head off to college and beyond, Rase is realizing he and his wife are very close to that next stage in life. “We’re about to be empty nesters in two years,” he said. ”We’re probably five years before having grandkids, and the best years of our lives are in front of us. I certainly do look forward to it.”