Chesrown Speaks to Gonzaga U. Leadership
Students about Life, Leadership and Spokane
SPOKANE, Wash. – Marshall Chesrown, the commercial real estate developer who created Black Rock Development in nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, told Gonzaga University Comprehensive Leadership Program (CLP) students Wednesday, Oct. 4, about his leadership style and experiences in three decades as a business leader.
Tom Reese, project manager for the Kendall Yards site being developed by Black Rock Development and Marshall Chesrown, provides Gonzaga Comprehensive Leadership students with details about the project.
Before the discussion, however, 80 or so of us students toured Kendall Yards, Chesrown’s 77-acre proposed residential development along the north shore of the Spokane River in downtown Spokane. There, we gained a much better understanding for the developer’s vision.
This was indeed more of a unique opportunity than we realized. Our group of students, we were told, comprised the first official group to conduct a meeting on the Kendall Yards site. The occasion prompted a flood of questions from students who began to visualize the enormous impact the project will have on Spokane. The plans call for residences, dining, shopping and public spaces.
Back on campus, in the Foley Teleconference Center, our discussion with Marshall Chesrown was moderated by Josh Armstrong, Ph.D., director of the CLP, and ended with a question-and-answer period during which the students asked Chesrown their own questions about his views on life, leadership and business.
Starting with his upbringing, Chesrown told the students the story of his life – beginning with his exodus from Spokane Valley by motorcycle on May 8, 1976, the day of his high school graduation, with $100 in his pockets. He had planned to attend Arizona State University on a music scholarship, but after two and a half months working for a family member in California, selling cars, he had earned $19,000 and found a niche.
Chesrown laughed with the students as he told of his mother’s reaction to his decision to skip college. It turns out that his mother, an elementary school teacher, stopped speaking to him for a time – until Christmas, when he bought her a brand new Chevrolet.
“Things have been a lot better ever since,” Chesrown said.
When asked what was responsible for his success at such a young age — Chesrown owned his first car dealership before he was old enough to drink legally — he credited a strong work ethic and the influence of strong role models: namely his mother and his high school band director Mel Clayton.
Chesrown believes that his work ethic, acquired as a youth in the Inland Northwest, allowed him to work harder than many young Californians whom, he said, seemed to put more energy into having a good time than selling cars.
“I outworked them,” he said.
With respect to leadership, Chesrown said he views himself as a “decision-maker” who has always been able to say “no.”
“Anyone can say, ‘yes,’” he said. “When you ask me a question, I’m going to give you an answer.” He also said, as a leader, one has to be ready to make mistakes and humble oneself, acknowledging those mistakes to the rest of the team.
Another important aspect of his business and leadership success, Chesrown said, is his ability to “know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.” He explained to the students that one of his favorite things to do as a car dealership owner was to buy “broken” dealerships and fix them. One time, he said, he tried “fixing” a car dealership that he simply could not improve. Six months later, Chesrown said, he sold it.
He pointed out that while many people might persevere with a losing business, trying and trying to make it work, and might never have considered cutting their losses and dropping it. Knowing when to let go, Chesrown said, has served him well in business and as a leader.
Chesrown also referred to himself as a man of action and described in detail his desire to help Spokane.
“To stay status quo when we have economic issues, to not do anything … let’s do something,” he said, exclaiming, “Forget Kendall Yards. What are we going to do about Spokane?”
Gonzaga University Comprensive Leadership Program Director Josh Armstrong, Ph.D., (left) visits with developer Marshall Chesrown at the CLP's "Fishbowl" program Oct. 4.
Another quality that Chesrown said has helped him throughout his life is his ability to take a risk. From May 8, 1976, when he hopped on a motorcycle to find his fortune, to his most recent endeavour — creating Black Rock Development, after working years as an automotive salesperson and dealership owner – Chesrown said the risks he has taken, and those he has not, have made all the difference in his life.
The night ended with a long discussion about Spokane and its future. Chesrown expressed a desire to see developments that are good for Spokane and repeated his hope that Kendall Yards will help make positive changes to the Lilac City for which he cares so deeply.
Afterward, many students said the event was a valuable learning experience. They said they came away with a stronger understanding of leadership, a new way of looking at things, and some wise advice from a man of action, Marshall Chesrown, who told them:
“Why don’t we get going?”
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