Businessman and former speaker of the Utah House of Representatives from 1985-87, Robert H. Garff is the son of the late Ken Garff, founder of Ken Garff Automotive Group. Robert succeeded his father as the CEO of the company before handing it down to his own sons. Garff also chaired the Salt Lake Organizing Committee that brought the Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games to Salt Lake City in 2002. But above all, Garff is especially proud of a program he created for Utah students that emphasizes reading and math skills, called Keys to Success (KTSUtah.com).
Your father founded the Ken Garff Automotive Group. Did you feel it your duty to run the family business, or did you share your dad's passion for it?
My father was my hero. I looked up to my dad more than anyone else in the world. We've been in business for 83 years now—he passed it on to me, I passed it onto my sons, and hopefully [it will go to] their sons after that. I would say I entered the business, in part, to carry on his legacy, but you have to have passion in order to be successful.
How old were you when you sold your first car?
I was 16 years old when I sold my first car. I bought a 1953 Oldsmobile Super 88 two-door coupe for $300—sanded, repainted and fixed the interior—and sold it for $500. I thought I had won the lottery.
Tell us more about your program, Keys to Success?
John F. Kennedy once said, "A child miseducated is a child lost." If you explore prisons today, time and time again, you see people who are uneducated that resort to crime." Studies show that if a child is behind their reading level by the third grade, they might never catch up. Our goal is to reverse this through basic education and through reading. We emphasize reading in elementary school and math in high school. There are more than 30,000 prizes including a bike for elementary students and a car for high school students. This encourages all students—not just "A" students.
You helped bring the Winter Games to the state. How did benefit from the Games benefit Utah?
The 2002 Olympic Games brought a mass transit system to Salt Lake City, over $1 billion of infrastructure to our city. Around 6 billion eyes were cast on Salt Lake City in a favorable light, and [the event] left $100 million to train future Utah athletes and Olympians. It was the biggest single event in Utah history, and it exceeded all goals.
What advice can you give young people today?
Live life with a passion and a will to succeed, and life will build a path to your doorstep. Never settle.
How did your time serving in the Utah House of Representatives help you become a better business leader?
During my years as a representative and as Speaker of the House, I applied business principles to Legislature, which allowed me to grow as a leader. Once my time in Legislature was over, I took a new approach to my leadership role, and business grew leaps and bounds.
What are your personal Keys to Success?
Education is No. 1. No. 2, if you have the will, your mind will do anything— you must have a passion. No. 3, never compromise personal integrity— honesty is the best policy. As life goes on, you must give back to the community that raised you."