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Successful auto dealer touts the importance of being a lifelong learner

September 14, 2022

Geller: Other dealerships can significantly benefit from Northwood University programs

Russell Geller was so inspired by his experience earning a master’s degree that he set his sights on earning a Doctor of Business Administration.

The above scenario is not an uncommon path for graduate students to follow. But what sets Geller apart from his DBA counterparts is the fact that he graduated from high school nearly 40 years ago. He already has a successful career as the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in one of America’s toughest markets: New York City.

But Geller is driven by a need to be a lifelong learner, and he found a good fit with Northwood University through the General Motors Executive MBA Program.

“Education doesn’t stop because you get a degree,” said Geller, owner of Beck Chevrolet Co., Inc. “I learn every day, and this was a great opportunity for me, for my business, and I thought I’d be able to grow professionally and as a person in the program — which all turned out to be true.”

 

A changing industry requires a growth mindset

Geller explained the automotive industry is changing, as society shifts from internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, and dealers proved during COVID that you do not need showrooms to sell cars.

“The whole world in retail is changing,” he said.

Geller has a solid handle on the industry, considering he is a second-generation automotive dealer who was raised to work hard and be experienced in every facet of the business.

“I grew up in the business. I have done every job at the dealership,” he said, noting he takes much pride in that he runs his business like a family, as he cares deeply about his 40 employees.

As such, he said he really benefited from his communication and conflict resolution course. The program also has taught him to understand different generations, and to speak the language of other people.

He stressed that personal responsibility and being ready to change at a moment’s notice are key traits for anyone who enters the automotive industry. It is also important for dealers to take advantage of continuing education programs, like the one GM has with Northwood University.

“Education does not stop at a degree or diploma. I am a good example that age has nothing to do with it — if you want something bad enough, you should be able to do it,” Geller said. “What I have found is that people at Northwood care — and that is a particularly important thing. Whatever program at Northwood you will invest in — and there is a multitude of advanced degrees — the effort you put in will equate with what you get out of it.”

 

Finding the right fit

It is not easy pursuing a DBA while running a successful business, raising elementary school-age children, and maintaining a good relationship with his wife. But Geller is driven by committing 110%.

“The effort you put in will equate with what you get out of it,” said Geller. “It is not easy – there is a ton of work. There is a ton of reading. There is a ton of writing.”

Yet Geller has maintained stellar grades during his time in the program, which began during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and has been done virtually so Geller has been able to stay in New York.

It is just the type of program that caters to working professionals with demanding schedules, Geller said. Also, it can be done in three years and students are allowed to begin their dissertation during their first year.

Other benefits of Northwood’s DBA program include:

• A focus on applying existing theories and knowledge to real-world business problems.

• A unique curriculum focused on leadership and business analytics using qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

• Small class sizes instructed by business experienced professors who hold terminal degrees.

• Dedicated student and faculty advisors to support students from the application process through program completion.

“The program at Northwood is very reasonable compared to other business schools from a dollar standpoint,” Geller added.

Geller said he has forged a tremendous number of relationships with professors whom he now calls friends.

“Russell is a talented and dedicated student,” stated Dr. Matthew O’Connor, Geller’s dissertation chair. “He approaches every situation as a learning opportunity and challenges himself to apply learnings directly to the real world. As a professor, this is where we see the most powerful outcomes.”

O’Connor noted Geller has an excellent ability to integrate complex concepts from our courses with his industry expertise.

“This allows him, as a true scholar-practitioner, to generate and implement ideas and solutions for critical business problems,” O’Connor added.

Geller also has made deep friendships with his DBA cohorts, who are wrapping up two years of course work and are starting their dissertations. They are part of the inaugural DBA cohort at Northwood University, which introduced its DBA Program in 2020.

Once complete, they could graduate as soon as this spring — which will be the first time Geller will step foot on Northwood’s main campus in Midland, Michigan.

He is looking forward to that day, as learning virtually did not affect his affinity for his new alma mater.
“I am very passionate about this school,” Geller noted.

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