As attentively as any doctor listens to a patient describe their ailments, Mike McLynn carefully nods and takes notes as a woman reads from her notes about the issues with her vehicle.
“Now I’m talking about the fan under the hood, not the fan blowing heat in the car,” the customer says.
“Yes, I understand,” replies Mike calmly. “It sounds like it might be a thermostat that needs replacing,” he adds after hearing a few other symptoms the customer has noted on her carefully-prepared list.
For Mike McLynn, diagnosing the problems people have with their vehicles is part of everyday life at Automotive Electric, LLC. Mike and his five-person crew service nearly any kind of vehicle: cars, trucks, buses and everything in between.
“We started out just doing electrical and drivability work,” Mike explained, “but our expertise has expanded. We now do everything from alignments to suspension work, major engine and transmission repair, brakes, exhaust; we’re a full-service repair facility.
“Most of the cars we work on are just out of warranty; they’re three to 15 years old,” continued Mike. “The thing is, cars are better than they used to be, so they last longer. Because of that, it pays to repair them and run them longer. That’s good for us.”
Automotive Electric Service, Inc., the predecessor company, was started up by Bruce Leistico, Dave Strummer and Al Larson on Labor Day, 1983. Dave, one of the partners, passed away in the mid-1990s and Al retired shortly thereafter. Bruce became the sole owner. Mike, with a brand-new degree from Hibbing Vocational Technical College in automotive technology, was hired in 1999.
“As Bruce got closer to retiring, he called an employee meeting to tell us what he was planning,” said Mike. “He offered that if any of us were interested in buying the business, he’d give us a couple of months to think about it and put a proposal together.
“I was interested,” Mike continued. “I knew the business, and after working with John Roessler, my accountant, I put an offer forward that was as much as I could risk.”
There was a gap between what Bruce wanted for the business and what Mike was willing to pay, so the deal didn’t happen. However, Bruce was appreciative of Mike’s skill and had him manage the business on a day-to-day business while he “stayed around” but began to take more time off. This arrangement carried on for 18 months, and then one day Mike made another offer to Bruce; he accepted.
“Steve Levar at Grand Rapids State Bank was a big help to me, and he deserves lots of kudos for his assistance in making this happen,” said Mike. “He knew my family and gave me lots of advice along the way. Bruce was cooperative and understood that as a new owner, I had a limited appetite for risk. When we finally reached that point, Jared Pink (GRSB business lender) made the deal happen. He explained all the information the bank needed. It was a little scary how easy it was to borrow that much money. Joe Stauffer, our attorney, was another big help with setting up the corporation and getting our ducks in a row.”
Mike McLynn is no stranger to hard work, and he admits that working with vehicles and equipment is the easy part of his job.
“We’re here to help people,” Mike explained. “I run this business the way I wanted to be treated when I was an employee. I take care of the guys who work with me, and it works out.
“I don’t have an employee manual, but this team has a good amount of freedom based on the trust they’ve earned in working with me,” continued Mike. “Most of the guys can see the big picture, and they treat our customers and the business as if it were theirs.”
Mike grew up on a farm and was interested in many things. He figured out early on that a person’s most expensive acquisitions in life were a home and a car, so he figured if he could learn the skills to maintain one or the other, he’d be able to save a lot of money in his life. Maintaining cars just seemed to be a good fit for Mike.
Mike’s wife, Bonnie, grew up in the Bovey area, and she wasn’t keen to move. For his part, Mike loved Itasca County, too, and he learned from his grandfather, Jim Lang, the love of the outdoors and working hard.
“From age eight to 16, I spent a lot of time with my grandpa, Jim Lang,” said Mike. “We went fishing and hunting, did chores together; we were almost inseparable. I remember once being up in Effie and Grandpa introduced me as his ‘right hand man.’ He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was three years old, but he lived and functioned for 20 years, and I was right by his side for many of those years.”
Jim Lang was an outspoken proponent of forest stewardship, and he was a founder of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and a longtime member of the Izaak Walton League.
Mike and his wife, Bonnie, have three children: Elizabeth, Jager and Tristen. Bonnie helps out with the business at times—now that the kids are all in school every day—answering phones and greeting customers. She is also the informal “head of promotions,” helping design ads for radio and newspaper and helping to decide which organizations to support with donations.
“I would say the cars are the easy part of this business,” smiles Mike. “Whether it’s employees or customers, people need attention. And then there’s the paperwork side of things. I have to keep Uncle Sam happy.” Mike relies on Erin Aultman at John Roessler’s office to assist with bookkeeping, payroll and tax preparation.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” said Mike. “About 70 to 80% of our business is generated by word of mouth; happy customers telling their friends and neighbors about our service. We have customers from Remer/Longville, Effie, Bigfork, Hill City, Hibbing and of course Grand Rapids.
“There are some things we can’t do, but pretty much we work on all makes and models. I know there’s more to learn, but so far we’re on the right track.”