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OWNER'S MANUAL

Why What Kind of Car You Drive Matters

You may not think twice about your ride, but customers, investors, and employees are most certainly looking--and judging.
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You drive performance. You drive results. You drive your business.

But does it matter what kind of car you drive? Not for practical reasons, but for perception reasons?

After all, what you drive can make a statement--to customers, to investors, and especially to your employees.

For example, I have a friend who says:

Don't assume your employees will be inspired by and hope to emulate your success. They won't. Leave your Porsche in the garage. I've done consulting gigs for a number of businesses, and in almost every instance, sometimes after being on-site less than a day, at least one employee will tell me they resent how "good" the owners have it--at the expense of underpaid employees.

Is it fair for employees to resent your success, even if you don't flaunt it? No. Is it a real issue for employees? Absolutely.

Possibly other people don't feel that way. I asked around.

Robert Thomas, founder of the e-commerce shopping site Tappocity, takes the other approach. He's always liked Jaguars and drives one because he feels it's important to make a good impression with potential investors. He thinks entrepreneurs should treat themselves to the luxuries their success affords.

Jason Mudd, owner of Axia Public Relations, goes the pragmatic route. With all the miles he travels, it makes sense financially to keep the luxury car at home and use the more fuel-efficient vehicle on the road for his commute to offices and airports. (Hey, I'm all for pragmatism, but a Prius? That might be taking it too far.)

Mudd says many of his CEO friends prefer to keep their sports cars at home until evenings and weekends, both to keep mileage down and also to not show off in front of the employees in the company parking lot.

Brian Knight, owner of Pragmatic Works, an IT training, consulting, and software development company, naturally goes the tech route. He drives a Ford Flex because it has integrated in-vehicle communications, Sync from Microsoft, and voice-commanded calls, music, and other functions.

What each person drives does make a statement, whether intentional or not.

(OK. I know you're thinking: What do you drive? My "statement" vehicle is actually a motorcycle that says, "I will outrun you any time, any day, anywhere." That and--I hope--"my owner has always owned motorcycles, so this is by no means a manifestation of a midlife crisis.")

So, what do you think? As a small-business owner, does it matter what you drive?

And if it does matter, what message do you try to send?

Last updated: Aug 10, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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