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Sometimes it pays to take a chance

A man walked into my shop one night wanting to be a mechanic with little to no experience — I hired him

Editor’s note: Paul E. Grech owned the former San Franciso shop, Allied Engine & Auto Repair, before retiring. In this column series, Grech shares his experiences as a shop owner.

It was April 1974, I was 30 years old and it was just after the gas crunch hit, when in walks this guy at 8 p.m. I had recently bought out my partner in February and there was enough work at the time for one person working long hours.

It was immediately clear that he had trouble speaking English, or I had trouble understanding him, when I finally figured out what he was asking — he wanted a job.

Paul Grech

I pointed to a bolt on an engine and asked him what size it was. He replied 16/9, it was backwards, but it was correct, and he told me he had worked in mechanics in the Republic of Korea Navy.

So I hired him and I started him at $3 an hour. He also had no tools, so I bought him a starter set. The next day he showed up in tennis shoes, which I said wouldn’t work, to which he replied that he had no money. So I sprung for a new pair for shoes, too.

He was a natural, picked up the trade real fast, and by June the work picked up to old times. We worked long days but it was worth it to both of us. The more proficient he got, the more I raised his pay without him having to ask for a raise, which encouraged him to produce even more.

“He had a trade, a toolbox and two houses — he attained the American Dream.”

All the while, he had been living next door to my shop in a small apartment with his mother and girlfriend, so I suggested he go buy a house. He spent that weekend looking at houses and returned Monday to say $350 a month was too much for him to afford.

I told him to buy it, because I just raised his pay $400 a month — that’s how good he had become. Business now was booming and he just got better and better. By 1978 he bought another house for a rental. By that time I had also bought a home and the building the business was housed in. 

We were both sailing along when I decided to hire another employee and cutback to 40 hours a week to enjoy the fruits of my labor. Two years went by and I noticed a change of attitude in him. It seemed as if he didn’t get along with the second employee I had hired. I was right and he wanted me to fire him or he would quit.

I told him that I couldn’t do that and also said he was free to do whatever was best for him. This is America and this is how it works. He had a trade, a toolbox and two houses — he attained the American Dream.

I said to him the day he got hired that this might happen. No one got the short end of the stick during the five years we were together. “We are both set for life,” I said.

By that that time, I also had my new house almost paid for and the building fully paid for with a thriving business, thanks to him. People asked me if I was upset about it. I always said no, because I also had realized I could teach the trade to other people.

Within two years he had started his own business, too.

Based on that experience, I was able to solve my employee hiring through the years. In fact, four years later I took a chance on hiring another walk-in and I got an even better employee who stayed with me for 26 years until he died. 

Yes, I encouraged him to buy a house, too, and I lent him the money for a down payment. He turned out to be an excellent employee, too. Sometimes, it pays to take a chance — for everyone.

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