Awash in good business books

Autobell owner Chuck Howard's recent reading includes an essay collection by a Wofford College English professor, a choice with ties to the carwash chain.

John Lane's “Waist Deep in Black Water” recounts his wilderness treks and delves into conservation. Lane, a 1977 graduate of the college in Spartanburg, also is director of its emerging Glendale Shoals Environmental Studies Center on a former textile mill's site. Autobell, started in Charlotte in 1969, is a contributor to the center, which will include a water studies lab.

“Water is the main ingredient in what we do,” said Howard, whose father started the chain. “We're into recycling and conservation.”

Business books are tops for Howard, and a favorite is Michael Gerber's “E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What To Do About It.”

“I'm more interested in books about how other people have made successes of different ventures,” he said.

No iPod for Howard, 59, who says he likes music but sees no need to carry it with him. He's a daily reader of the Observer, The Wall Street Journal and publications in the company's local markets. The 52-store chain has 14 in Mecklenburg, 44 statewide. Autobell also has outlets in South Carolina and Virginia and recently opened its first in Georgia.

Many of the chain's 1,600 workers are young, often students. In 2000, Howard started giving employee scholarships as a recruiting and retention tool.

“Our industry sometimes has … a stigma – if you can't do anything else, work in a carwash,” he said. “We want to change that.”

Howard attributes his favorite advice to former presidential candidate Ross Perot: Decide what you want. Decide what you're willing to give up to get it.

Stella M. Hopkins