Thursday 7 December 2023

Lessons from a Business Legend with Brien Slawik

Posted by at 10:22 AM

Lessons from a Business Legend with Brien Slawik

In the 1950’s, Brien Slawik’s grandparents were a force to be reckoned with. Marie and Harold owned one of the largest Ford dealerships in the Midwest, Midway Ford, along with an auto-parts store, leasing and car title-loan businesses, and on top of that, they founded and grew Har-Mar Inc (which Brien is now the third-generation owner of).

By the early 1960’s, to serve the growing population outside of the Twin Cities, Marie and Harold eyed a 40-acre site in Roseville (previously a golf course) to develop a new, climate-controlled shopping mall – only the second in Minnesota. But, not without a little controversy and conflict from its residents. Over time, it smoothed out and on May 15, 1962, the groundbreaking of HarMar Mall drew vast attention as more than 100 local, city and state dignitaries attended.

“Back then, all the city officials, the Mayor of Saint Paul, the Mayor of Roseville, the Governor (who circled the site in a helicopter on groundbreaking day), city councils, and business leaders were all present,” Slawik said.

Brien was just a child at the time but remembers the circling helicopter on that day – only to be met with another day he’d never forget. His grandfather, Harold, passed away just a couple months later. The task of managing Har-Mar, Inc. and its eight businesses fell entirely on Marie – including the enormous project of HarMar mall.

“This left my grandmother with a huge responsibility in front of her. At that time, it was so much of a male-dominated culture. Her attorneys advised her to pack up her bags and sell the 40 acres and call it a day. She came back and said no – I’m going to do it. She had the vision, the guts, the entrepreneurship skills to really make it happen,” Slawik said.

Marie did just that. Her willingness to overcome adversity is what set her apart from the rest. Having been orphaned at a young age and later, a battle with breast cancer, she knew she could take on the challenge and carry the family businesses…and she did until her death. Marie even became the first woman-member of the male-only Minnesota Club, and her dynamic adversity-driven character landed her in the Minnesota Women Business Owners Hall of Fame.

“She never missed a beat, my grandmother. A lot of people would give up and back away and wallow in their sorrow…she did not do that. She picked up the sticks and kept running. It was very inspirational for me to have learned that as I grew up. The impact has been more appreciated as I’ve gotten older,” Slawik said.

Brien learned from the best and knew he wanted to center his career based on the principles he learned from his family. With humble beginnings, he and his brother started working as janitors at Midway Ford, while his father ran and owned it under Grandma Marie. After college, Brien went on to work in the car dealership business for 10 years where he took on different aspects of Road King Leasing (sister company to Midway Ford).

Brien had an itch that needed to be scratched. He wanted to see what it was like to work outside the family business and moved to Arizona for a role at Sears. After a phone call from his dad asking him to help develop a plot of land in Roseville, and ultimately, work for the family business again - without hesitation, Brien jumped at the opportunity.

“Here I had this opportunity to partner with my dad, one on one. That’s where I’ve stayed for the last 35 years. My dad passed away a couple of years ago, so in his memory and everything he taught me, it’s really, really, important we kept the business and hopefully made it flourish over the years,” Brien said.

Brien says that especially in the world of real estate, you learn more from your failures than your successes. He credits his dad who allowed him the freedom to fail – which ultimately prepped him to become the president of Har-Mar Inc. and establish another venture, Slawik Property Advisors. Throughout Brien’s career, not only was he given the freedom to lead, but learning from his dad was a gift he still treasures today.

“My dad was really good at reaching out to experts and not always insisting he was always right. You have to lower your ego…I think if you’re going to be successful in this business, you need to have the wisdom to look back and realize that you didn’t do it all by yourself, but by the help of a lot of others,” Slawik said.

From everything he has learned from his legendary grandparents to his father, these days, Brien doesn’t have interest in making more real estate investments, but rather tapping into his own history and teaching others what he’s learned along the way.

"There’s a lot to be learned from the mistakes you’ve made. The size of loan you’re going to get, how high you’re going to leverage the asset, should you proceed to lease a space? How can we be of value to a client and advise. As I look forward, I want to save people an inconvenience of making a mistake they don’t see behind the curtain,” Slawik said.  

To listen to the full interview click here!