For Shaheen, giving back is right thing to do

Given his druthers, Ralph Shaheen would like to “stay around forever.”

The president of Shaheen Chevrolet made that clear when asked how he would like to be remembered. But after pondering the question, he said he hoped people would think of him as a “good person, a good father, a good husband, and a good friend.” And he added, as “someone who gives back.”

That last attribute has developed over time for Shaheen, the oldest of five children born in Flint and raised by parents whom he described as generous, but not involved civically.

“God has been good to us and you’ve got to give back to others,” Shaheen said when asked why he supports organizations and serves on boards such as the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation. “It’s just something I do. I enjoy giving back to the community.”

Shaheen and Shaheen Chevrolet have combined to support the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation every year since 2000. When it comes to volunteering, he was a member of the Foundation’s board of trustees from 2002-08 and recently began serving as chair of the hospital board of which he has been a member since 2009.

He was co-chair of the Foundation’s annual golf outing in 2000 and also co-chaired the Annual Support Committee in the early 2000s. In addition, he served on the Major Gifts Committee while it raised funds in support of the Chi Heart & Surgery Center. He takes pride in the project that was completed in 2007 and now looks forward to McLaren building a $450 million replacement hospital on land adjacent to Michigan State University.

“We are thrilled about the new hospital” said Denise Shaheen, who has been married to Ralph for 46 years. “It will be wonderful for the community and the people in it.”

The Shaheens have known each other since they were children and began dating as high school seniors. They graduated from MSU in 1972 with degrees in business administration and retail marketing, respectively, and were married shortly thereafter. Ralph had plans to return to school after working for the family business for a year, but can still hear his academic advisor correctly predicting that he’d “never go back.”

Ralph was immersed in his job as a car salesman in 1974 when his dad, Michael, died at the age of 51 after suffering a heart attack while playing racquetball. Ralph and his brothers Jim and Dan, were thrust into ownership positions in the business, and Denise said, “all of a sudden, Ralph was the guy who was behind the desk, and the buck was stopping with him.”

Shaheen Chevrolet did well during Ralph’s early years as president, but the business was rocked during a recession in 1980. With interest rates running high, fewer people could afford to take out loans to purchase automobiles and sales plummeted. Things got so bad Ralph cut Shaheen’s work force from 120 employees to 86, and the managers, himself included, took a 10-percent cut in pay.

Business gradually picked up by the end of 1981, but Ralph still gets choked up when he talks about how “gut-wrenching” it was to lay off so many employees.

“The loss of every one of those people was very sad for him.” Denise said. “He thinks of employees as family and he’s so compassionate it hurt him greatly to let go of all those people.”

That does not surprise Vince Pangle and Jeff Williams, two of Ralph’s closest friends who frequently go on hunting and fishing trips with him. They both describe their fellow MSU alum as someone who “would give you the shirt off his back.”

Pangle, the owner of Strategic Property Services in Troy, views Ralph as a “father figure or an uncle.” He thinks so highly of him that he asked Ralph, rather than any of his three brothers, to be the best man at his wedding.

“He’s a quality guy,” Pangle said. “They don’t make many like him. He is extremely humble and does not like people doting over him.”

Williams, the co-owner of Williams AutoWorld, describes Ralph as a good person who is   loaded with compassion for others. When it comes to philanthropic giving, he said Ralph doesn’t do it for recognition, but because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Williams, a trustee emeritus of the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation, added Ralph believes strongly in following through on what you say you’re going to do.

“If you not a man of your word,” Williams said, “or a person who can be relied upon to do what you said you’re going to do, you’re not an honorable person in his eyes.”

Loyalty is another trait Ralph values. He said it’s critical to productive relationships and instrumental in the long-term success of a business or non-profit organization such as the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation.

“He likes to say that everyone carries a domino in their pocket,” Denise said. “If one domino falls, it can cause all the other dominos to fall. So you need to depend on each other and work together.”

At the end of the day, Ralph feels loyalty is a reflection of the respect people have for one another, whether it’s at the individual or group level. He said he has a “general caring for people” and has found ‘the more you care for them, the more they care for you.”

If you would like to know more about the board members of the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation, please click here