Inside Track: Patience, loyalty shape Maher’s leadership skills

Executive for both DP Fox Ventures and Fox Motors values decency, integrity and commitment.
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Diane Maher said she is not afraid to face challenges head-on, a trait she learned by cleaning ice cream machines as a youth. Courtesy DP Fox Ventures

Diane Maher drives a vehicle that turns heads.

With a white exterior and cherry red leather interior, Maher’s 2019 Porsche Cayenne is a curious blend of giddy-up-and-go excitement and a reservoir of common sense.

“It feels more racy, more exciting, and I’ve always loved that color combination,” Maher said. “(But) I’m not good about washing my car so white is better. You can go a lot longer without washing it. I never have enough time to get it done.”

What Maher does make time for, insists on it actually, is patience and loyalty — qualities not always found in ready supply these days — for the person she works for, Dan DeVos, the people who report to her and the community boards to which she provides her expertise.

Such soft skills of Maher’s are not happenstance.

Maher said it’s the example her father set while working as an auto mechanic for over 30 years and her boss of 27 years, Dan DeVos, that helped mold her into the type of corporate leader she is today.

“My father always hated his job because he didn’t like his boss and didn’t he feel like he was treated well,” Maher said. “I’m driven to make sure the people working for us don’t feel like that and are treated well and that they love their jobs. I’ve always loved every job I’ve had. I can’t imagine going to work every day and not liking what I’m doing. I’ve always felt like it’s my obligation as a leader to ensure that people feel good about where they work and are happy with their contributions to it.

 

DIANE MAHER
Organization:
DP Fox Ventures and Fox Motors
Position: President and COO
Birthplace: Allegan
Residence: East Grand Rapids
Family: Three adult children, all Michigan State University graduates
Business/Community Involvement: Our Daily Bread Ministries board of directors; past chair of ODB’s personnel, finance and audit committee; West Michigan Policy Forum board of directors and member of its executive committee; Mercantile Bank of Michigan board of directors and its audit and information systems steering committee.
Biggest Career Break: “My career with DP Fox (Ventures) started with a call from people on Dan’s (DeVos) team in 1991. They said, ‘Hey, Diane, we need a little accounting help.’ It was a good thing I said yes to that. They needed a lot of accounting help, I just didn’t know it.”

“I’ve been working for (DeVos) for 27 years now and learned about leadership and kindness and decency, loyalty and commitment,” Maher added. “He has a tremendous amount of integrity. I look up to him. He’s always treated me well and given me so many opportunities I never would have imagined. And a lot of people at DP Fox have worked here over 20 years. We’ve grown up together and bonded. That’s been really rewarding. A partner at Deloitte when I was in my 20s helped me to believe in myself. I just learned being loyal is honorable and that’s really a big part of who I am and why I would never job hop for more money.”

Maher is president and chief operating officer of both DP Fox Ventures and Fox Motors, which is a retail automotive and powersports group representing 50 locations and 48 brands. The locations stretch from Chicago to Grand Rapids to Marquette in the Upper Peninsula.

Maher said she’s a c-suite executive who makes decisions following the input she receives from her staff, whenever that option is possible.

“I’m collaborative and a good listener,” she said. “I like to have a lot of information to make decisions. I won’t make a decision without talking to people and doing a lot of research. A collaborative leadership style is good unless you have to make quick decisions. That’s a strength for me: I want a lot of people’s opinions but sometimes you can’t take the time necessarily to get that and you have to decide which way we’re going to go.”

Maher has held only two post-college jobs, her first at Deloitte & Touche LLP, from 1987-1993, as an audit manager and as a financial consultant to DP Fox Ventures, which Dan DeVos and his wife, Pamella, founded in 1993 after he left Amway Corp. The company currently employs 1,675.

Maher initially started at DP Fox in 1993 as the firm’s vice president of finance and was promoted to chief financial officer a few years later, and then to chief operating officer of Fox Motors in 2009. She handles acquisitions for all of Fox Motors dealerships as chief financial officer.

Maher said additional acquisitions are likely on the horizon.

“Right now, we’re just looking at businesses we want to be in the market with that would be strategic,” Maher said. “There’s nothing imminent or targeted at this time.”

Like many others, Maher has encountered her share of speed bumps in life. Rather than cower from problems, Maher sees them as an opportunity to problem solve.

“A challenge is an unexpected event that needs problem solving,” Maher said. “I love to find a way to solve a problem. That’s my favorite thing to do. It’s like a puzzle. You just need to figure out how to handle it, how to get through it, how to turn lemons into lemonade, if you will. When you’ve been through a lot, in the end, you find out you’ve become better for having to face things.”

Maher’s hometown is Gobles, a city in Van Buren County with a population of 829 people, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. It was a town that gives Midwesterners their reputation for family values and a community of common interests.

“When I think back then, there was family dinner every night at the table,” Maher said. “That was a big part of the day. Sports were a big thing in Gobles. They were good at a lot of sports. Everybody rallied around that. We had a good football team at the time.”

Maher’s formative years were sans cell phones, FaceTime and text messaging — all technologies she managed to do without just fine — to a point.

“There were no cell phones then, so I remember fighting to use the (family) phone,” she said. “You had to get out there and drive around town and make your own fun. I was driven to get good grades and excel at school. I remember being driven to be noticed and do well and have my parents notice me.”

She did work a job in Gobles for an ice cream shop located on the corner of M-40 and M-43. The name of the business escapes her but cleaning the soft ice cream maker after closing time remains etched in her memory.

“There was a lot of cleaning involved and I hate cleaning,” she said. “I learned sometimes you have to do things you don’t like doing. You hunker down and make it happen. It’s not always going to be fun and easy. Back then we served soft serve ice cream and I had to clean it every night because you couldn’t have any bacteria in it. You had to be very meticulous. Those machines are hard to clean. I remember hating that. It took forever but was more like a half an hour.”

Maher has had a “first” in her life when she became the nondenominational Our Daily Bread Ministries’ first female to serve on its board of directors.

I’m trying to make a difference for Michigan,” Maher said. “I love working for ODB because I feel like it’s my obligation to share my gifts.”

Maher said she wants to continue spending time with her family, be immersed in her faith and career while maintaining a body, mind and spirit balance.

“I want to make a mark on the world not just because I had a great career but because I positively impacted people to do the same,” Maher said.

And she’ll continue her fervent admiration for cars.

“I’ve always loved the car business and cars,” Maher said. “It’s been fun to learn it with Dan because he has a huge passion for cars as well.”

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