Family comes first for Larry LeJeune.
The parents of five adult children, grandparents of 14 and great grandparents of two, LeJeune and his wife, Jean, recently celebrated 55 years of marriage during a trip to Istanbul and Greece with 29 family members and two fiancées.
“I think we’ve given them a sense of how important family is, because we do a lot of family things together,” LeJeune said. He picked up one of the many family photos in his office — a portrait of Jean — and said, “This is one of my heroes.”
He also values his employees at LeJeune Investment Inc., which is a holding company in Golden Valley that owns four luxury automobile dealerships in the Twin Cities.
“Employees are very important – this is a people business, not only the sales people or front office people, but the people in the back and the service people,” he said. “A bad experience by a customer is 10 times worse than a good experience.”
He said he has always encouraged employees to go out of their way to take care of the customers.
‘Be a hero’
“I tell them to look for a chance to be a hero, to look for something to do for our customers that they don’t expect you to do and they will tell all their neighbors and friends – ‘Gee you won’t believe what Carousel Audi did for me’ – that’s the best form of advertising,” he said. In one instance, an employee went out of the way to deliver a set of keys to a customer who had locked her keys in the car at the Mall of America. Another employee saw that a customer was pulled over with a flat tire, so he stopped to call for a service truck.
“We don’t charge for those things, we just do it,” LeJeune said. “It’s selfish really – it’s good for business.”
Before buying his first car company, LeJeune owned LeJeune Steel, a family business started by his father. During the 1980s, LeJeune had just expanded its manufacturing plant when business began declining.
“I called everybody together and said we were cutting everyone’s salary by 5 percent, and the officers by 10 percent and my salary by 25 percent,” he said. He also promised that if they could turn around the business, he would pay back everyone. “We made a slight profit for the year and I did pay them all back.”
Although there is a lot of bad press about businesses, today, LeJeune said that most of the people he knows are “decent people who run good businesses.”
Working for others
Today, LeJeune, 75, leaves most of the day-to-day work of LeJeune Investment to Jon Hansen, president and COO of the company. LeJeune usually spends four to five hours each weekday in the office, working on issues for the many organizations on which he serves as a board member.
One of those groups is the Lundstrum Center for the Arts in north Minneapolis.
“My wife Jean was Dorothy Lundstrum’s girl,” he said. “When the Casserlys took over the [Lundstrum] Center [for the Performing Arts in Minneapolis] they asked Jean to be on the board. She said she was no good at boards, but she would volunteer her husband.”
LeJeune credits his parents and the sisters and brothers at DeLaSalle High School for his strong sense of ethics.
“I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve,” he said. “I just try to look myself in the mirror and try to do the right thing.”
Although LeJeune said he doesn’t know why he is receiving a Leading With Faith Award, Hansen said in the nomination form, “Larry’s core values of integrity, honesty and kindness remain constant and consistent.” When he was hired by LeJeune 28 years ago, Hansen said he was told that: “We should assume that anything we did today could be published on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow.”
Father Dennis Dease, University of St. Thomas president, said, “Larry LeJeune is one of the hardest working and most energetic members on our board of trustees. . . . Larry and Jean LeJeune have been very generous philanthropists as well as strong business leaders.”
Title: Chairman and CEO of LeJeune Investment, Inc.
Parish: St. Bartholomew, Wayzata
Children: Five children, 14 grandchildren, two great grandchildren
Activities: University of St. Thomas board of trustees member, UST Law School board of governors chairman, Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts board chairman
Category: Leading With Faith