By Davis Coen
Michael Joe Cannon was aspiring to become a head football coach in the Southeastern Conference when his father passed away in 1986, but then discovered that his coaching experience would also be useful in taking over the family car business.
His father’s store in Calhoun City, MS was one of the first auto dealerships to offer a Buy Here Pay Here (BHPH) program, meaning it offered on-site financing. This allowed greater flexibility in how the vehicle was paid for, and a customer could make a down payment then go back every week or month to make further payments, until it was all paid out.
“I grew up around him washing cars, as most ‘car sons’ did, typing paperwork until age 12 or 13,” said Michael Joe. His father was a “one-man show,” and would demonstrate how to do whatever needed to be done at any given time. Tasks would include typing paperwork and driving vehicles from points A to B, but most importantly his dad taught him how to take care of people.
“Without any customers there’s no need for us,” he said, of the most important lesson he picked up, about the basic necessity of people skills.
Coaching football had involved a little more travel than made sense for a young man starting a family, although it was the experience of coaching that also made the car business enjoyable for him, with the stark similarities.
“It was like coaching everyday. Trying to coach yourself, and your people. Finding ways to get better and take care of customers, and finding better ways to take care of the employees. I guess that’s the reason I stayed in it,” said Michael Joe.
He eventually would move his family from Calhoun to Oxford, mainly because his wife Cheryl’s parents were living in Azalea Gardens, but also for the schools – since ultimately all of their children would graduate from Ole Miss.
Of his three kids, two sons are in the family business; one a general manager at stores in Cleveland, MS and the other utilizing an accounting degree as a corporate comptroller for Cannon Motors.
But aside from it continuing to be a family affair, the company has nearly 600 employees, with roughly 125 in Oxford alone.
Michael Joe credits the love he has for the job, and his “give a damn,” for driving his passion and commitment day after day. But most importantly, he feels it’s all about the commitment of the employees and the family atmosphere. “Now watching the people that we have that work with us, their kids grow in the car business, and get better, and then I’m able to know that not only am I providing for myself but also for hundreds of people across the state of Mississippi.”
Reflecting on his early days in a small tow running a pool hall and shining shoes, Michael Joe says he still lives the American dream every single day. “It’s just been a great run and hopefully we’re just now getting started.”