MIDLAND, MI – In a Northwood University lecture hall here, dealer Tammy Darvish, class of ’84, recalls attending her first day of college in the same room.

“It was an 8 a.m. class, and the professor, Tim Nash, was mad that I was two minutes late,” she tells an audience consisting mainly of students.

Nash still teaches at Northwood. Darvish, who majored in automotive marketing and management, now is vice president of Darcars, a family-owned 20-store dealership group based in Silver Spring, MD.

Today, if she shows up for work at 8 a.m., she’s running way late. “I start at 5 a.m. and I am home at 10 p.m. if it’s a good night.”

She is at Northwood for its student-run 49th annual outdoor auto show, and part of a panel discussion that’s held in conjunction with the event.

“The Northwood auto show is not as much about cars as it is about leadership,” Darvish says. “Kids run it and delegate responsibility. It’s not easy to hold other students accountable.”

While attending Northwood, she was one of two female students chairing show committees. This year, six of 12 chairpersons are young women. “I’m really glad to see that,” Darvish says.

She calls business writing one of the best college courses she took, because she still uses what she learned then.

“But don’t get trapped behind a keyboard,” she tells students. “I don’t solve problems by email.”

When Northwood students enter the Griswold Lecture Hall to hear Darvish and others speak, they find on each chair a sealed envelope marked “Do not open.” During her talk, she asks them to see what’s inside. Two things are: a blank thank-you card and dollar coin.

Of the first, Darvish asks the students: “When was the last time you sent a thank-you note? Not a text or an email, but an actual note that’s put in the mail? Use this one to thank someone for what they’ve done.”

She suggests parents as worthy recipients.

The second item represents the fact that half of the world’s population lives on $1 a day, Darvish says, urging the audience to help the needy.

“Giving back is so important. You can’t survive in a community if you don’t feel the pain when people are hurting and share the joy when they are thriving,” she says.

“Sometimes we may ruffle feathers, but auto dealers are generous. You need to do more than just thrive as an entrepreneur.”       

sfinlay@wardsauto.com