Why I Give to Virginia Western: A Q&A with William Farrell, President of Berglund Automotive Group

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(Published in the Winter 2020 Edition of IMPACT magazine, a publication of the Virginia Western Community College Educational Foundation.)

In 2018, William J. Farrell II, president of the Berglund Automotive Group, established the Farrell Family Fund at the Virginia Western Educational Foundation. Farrell joined the Foundation’s Board of Directors in 2015 and has served as treasurer since 2016.  

What is your approach to philanthropy, and why have you chosen Virginia Western as a focus?

 Our view as a family, and as a business – Berglund Automotive Group, here in the Roanoke Valley – is that we try to give back and to do things that last. We’ve had our business here coming up on 50 years in 2020. Not only has our company survived this long, but we’ve grown to have about 600 employees who work and raise their families here as well. We feel that philanthropy is a great way to give back to the community that has supported us and our employees for so many years.

 We have given to many great causes over the years, and we try to give to causes that will affect the greatest number of people. Certainly, we do help with smaller causes or issues that affect a smaller community, but in general we try to help with causes that will have a broader impact on the whole Valley and the whole region. Virginia Western fits that vision – it serves the whole region just as we serve the whole region, and I feel that’s the best place to put our philanthropic dollars, at this point.

Why did you create the Farrell Famlly Permanent Endowment Fund at Virginia Western? 

 We want to grow opportunity in the automotive industry for individuals and to grow our region’s economic development. We established it as an endowment because these are gifts that keep on giving. As our endowment grows over time, we will be able to expand our impact more and more in the future. With Virginia Western’s focus on the trades, offering two-year associate degrees and certificates or credentials – whether it be for automotive technicians or welders, HVAC, heavy equipment or healthcare – we see filling the skills gap as the most important investment in the region’s future that we could make.

How does the skills gap play out in the region’s automotive industry?

In our business, we have a very tough time filling all of the automotive technician opportunities that we have. There is really not a resource here in the Valley, beyond high school, to educate young people in automotive careers. It’s become such a specialized field. We represent more than 25 brands here in the region – from all domestic brands like Chevy, Ford and Chrysler, to international brands like Mercedes and Land Rover – and all of these vehicles are extremely technical and continue to be more and more advanced to work on.

 We find that sometimes younger folks don’t necessarily think of these careers in this way, and they imagine the work differently than it is. The truth is the greatest tool in a technician’s toolbox now is his laptop. You can make a great living. We have technicians that have been with us 30 to 40 years; they’ve raised their families, put their kids through college and are truly proud of building a great career. 

How are you partnering with Virginia Western on a new automotive technology program?

 We’ve been working with Virginia Western to help start an automotive program to meet the needs of the automotive trades. We’ve donated extra space at one of our facilities to Virginia Western and are working with Virginia Western’s Workforce Development Solutions division to start a fast-track program. We felt that this was the best way for us to give back to the whole community – to grow a regional workforce not only for us, as an automotive group, but for all of our automotive colleagues in the Valley.  I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “a rising tide floats all ships,” and it’s true. We are glad to be a part of growing automotive opportunity for the entire region. 

What career advice would you give to a Virginia Western student sitting in front of you?

I’d ask them first to tell me what they love, what do they really want to do. People will always be around to tell you what you should love to do, but really be honest with yourself and start with what you are passionate about doing. To be the happiest in the long run, take that and connect it to a way to make a living, and you’ll start making a life.

 Talk with all the people you can that have that kind of role or career or passion, and then find a mentor to help you along the way. Don’t get distracted. Life is full of daily distractions, but as you go, keep your focus on where you want to be until your passion changes. One thing leads to another.

 We know that mentors are so very important to a life journey. Who would you say has been a mentor for you?

 My father (Bruce), of course, is my best and first mentor. I’ve always been very fortunate to have my dad in my life to show me the way. But along the way I’ve had other mentors and friends who have made a big difference in my life – peer mentors, automotive dealers who are owners of multiple dealerships across the country that I’ve tried to get to know and align myself with. There are organizations always in your chosen industry that you can join to make those kinds of connections, so you can see the highs and lows of all aspects of your business.

But mentors can also be other community business owners, people you just aspire to be more like. Believe it or not, people like that are always glad to take that call and talk to you. Truly successful people are successful because they also want to give back by sharing those stories, because they want to make a difference for the future.

Thank you for all you are doing to make a difference in our students’ futures.

 It’s all about giving back.

How to establish a scholarship at Virginia Western

Scholarship funds provide support for tuition, books and  other related expenses for qualifying Virginia Western students. The Educational Foundation administers two basic types of scholarships:

  • Annual scholarships – You may fund a named scholarship on an annual basis that awards the entire amount during the year in which you give it.
  • Endowed scholarships – You may fund a named scholarship that will continue to help students in perpetuity and leave a lasting legacy for your family or organization. An endowed scholarship may be funded over a maximum of five years.

To learn more, contact Philanthropy Director Amanda Mansfield at (540) 857-6962 or amansfield@virginiawestern.edu.

To donate to an established scholarship, visit virginiawestern.edu/foundation.

A complete listing of Virginia Western Educational Foundation scholarships can be found at virginiawestern.edu/foundation/scholarship/list.php.

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