In 1995 Keith Guyton was sitting in a Texas jail cell for selling drugs. He owed $50,000 to his dealer, had fathered four kids and had been living a life of crime for 21 years. He was just 32.
Now, 22 years later, Guyton is about to celebrate his 54th birthday. He's married, owns his own home and is the owner of a successful auto-repair franchise set to hit $2 million in revenue this year.
What's more, he's hailed as hardworking, personable, smart — and so trustworthy, he was given the franchise on a "good ol' boy handshake" by the founder and CEO of Christian Brothers Automotive himself, Mark Carr.
Why would Carr, who runs a thriving 35-year-old company that has 150 locations across 22 states, just hand Guyton one of the company's top 20 revenue-producing stores in the U.S.?
Perhaps their decision stems from Christan Brothers' guiding principle: Love your neighbor as yourself.
"The company mission has always been real simple — loving people around you, treating them fair, being honest. That's at the core of who we are," says Mark Carr's son Jonathan, vice president of marketing at the company's home office in Georgetown, Texas.
Yet it wouldn't be completely honest to say that the Carrs would just hand anyone a business simply based on their guiding principles. There was something about Guyton that made the Carrs look beyond his wild past.
Growing up in League City, Texas, Guyton's dad left his mom when he was four years old. By age 11 he'd started running with the wrong crowd. "I started experimenting with marijuana and alcohol. At 16 I had my first son, then another [child] at 18." At about that time, Guyton had graduated to speed and amphetamines, black mollies and yellow jackets. In his mid-20s he began experimenting with cocaine. "I was full blown," he said. "I was working but starting to live a life of crime to support these habits."
At about age 30, he decided to give up drugs. But once he quit using, he started selling. "Instead of being addicted to drugs, I was addicted to the money," he said. "I was living an extravagant lifestyle. Nice vehicles, paying all my bills. As for the cops, he said, "I had a catch-me-if-you-can mentality."
Two years later Guyton did get caught, and he sat in jail for 12 months waiting for a trial, which ultimately fell apart due to a technicality. He was eventually released, free to sell again, which he continued to do, for six more years.
"At 38 I started getting a feeling. Every time I got that page to make a delivery, it started weighing heavily and I just couldn't have peace with it. I said to myself, If I don't get out now, I never will. I flushed everything I had. At that point, I owed $50,000 to my supplier. I called him and said, 'I'm out. I don't have your drugs or your money, but I will pay you back."
In debt and without a job, Guyton was at one of the lowest points in his life both emotionally and financially. The one thing he wasn't lacking was ambition. Almost immediately, he decided to get a real estate license and then a personal trainer's license. He also got a job working for Verizon as a cell phone technician. After eight years he paid off his debt in full.
Married for the third time, Guyton had a new baby to support. "It was a challenging time. My wife was working at Dell, and she was making the money, calling the shots. It tested my manhood, but I wanted to stay the course."
In August 2007, desperate to make more, Guyton walked into a local Christian Brothers Automotive and asked if they needed front-office help. He was immediately turned down. Two weeks later he saw on the internet that they were looking to hire a service adviser. He reached out again, and this time they called him back and asked him to meet to discuss the role at a nearby Starbucks.
"At that point, all I wanted in my life was to be honest. I had had enough dishonesty, enough dirt, so I sat down and told them my whole story. I told them I want this job; I need it. But what I don't want is to sit here and not tell you about me and in a year you find out about it."
He got the job. "My starting salary was $41,000. I thought I struck gold."
For the next 10 years, Guyton's upbeat personality, dedication and diligence quickly helped him rise through the ranks, and Jonathan Carr personally chose him to supervise the building of a new location in Huddle, Texas. "He handed me a $30,000 Amex and the keys and I supervised the project," said Guyton. "We started it up and I was managing it and he trusted me. It boosted my confidence."
A few years later Carr relocated Guyton to the Georgetown, Texas, store to work alongside him. "When I came over, the store hadn't broke $1 million. Me and Jonathan worked together, and within three years we were bringing in $1.7 million."
According to Carr, Keith was so driven, he never thought much about his past. "Keith is a good man. He brings a lot of wisdom to the table, and he walks in every day being thankful for where he is now and what he's got," he said, adding, "Attitude is everything. Keith is always willing to put in the work and willing to take constructive criticism."
Last year Guyton's hard work and positive attitude paid off when the Carrs gave him the keys to the company's Georgetown location. "To this day I start to cry when I relive this," said Guyton. "I told them, 'I don't have no money, man.' And they said, 'We're going to finance it for you. This is a good-ol'-boy deal. We're going to sell you this, and you're going to make the payments."
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Guyton now has seven children, two grandchildren — and loads of advice about rising from failure. Here are some of the rules he learned from his experience and that he now lives by every day.
You must have order. Of all the rules, Guyton believes order must come first. "You must know the way things need to be. My order is God first, family next, job after that."
Take responsibility for your own actions. Don't lay blame, Guyton said. "It would have been so easy for me to say, 'Man, I'm just like my dad, and that's the way it is.' He was a drug addict and dealer till the day he died. But there comes a time when you have to take responsibility for yourself."
Always be honest — with yourself and with others. "I tell my kids, 'Always do things the right way. I can't tell you that after 10 years you are going to own a million-dollar business. I can't tell you that. But I can tell you I do know that people are always watching, even when you think they aren't. If you do the right thing, you will be rewarded."
Give people a second chance. Guyton realizes much of his success was due to the fact that people were willing to look beyond his past and give him a second chance. "I wasn't looking for a handout. I was looking for a hand up. An opportunity. Christian Brothers gave me the opportunity, and I took it from there. I used to think what people are now is what they are always going to be. But now I know people can change."
Appreciate what you have. "I'm always searching the reason for why I've been so lucky," he said, adding that he believes his past has served a purpose. "There's times when I say, 'Man, I've wasted a lot of time. There are a lot of people fixing to retire at 55. But I know if I didn't go through all the stuff I went through, I wouldn't be in the position I am today — or at least I wouldn't appreciate it."