John Alfirevich: Driving Community

For most 12-year-olds, a typical summer includes bike riding, video game marathons, and hanging out with friends. When your dad is general manager of a car dealership and the local mechanics are on strike, however, those pastimes have to be enjoyed between assisting with oil changes, patching flat tires, and replacing headlights. That was John Alfirevich’s (’81) experience after his father, Joe, called him to help out at Bob Motl Chevrolet in the summer of 1975.

Around that same time, John’s older sister, Mary Jo, was attending St. Francis de Sales (SFDS) High School, and it was assumed that he would follow suit. John was not initially convinced: “I was playing football at the time, and Mount Carmel had reached out,” he recalled. Providentially, a football game was what eventually sold him on becoming a Pioneer. “In eighth grade, a friend of mine called me up to go to a St. Francis football game,” explained John. “We go, and we’re sitting in the middle of the student section. We were playing St. Laurence, and it was an army of guys coming out—they looked big, almost professional. When our guys came out, we were smaller in stature and in number, maybe half as many kids on the squad. We still nearly beat them and it made me think, ‘I love to be the underdog; it’s more rewarding.’ That was a deciding point.”

After graduating from SFDS, John went on to attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, on a football scholarship, where a knee injury cut short his football career. “It was kind of devastating,” he admitted. “I was en route to be a decent player.” John used the injury to develop a daily discipline: “It got me up in the morning, every morning, working out. Maybe if I didn’t injure myself, am I still doing all of that?” The experience taught him a lifelong lesson: “Let failure be your friend,” advises John. “Failure is so important to who you are and who you’re going to be; it becomes your drive and your passion.”

After graduating from Benedictine in 1985 with a degree in business, John began working full-time at the car dealership, which had been renamed Apple Chevrolet and relocated to Tinley Park. He has worked in every department, and today shares ownership with his father. John’s leadership over the past two decades has fueled not only the dealership’s significant growth, but also its tremendous community impact: in 2018, Apple Chevrolet donated to nearly 100 organizations, including American Legion Auxiliary, Colon Cancer Coalition, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as well as many area schools, churches, and sports teams. In 2015, John was chairman of First Look for Charity, a fundraising event and celebration held the evening before the Chicago Auto Show. Under his leadership, the event raised $3 million for Chicago-area charities.

John’s dealership is also known for hosting charitable events such as Toys for Tots and an annual Barbeque for the Troops, which, in addition to providing food and fun for Illinois veterans and their families, raises $10,000 each year for the USO of Illinois.

A values-based educational background is evident in John’s professional ethos: “We treat our customers with unpretentious integrity, and that will always be a prerequisite for customer interactions in our dealership,” he explained. “Our philosophy and processes include 100 percent honesty in all our dealings, with open transparency in every transaction.”

John’s commitment to ethical excellence and community service has not gone unnoticed. He has been awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for Ethics, the NADA PAC Outstanding Achievement Award, and the Illinois Radio Broadcasters Recognition Award. Most recently, John was named Ally Bank’s 2019 TIME Dealer of the Year, and honored at an awards ceremony attended by 350 fellow industry and community leaders, friends, and family.

Of all of John’s accomplishments, being a strong community partner and creating and maintaining a strong team are two he counts among the most important. He received a lesson about the latter from his own son, John, now a marine biology major at Florida Southern University. “One day we were in the house and my son was cleaning out his 15-gallon fish tank,” recalled John. “I’m asking him questions about it and he tells me, ‘I’m building an environment here where if one thing doesn’t do its job, others die off. Everything in this tank has a job and has to do it to its fullest in order to ensure the health of the ecosystem.’” The conversation left an impression on the senior Alfirevich, and shortly thereafter, he purchased a 350-gallon aquarium for the dealership. “I didn’t buy it for the aesthetic,” explained John. “I pass by it every day, and it reminds me that everyone has a job, and my job is to make sure everyone does theirs. Here, as in the ocean, if someone is lacking something—education, skills, tools—it affects the others.”

Now with his two youngest children in high school, John says he is stepping back a bit from his work to ensure that he can participate in their busy lives. His advice to current SFDS students echoes St. Francis de Sales’ own iconic words. “I think young people should understand who they are and aspire to be who they can be,” John said. “The criticism’s going to come; you just have to believe in yourself and have bigger dreams.”