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#UpWithHer: Using cars to invest in solutions to social change

Matching paint and fixing dings are now a part of Michelle Corson’s business to create solutions for society. Here's how she got there.

A love of cars steered one North Texas woman to start a business built on giving back. 

Michelle Corson is the CEO and founder of On the Road Companies, a family of businesses focused on improving access to better transportation with impact investing to build a sustainable business and help people. 

Her mission to invest in solutions to social problems started years ago with On The Road Lending to help low-income individuals get affordable loans for good vehicles while avoiding predatory lenders.   

Investors would be willing to take a smaller financial return because they knew the value of the return the investment would have on their society around them.

“Nonprofit is not a business philosophy; it is a tax status," Corson said. "So, as you’re thinking about organizing your business, the structure that you have, be very open-minded about it. Be creative. Look at things in a "'what makes sense from the market standpoint.'"

And that's what she did when she opened up On the Road Garage in Irving earlier this year, a tech-focused collision and repair center to create a pipeline of skilled professionals in the industry.

“It’s woman-owned and woman-managed, we have got a lot of very experienced women who are working here,” Corson said.

Cathy Bonner, the former CEO of Service King, is leading the effort, which has created a paid internship program to train people on how to do the work, an area Corson says is facing a real skills shortage. 

“This is a very STEM-focused career here and also somewhat artistic,” Corson explained.

If you’re considering a job change – listen to this. Corson says a trained body- tech can make about $150,000 a year without a four-year degree.    

“Not only will you get fantastic service and be cared for and be in a place where you’re not talked down to, but you’re also helping vulnerable people, women and others, to learn a really great career. They can make a very good living,” she said.  

A second On the Road Garage is in the works, with plans to open in Dallas later this year. 

A car-lover from birth, Corson’s first car was a Mustang.  

“My mom always said, 'I don’t know where this came from.' My mom drove a Honda and my dad drove a Buick,” she said.

So what did the Mustang look like? 

“It was a Mustang II, 1978, pumpkin-colored. It had door dings on the side that somebody had touched up on the side with nail polish that didn’t really match the color," she remembered.

Matching paint and fixing dings like that are now a part of Michelle’s business. But how did she get here?

She says you have to think big when you’re striving to start something.  

“I know that runs counter to what a lot of advice out there would be, but I think, particularly as it relates to women, there’s a tendency to be kind of cautious. You’ve got to be a risk-taker and you’ve got to be bold,” she explained.

Corson adds there’s no substitute for action, so quit sitting on the sidelines.  

“All of the big ideas in the world don’t mean anything if you can’t execute on them. You’ve got to be able to take the risks to actually try to put that in motion."