Dave Cantin has never been one to think inside the box. And clearly, his entrepreneurial life path has been anything but ordinary.
Cantin explained that in 2017 he created the second largest merger and acquisition deal in the automotive space in U.S. history. “Second to Warren Buffett, today what is [Buffett’s] Berkshire Hathaway Automotive Group,” he said.Suffice it to say, he was skilled at the task.
That very same year, he also launched the Dave Cantin Group, a national firm headquartered at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City with locations across the country. DCG offers an array of services, focused predominantly throughout the automotive industry.
The 42-year-old founder and CEO, born and raised in Freehold Township, NJ, compared the structure of the company to that of a JP Morgan or Goldman Sachs. The Dave Cantin Group, he explained, is the parent company to a family of brands: DCG Acquisitions (mergers and acquisitions), DCG Capital (lends money for capitalization loans, mortgages and more) and DCG Media (automotive podcasts and other brands). “DCG acquisitions is one of the largest mergers and acquisitions firms in the automotive industry,” said Cantin.
He spoke candidly about how he assembled the DCG team. After traveling the country and meeting one-on-one with hundreds of professionals, he chose “the best of the best” to join his venture. “We have an amazing team,” said Cantin. The skills of his employees—or as he refers to them, members—run the gamut, from those with top-notch track records of operating, selling and buying dealerships, to those with legal, manufacturing and financial expertise. He described automotive industry entrepreneurs as among the most resilient and philanthropic-minded individuals he has ever encountered. “They’re not afraid to give back,” he said.
Cantin, who lives a bicoastal life—splitting his time between New York, California and Florida—is quick to underscore that the financial success of the Dave Dantin Group is not what motivates him, nor what brings him the greatest joy and inspiration. That comes in the form of helping people and witnessing their success in reaching goals and fulfilling dreams. It is, quite frankly, what makes Cantin tick. Motivational speaking is particularly meaningful. Cantin often speaks with youth, including college students and beyond, with the goal of working together to form a realistic plan of action to bring dreams to fruition. His ultimate passion is watching someone he has helped succeed and thrive. “I love to invest in young entrepreneurs who have an incredible vision, but don’t know how to turn that into a reality,” he said.
And his mantra for DCG is different from what one might expect. Cantin asks his team to prioritize in the following order: health, family, passion (whatever that may be) and then DCG.
Cantin is laser-focused on youth and philanthropy. “Children are our future,” he said. “I’ve been involved in philanthropy for 20-plus years. I’ve always believed in giving back; the more you give, the more you will receive.”
He was a board member and past vice-chair of Hyundai Hope on Wheels, a board member of Hope & Heroes Children’s Cancer Fund and Project Ladybug, to name a few. Yet his passion is more than talking the talk. A percentage of the profits from every DCG acquisition revenue is donated directly to a childhood charity in the region where the transaction took place. Charities include those dedicated to pediatric cancer, autism and any disease, illness or cause impacting children. In fact, DCG Giving, the charitable arm of the Dave Cantin Group, has a director of philanthropy: Michael A. Weiner, MD, a pediatric oncologist with New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. “Dr. Weiner does his due diligence to ensure that funds are going to the right cause, said Cantin.
“Making a difference in the lives of others is a mission that is very close to my heart,” continued Cantin, who shared his life-changing health odyssey that further ignited his desire to give back. In 2011, he was training for the Boston Marathon and was feeling extremely fatigued. After a series of blood tests, Cantin received a call from his physician urging him to come to the office. His diagnosis: chronic myeloid leukemia, which was described as an incurable disease. He was treated by Gail J. Roboz, M.D., an oncologist with Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. “I said ‘Doc, 90 percent of this cure will be my attitude, ten percent is going to be your meds,” recalled Cantin. “’I have my 90 percent, so you better have your ten.’” Cantin called Roboz the most incredible, spectacular physician he has ever met.
Cantin underwent five years of chemotherapy. He wasn’t about to give up. After much spiritual work and soul-searching, together with his wife, Dina Cantin (former cast member of The Real Housewives of New Jersey television show), in 2017, he decided to stop treatment. When his labs/bloodwork came back—under the direction of Roboz—the results were unexpected and shocking. Cantin’s cancer was undetectable and still is. “I wake up every day, thankful and blessed to be here,” said Cantin, underscoring the invaluable family relationships for which he is grateful. He is referring to Dina, who has taught him balance, and his children from his first marriage: Olivia, 12, and David, 11. “They are my world,” said Cantin. He loves watching his son play baseball (he competes in a national league) and loves watching his daughter dance. Cantin has always been passionate about baseball. “I’m a huge NY Yankees fan,” he said.
Sports aside, Cantin’s resiliency was born from a challenging childhood. “Unfortunately, I grew up in a very broken home,” he said. “My father left when I was 9 and never came back. My mother had many challenges.” The young Cantin quickly became an entrepreneur as well as a leader of the pack. Whether shoveling snow, washing cars or raking leaves, he found ways to earn money. Other kids in the neighborhood followed his lead. At the age of 9 or 10, giving back was on Cantin’s mind: “I would make a dollar and look to give back 90 cents.”
The need to make it on his own carried through to his teenage years. “The day after high school graduation, I opened the classified ads in The Asbury Park Press,” he remembered. “College just wasn’t an option. I saw an ad for a salesperson at a car dealership. It said unlimited income potential.” Cantin got the job at a Jeep dealership in Freehold Township. Within a few years, he climbed the ladder from salesperson to general sales manager. By age 21, he was making $300,000 to $400,000 a year. Soon after, he teamed with former New York Giant’s football player, Brad Benson, and became a minority owner of the Brad Benson Automotive Group in Middlesex County, one of the largest in the country.
FAST FORWARD to 2014. Cantin sold his minority shares in the automotive group and started independent consulting in mergers and acquisitions. He also began brainstorming ideas to create his own firm.
The Dave Cantin Group had been going strong since its 2017 inception. Then came the unexpected global pandemic. Cantin cannot offer enough praise for the quick action throughout the industry and his team.
In March 2020, when COVID first appeared, Cantin immediately called a Zoom meeting. “I asked all my staff to put all business aside,” he said. His goal: To be there to help clients in any way, shape or form. That’s exactly what they did during that initial shutdown, from March through July.
Cantin noted that DCG Acquisitions became a sounding board—sending out safety protocols and advising clients on how to position themselves financially, how to weather the storm. DCG Capital assisted clients in negotiating and renegotiating with financial institutions to put payments on hold. The idea was to keep clients’ minds at ease as they faced unprecedented hurdles. “The greatest thing we saw that came out of this incredibly horrible pandemic was the resiliency and tenacity from these automotive dealership owners,” said Cantin. “They went from a complete standstill—a shutdown business—to immediately rallying back by supporting their employees and communities.”
In addition to implementing safety protocols to protect everyone, Cantin was overwhelmed to witness so many giving back. “I visited my clients across the country throughout the pandemic,” said Cantin, warmed by what he saw. “It was one incredible philanthropic experience to another. This is an industry that all entrepreneurs should learn from.”
When dealerships reopened, interest rates were low. Yet inventory was and still is limited, due to the initial chip shortage. “People wanted to buy cars like crazy,” said Cantin. “Dealers are experiencing historical profits, and consolidation in the industry is at an all-time high.” In addition, the opportunity to buy a business today is much greater than it was pre-pandemic.
Cantin acknowledges the business success of DCG. Yet, to him, success is not about finances or possessions. “My definition of success is when you reach that plateau of being purely happy; that’s where I’m at today,” he said. “I don’t need anything in my life other than my wife, my children, my health and having the ability to help others. Every time I help someone, it’s like winning the lottery.”