Penske Automotive Group
What attracted you to the auto industry? While I didnít go to Northwood for the automotive program, I got involved in several marketing related programs around things like their auto shows and I was head of the computer lab. When I graduated, the Northwood staff introduced me to Reynolds and Reynolds.
I would work four to six weeks at a time at a dealership. I started in the parts and service department. Everything was manual, so being a computer major, it was fascinating to me that all these auto retailers used everything manual.
First automotive job: Helping these parts managers take away those manual parts books and use electronic parts catalogs. This was in the late 1980s and early 1990s so talk about a challenge ó asking a parts guy to get rid of his parts catalog.
Big break: It was getting into Reynolds. I interviewed for a position in Detroit as a trainer. It went to a gal who had a lot of automotive background. I had none. I was really devastated. But about a week later I got a call and they said that candidate had fallen through and they were going to take a chance on me. Once I got in I had an opportunity to prove myself and moved pretty quickly.
What is the major challenge youíve faced in your career? My biggest challenge right now is that the world is moving so fast. Marketing and IT have become very close so you have to be really tied in with your IT department. Everythingís online and with social media and digital marketing, every day you have to be aware of what is new. I have a 16-year-old, which is very helpful to me. My 16-year-old will keep me up to speed on whatís new and is usually well aware of the trends way before we are.
When I got to Penske in 2007, they didnít have a corporate marketing department to speak of, the stores did all of their own things and we had tons of agencies. So to try and build a marketing department and have standardization in marketing, which is an area that dealers feel strongly about, that was a really big challenge for me.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Iíve had so many great mentors who were C-level executives, but my father was by far the biggest influencer on my career. My dad always believed strongly in what he would call street smarts. You can get all the schooling you want, but if you donít have good street smarts, you arenít going to make it through big companies, particularly being a woman. He always instilled the confidence in me that it really didnít matter at all that I was a woman. I was capable of doing any job that was out there. He helped me stretch myself and go for positions that perhaps I wouldnít have on my own. Heís still the guy that I go to for work advice.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Getting gals at a young age to realize the opportunity in automotive is a key. And helping them understand that there really isnít a bias toward men that 30 years ago probably was true. Then flexibility is really key. You have to be a company that can demonstrate flexibility because not only women, but all young folks, are demanding flexibility in their workplace.
Tell us about your family. All of my family is here in Michigan. My husband and I took one move to Dayton, Ohio, back in the mid-1990s when I was promoted in Reynolds. My son was in second or third grade, so we thought we could do it without hindering him. But we were thrilled when Roger [Penske] provided the opportunity to come back to Michigan in 2007.
When and where was your last vacation? We went in April to Naples, Fla. We go to Naples every year. Outside of that we have my son pick a trip every year that heíd like to take. Our last adventure was New York City and we had a blast.
Best advice youíve ever gotten? My first time as a manager at Reynolds ó I was very young ó my grandfather said, ďIf youíre leading and no oneís following, youíre only taking a walk.Ē So much of my career has been around needing other people. The people on my team roll up their sleeves and get it done and make me look good. So taking care of your employees is always No. 1.
By Jamie LaReau