100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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Annette SYKORA

Partner • Smith South Plains Enterprises • Age 47
 
 
 
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Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I didn't initially realize that I wanted to, but I love a fast pace and a challenge. When I approached my dad to begin working with him, it was because of those reasons. Fairly quickly, I realized I really loved the auto business. To this day, I still love to smell the new-car smell and see that first new model arrive on the convoy.

First automotive job: In 1982. I was 19. I started as a title clerk.

Proudest professional achievement: Being a past chairman of NADA. It was a very proud moment to represent the dealers in 2008. It was kind of when everything broke loose — or fell apart. That's why I tell them I love being the past chairman. Being past chairman is a lot less stressful.

On Smith Ford-Mercury closing last October as part of Ford's dealership consolidation: It's tough. That was the store my grandfather started. That was the 50-plus-years store. But Ford did it in a very professional and humane manner, and it was the right business decision for all parties.

Current challenge at work: To keep everyone focused and to keep operating lean. To kind of carry our lessons from the past few years forward. I've been fortunate to be in Texas. Even at our worst, it wasn't as bad as other parts of the country. But we have felt like 2010 has been an improved year, so we haven't felt like we were riding a roller coaster as much as we had been. But one of the things that we take forward after experiencing one wind-down is each daily decision. We really think long and hard before we enter into long-term contracts with any vendor. You don't realize until you're winding down how many obligations have piled up.

On "No, can I speak to the real boss": Early in my career, I experienced some discrimination from vendors, from people trying sell to me, which I found extremely curious — when they wanted my money that they'd be condescending. Even when I was general manager and my father was still in the picture, a vendor would call my dad and my dad would say, "No, Annette will handle that decision." But they would continue to try to sell to my dad.

People would call and say they want to speak to the GM. And I'd pick up the phone. "This is Annette Sykora." They'd say, "I asked to speak to the general manager." That probably hasn't happened now in 10 years.

Dream job: I'd say for probably 15 of my 26 days of the month, I have my dream job. I have those few days that are not fun. But I think once I get my debt paid back down, I love doing what I'm doing. I wouldn't choose to do anything different.

What you do to relax: Drive fast. My favorite vehicle is the Ford Edge, day to day. But if I really need to blow off some steam, then I want to get in a Mustang Cobra and kind of air out.

And I read to relax. I've read every Grisham book, and I really like Nicholas Sparks. When I was traveling when I was [NADA] chairman — I can read a book in one or two plane rides. I have the first-generation Kindle. My favorite nonstressful time is around the dinner table with all our kids. All together, we have five kids. We're a blended family.

— Amy Wilson

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