Maureen LaFONTAINECo-owner • LaFontaine Automotive Group • Age 64
That was 25 years ago. I was just going to learn more about the business in case of an emergency. I learned a lot in a very short amount of time. The automobile business — either you love it or you hate it, and I ended up to find that I was good at it.
First automotive job: In 1985, a part-time salesperson at LaFontaine Toyota in Dearborn, Mich.
Proudest professional achievement: My children have followed in the business. There are three of them actively involved. They're all at different stores. They're as passionate as we are. They want to succeed.
Also, two years ago, we built the first green-gold dealership for General Motors in the nation. We've got our heart and soul in it. It's a fabulous facility. I put a boutique, cafe and a salon in it. Those I wanted to do for years and years. It has 63 skylights and geothermal [heating].
The minute we announced we were going green, we had customers saying, "If you're really going to do this, we won't buy our cars anyplace else." We have customers from all over the place.
Current challenge at work: The last year and a half to two years, with General Motors and Chrysler going through bankruptcy, it's been a real challenge. Things are picking up, but it's nothing anybody experienced before. I said, "Let's just put one foot in front of the other, and let's run." We felt for the first time we were out of control — when you've got your manufacturers going bankrupt, you have no idea [what will happen]. Banks tightened up. We didn't have to fire or lay off anybody. We made it work. But it wasn't looking really bright right then.
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for female executives? The hours are very, very long. As a mom and an executive, you really have to keep flipping hats. That's what's difficult for a lot of women.
Dream job: I think I'm living that. I had always wanted to be an interior decorator. It's something I'm very good at. But with our four children and looking out for the future for them, it took me in a different direction. But I've never been sorry. I decorate the dealerships, decorate the house.
What you do to relax: Read. I network all the stores. So I found that when I'm going, and I'm not on the phone — and I have a driver for that reason because I do a lot of work in the car — if I have downtime at all, I keep my Kindle in the car. I just like little smut books. There's enough going on in this world. I don't want anything heavy to read. It takes you out of this world a little bit.
Also, we do boating in the summer. We are a very close-knit family. The kids will come over all the time with the grandchildren.
— Amy Wilson