100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry
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Jill LAJDZIAK

President • Smart USA • Age 53
 
 
 
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Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I grew up in the business. My father was a Chevy-Olds dealer, and I've had a passion for cars ever since I was old enough to go to the dealership. I grew up in an era where the domestic auto was important to the marketplace, and I wanted to be a part of it.

I worked retail in my father's dealership when I was growing up.

First automotive job: Bad-debt collector, Jentink Chevrolet, Brillion, Wis., 1976.

Why didn't you go into the family dealership business? I have a brother 10 years my senior. It was a small store, and there were three siblings. There wasn't room for all three of us.

Proudest professional achievement: I was part of the startup team of Saturn. I'm really proud that I developed a capacity to understand how to create a brand, build on brand equity and preserve it in the marketplace. I'm glad I can do that for various businesses, but one of my proudest achievements is where I am today. I feel that I am at a really sweet spot in my automotive career that I can offer my insights into another corporation. To be a part of the Penske Automotive Group team is the highlight of my career.

On gender: It's not whether you're male or female; it's the degree to which you know your business. My working relationship with others is driven by people's knowledge of the business. So I don't look at it as male/female. I look at it as generic.

What you do to relax: As intense as I am at work, I am as intense in whatever I do personally. I'm competitive in many sports. I ski, sail, golf, am an avid reader, and I cherish entertaining friends and family.

— Arlena Sawyers

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