Susan Scarola, the former vice chairman of DCH Auto Group and one of the most high-profile women in auto retailing, will leave Lithia Motors Inc., effective July 1.
After Lithia bought DCH in October in a deal spearheaded by Scarola, she joined Lithia as its "industry ambassador." But Lithia expected Scarola to stay just six to nine months after the deal closed, Lithia CEO Bryan DeBoer said.
"Susan was an invaluable part of the combination of the two organizations, and she was intending to retire after the combination," DeBoer told Automotive News. "Her role was to find a suitor for DCH, make sure it went well and mentor it for a short period of time."
Scarola, 64, and DeBoer said the transition is going well. But a difference in management strategy between DCH and Lithia is influencing her next move.
Scarola will continue as president of DCH Auto Group Charitable Foundation, which funds many teen safe-driving programs in partnerships between DCH employees and high schools in areas DCH does business.
The foundation's name will change to the National Foundation for Teen Safe Driving, and Scarola will seek funding for it from multiple sources, not just Lithia-DCH.
Under DCH, which had a centralized management structure, all of the group's stores were told to support the foundation's work. But Lithia operates under a decentralized business model, giving its 110 stores control over their individual operations.
Because of that model, Lithia withdrew its sole groupwide support for the foundation, prompting Scarola's departure and the foundation's name change.
"By having Lithia-DCH in the name of an independent foundation, it didn't allow other retailers or manufacturers to get involved," DeBoer said. "We believe for the foundation to gain the support of our dealerships, it has to be their decision. Then they can get their people involved, and it becomes part of their heart."
Lithia gives the foundation about $130,000 per school year, DeBoer said, and has committed to support the foundation for the 2015-16 school year. It likely will continue to be a supporter beyond that with the hope that dealers across the country will join, too, he said.
Scarola said she will seek support for the foundation from various auto dealership groups but will not limit it to those businesses.