Zhuqiong Alice Cao, 30
General manager, John Eagle Acura
Zhuqiong Alice Cao enjoys the unpredictability of the auto retail business. “It’s a different adventure and challenge every day,” the self-described extrovert said. “You don’t know what to expect when you walk into the store in the morning. It’s addicting.”
Cao, who moved to the U.S. from China at the age of 13, began her automotive career eight years ago. Since then, she’s cycled through nearly a half-dozen stores across two dealership groups.
In fact, in late May, Cao moved jobs again — taking the general manager role at John Eagle Acura in Houston, after just a year running the group’s Infiniti store across town.
Cao’s professional mobility reflects her abilities.
In her first general manager role, at Volkswagen of Alamo Heights in San Antonio, the then 28-year-old more than tripled the store’s monthly net income and more than doubled the store’s sales goals. Prior to that, as finance director at Sterling McCall Lexus in Houston, Cao generated $1.2 million in monthly gross profits on average in the finance and insurance department over three years.
Cao’s success is especially surprising given her nonautomotive industry roots.
After graduating with an accounting degree from the University of Houston, Cao found herself stuck behind a desk in the back office of a real estate firm.
“I spent all day in a cubicle staring at three screens and doing financial analysis,” she recalled.
Ten months later, Cao had had enough. She went looking for a more stimulating gig and found it at Group 1 Automotive as a management trainee.
“I went through every single position in the dealership during the two-year training program, starting as a service porter,” Cao said. “I was a technician for a month, I learned how to work on simple things for the vehicle.”
Cao describes her auto retail industry experience as “eye opening.”
“You just have to be a sponge and learn everything you can and have an extremely open mind,” she said. “I was surprised at how welcoming the industry is. People here don’t have a lot of drama.”
Cao is also surprised at how quickly the industry is adapting to shifting consumer trends.
“When I first joined, everybody wanted to come to the store, look at the car, test drive the car and ask questions,” Cao said. Now, customers do a lot of their car-shopping research online and arrive at the store ready to complete the sales transaction, she said.
The coronavirus pandemic is sure to accelerate the industry’s evolution.
Practices such as home test drives and virtual car shopping — born out of necessity in the wake of the pandemic — will continue long after the health crisis has passed.
“Internet sales are extremely important now. We are doing electronic contracts,” Cao said.
“There’s a portion of customers who want to do everything on mobile devices.”
— Urvaksh Karkaria