Corina Diehl, 58
CEO, Diehl Automotive Group
Location: Butler, Pa.
Education: B.A., marketing, Rutgers University
What drew you to the auto industry? My husband died and I chose to take over our existing dealership.
First automotive job: In 1989, I ran a leasing company. I exported cars. I’m fluent in German. I stopped working with the company in 1994. But taking over [the dealership in 2007] after having not worked for a period of time was brutal. At the time, my daughter was 12, and my son was 18. We had one location, two franchises. Matt died in April of ’07, so kind of floating along, getting myself integrated into the store with the team we had in place. I didn’t get a lot of respect from my co-workers. The franchises were really tough on me. One of them did not want to give me the franchise because I was someone’s wife. And then the world fell apart [because of the financial crisis]. I don’t know how I did it.
Big break: Probably getting a dealership that wasn’t through my husband’s death. I’ve been lucky enough to have great relationships with manufacturers, and the fact that I’ve worked really hard and all my numbers can substantiate me wanting to buy a franchise that is out of my current network. I’ve earned it. I worked for it. Is it a break? I guess it is because I was given this opportunity to take over a store, and I’ve rocked, and I’ve done everything I should have. I’ve treated people right along the way. When I go to apply for a Ford store, they’re pretty welcoming.
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What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I fought for years to keep my company alive. I fought with men in my own organization who were very disrespectful. And then I was still a mom. I had a son who was a freshman in undergrad, and I had this little 12-year-old girl at home that lost her dad that still needed me to come home and be her mom.
You’ve been in the industry 13 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The amount of younger people that I am able to attract into the automotive space. I hear a lot about [the industry] having a difficult time bringing in young blood. And we’ve been very successful in every department. It goes back to the way you treat people, what their expectations are and giving them a quality of life and a great pay scale.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? The digital world has always been very interesting to me. I thought in the next two years we would shift a lot more. I think COVID forced that hand. We shut down the state of Pennsylvania for two months. We couldn’t sell cars at all. Then we went online. We got really good at it. I think it helps with work-life balance. If you’re working five days a week, you might have one day where you come in at 11 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. You’re still, hopefully, sleeping in that day. But if you need to leave to go get a haircut, just go do it. Most companies should have leeway. Being stuck anywhere from 9 to 5, what are you going to accomplish in 30 minutes for lunch? At the end of the day, if you’re really good at what you do, you’re going to work 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. if it’s a crazy day, and the next day you’re going to say you need to breathe a little bit.
Tell us about your family. I have two children; they’re adults now. My son’s 32, and my daughter’s 26. They both work with me. I have five locations, nine rooftops, three collision centers. My son is truly my right hand. He’s vice president of the organization. He handles the front side of the industry. My daughter is running an office right now for me; she’s on the back side. She’s watching my money.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I’m single, so that leaves a lot of time in between work. I enjoy my hobbies, and I make sure to do them. I’ll have dinner with family or dinner with friends. I’ll come home, kick off a few more emails. Weekends, I blow it out. I’ll go hang out with friends. In a normal year, we would go to concerts on Saturday nights. I putz around in the garden. I ride a motorcycle. I make time for cool stuff. We’re in the car business; the last week of the month, we need to be there, right? That’s when we do the bulk of our business. But they all need long weekends. I do the same thing with my management team. They get at least one long weekend a month to be human. That’s not vacation time, that’s head time.
— Jackie Charniga