Grace Huang, 45
Education: B.S., business administration, University of North Carolina; MBA, University of Pennsylvania
What drew you to the auto industry? Serendipity. I was in consulting. By the time I got to Autotrader, it was probably my 15th client across eight industries. The reason I ended up on the Autotrader project was because it was in an area that I worked a lot in; it was about growth strategy in China. And I had just worked in China for a year as a transfer from Atlanta. And so it was an Atlanta-based client that needed growth strategy in China. And when I got to Cox and I got to Autotrader I just fell in love with the company, fell in love with the whole industry.
First automotive job: In 2007, director of business development at Cox/Autotrader.
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Big break: Moving from strategy and product to the field operations of Manheim — and it was a pretty big switch. By then I had the industry piece down, but I didn’t have necessarily the vertical expertise. And my mentor at the time, Janet Barnard — who is a Leading Woman for the second time — I was working with her and she has this new role and just asked if I would be interested. And it was exactly what I wanted to do. I was trying to move out of strategy and more into field operations and I jumped at the opportunity and fell in love with it immediately.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? While working on my first project for the Boston Consulting Group in Shanghai, I realized how hard it was to lead a project and team without an understanding of the business context and culture. It was a very difficult project that I could have made easier by simply asking for help from the local team and my peers. Instead, I powered through and made it work. The experience taught me that there will always be situations where I may not have the knowledge and answers. My success is due, in part, to surrounding myself with a diverse and supportive team of people.
You’ve been in the industry 13 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? For us, it is this whole digitization. We’ve had more and more dealers moving online, moving to the digital space. But with COVID-19 now, everybody’s being forced to move much more digitally.
Tell us about your family. I’ve got two kids. They’re seventh grade and fourth grade, a son and a daughter. And I’ll tell this story and it’s applicable to Leading Women. So when my daughter was about 5, I was working for Janet Barnard. And it was my birthday. It was on a Saturday, and she had texted me to wish me a happy birthday. It was kind of a mom and daughter day. So we were shopping and she asked who texted me and I said, “Oh, it’s mommy’s boss, texted me to say happy birthday.” And she said, “Oh, he was wishing you happy birthday.” What shocked me was she automatically used the pronoun “he.” So I was like, “Oh, hold up, stop, timeout. First of all, mommy’s boss is a woman.” And the next time I had a chance to bring my daughter to meet Janet, I did, to make sure she saw that you can be a very successful woman in the workplace. And, what was most interesting about that is my husband doesn’t work. And so she has a female role model at home, but there’s still so much in society that basically says that, especially where we live in Georgia, the man is the main breadwinner. So I don’t know what it is at school or whatever it is, she automatically assumed that my boss was male. And so for me, doing what I do every day, it’s just even more important to make sure that my daughter knows that she can have whatever career she chooses to have and do whatever she chooses to do.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? Recently I’ve read quite a few different books around the racial protests that we’ve had, and really understanding how did we get to this place in the U.S. I read a book called The Color of Law earlier this year, that talked about the systemic laws that really have created this different class system with race being the dividing line. And then recently, I read White Fragility. Anybody who’s interested in better understanding how we got where we got to should read the book. Even for me personally, being part of the minority group, after reading that book, I realized some of the things I’ve done that have not necessarily promoted other folks of diversity — for those who are in the, what we call the outside, not-on-the-inside group. For those who are nonwhite, a lot of us have had to go along to get along. And after reading White Fragility, I realized that that has to stop for me personally. I need to stop going along to get along. And I’ve done that a lot over the last 20 years, especially at work. And so that was my commitment to my team, which I told them last week — that that’s my commitment to really take a different stance personally.
— David Muller