Tamara Darvish, 57
President of U.S. operations, AutoCanada
Education: B.S., business administration in marketing and management, Northwood University
What drew you to the auto industry? The family business, originally. When I got out of high school, I really didn’t have a plan. I had not even applied to go to college or anything. And my parents were divorced, so I went to stay with my father and he kept pushing me to go to Northwood. And I thought about it for about a semester and was like, “Yeah, why not? What have I got to lose? I’ll go.”
First automotive job: May 1984, selling cars.
Big break: My big break came in 1989, when about a year and a half prior, we had acquired a Toyota dealership. And when we relocated it, we had to get a new dealer agreement. I had applied to be the general manager. I went for my interview and it was difficult to get the interview because they liked to do everything in paper back and forth. But I just showed up at the regional president’s office for, like, three days and he finally met with me and I gave them all the reasons why I thought I would be an excellent general manager here and what my business plan was. He said he would do it for 90 days and see how it goes. And then right after that, we got our standard six-year agreement. But he took a chance, I think, on me when no one else would. No other manufacturer would, particularly at that time.
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What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I think a lot of people are given the same opportunity, but I think women are a little bit more hesitant to maybe seize them. I feel I had to be a lot more aggressive in chasing things. I spent decades proving myself in the industry. Where I think in many cases, a male ... I mean, I look at some organizations and I know some of these leaders and you just wonder how they sort of sleepwalk into these roles. Because I think given a choice between a male and a female, I think it’s perceived that the male might be a stronger candidate.
You’ve been in the industry 36 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? Although I feel we still have a lot more work to do, I think that we’ve come a very long way on improving the image of our industry, not only from the kind of people that we are, but for communities across the country to really understand the impact that our industry has. Our industry really lends itself to taking people who may not have been the best students in the world, but they have a desire to win and they work hard and they really want to grow and be something better than they were yesterday.
Describe your leadership style. I’m very engaged. And sometimes that kind of freaks people out. Sometimes you could be mistaken as micromanaging. But I feel like when I’m working on different projects or trying to make decisions or focus on process, I like to get out in the field. I like to work the floor. I like to write service. I like to greet customers in the service lane. I like to call customers who were in showrooms who left without buying and things like that. It’s not really to micromanage as much as it is that I like to be close and on top of, as close to reality as I can get.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? I think all parents say I wish I spent more time with my children. But outside of that, I wish I had explored external opportunities from the family business years prior to having made that change.
How do you bring your best self to work? Your confidence is an art. You turn it on, you turn it off. So regardless of maybe something challenging or bad that happened yesterday, you’ve got to kind of forget it. And you just keep moving forward.
Are you able to maintain friendships? I have one BFF and one very special one that we actually met as roommates in college. We were randomly assigned to the same dormitory. We talk every morning. A lot of people talk to their moms every day. I talk to my BFF Rose. When I’m down, she’s there. And when she’s down, I’m there. That’s how I start my day, every day. So that’s how I jump-start it. We talk about challenges that we had yesterday and we talk about what I would have done or what she would have done. We make fun of each other. And we’re complete opposites. She very rarely agrees with me.
— Melissa Burden