Tina Miller, 40
CFO, Lithia Motors
Location: Medford, Ore.
Education: B.S., commerce, Santa Clara University
What drew you to the auto industry? I actually fell into the automotive industry. I wanted to continue working for a publicly traded company, and it was the only one in the [Rogue Valley in Oregon]. I remember talking to my friends in the Bay Area, like, “How hard could it be? You know, you’re just selling cars. It’s no different than selling a computer.” Was I wrong? I was so wrong. What really kept me here was I love how complex the business is while it’s still an understandable business from the perspective of the consumer.
First automotive job: At Lithia, in 2005. I started as an internal audit manager and grew up in the company.
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Big break: Some of it is luck and timing, being in the right place at the right time. A lot of it is sponsorship and mentorship within the company. My predecessor, John North, left a little over a year ago to be the CFO of Avis. I was a manager when I started working for him and then was promoted to VP.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? For me, it’s about finding work-life balance for yourself and getting comfortable with authentically driving your career in a way that represents you. I spent lots of years trying to figure out how to drive my own career, how to have a family, how to be authentic in all of that. I was figuring out what resonates genuinely with me and balancing that because time is what’s limited.
You’ve been in the industry 15 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I like how we are focused on the full ownership life cycle and how to make that relevant to the consumer. As someone who doesn’t know a lot about cars, for me, it’s a practical thing that I own and that I want to maximize. I want to be able to take my car to a place I trust. I want to know that they’ll fix it every time, and when I’m ready for a new one, I want to know that they know what I like and it’ll be a fast and easy transaction.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? There’s lots of things we cannot control. What can we control? How do we be responsive to this? We’ve been in this pandemic now for months. Part of the discussions I’ve had with my team is, “Are you taking time off? How are you relaxing? How are you renewing yourself?” Because it has been hard. I think it’s important to stay human and acknowledge that we’re all adjusting and doing the best we can.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? Everyone wishes they had the knowledge and the skills that they had today when they were younger. But you wouldn’t have the knowledge and the skills without the mistakes. For example, we were implementing some software for a business intelligence dashboard. I didn’t hear the feedback that was coming from the operational side. I had designed the dashboard from the corporate perspective and what our users there would use. But really, the biggest bang for our buck would have been to design it for our general managers and our stores. The project had to pause and get redesigned. It was a huge lesson for me.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? We do a handful of things to highlight women and diversity in the company. Southern Oregon has a women’s leadership conference, and tied to that, we have events leading up to that conference to really talk about communication styles or how to have a difficult conversation or creating a diverse work environment. We have a corporate responsibility report that we put out where we track diversity metrics. Part of the fundamental start is just to gauge where you’re at because if you don’t know where you’re at, you don’t know where you’re going to go.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I’m divorced. I’m actually the first person in my entire family to ever get divorced. Being Asian, I was raised traditionally, expected to marry and stay home and all of these things. In a lot of aspects of my life, I am unconventional. I’ve had to learn how to reconcile over the years the expectations with what I ultimately ended up being. I’m always focused on my career. And I get the feedback, “What about your kid, and why are you not home?” My significant other stays home with my son. We figured those roles out. But we are exactly opposite of the traditional gender roles. Helping people see that you can be successful — and you can be comfortable doing that — is really important. It’s a role I take pretty seriously because I feel like you have to set an example. It doesn’t mean that every successful woman is going to be divorced and have opposite gender roles. But it works for me.
— Jackie Charniga