Diana Kennedy, 34
General manager, Volvo Cars Marin
Since taking over as general manager of Volvo Cars Marin in San Rafael, Calif., 15 months ago, Diana Kennedy has increased new-car sales by 40 percent and doubled profitability.
“I took the store from being in the middle of our market to being a top three performer,” she said.
Not bad for a high school dropout who confessed to cutting most of her classes.
Kennedy attributes her career success to a bit of luck and a lot of determination.
The luck part came when, as an 18-year-old, she decided one day to drive to an auto row in San Jose, Calif., determined not to return home without a job offer.
She happened to pull in to Honda of Stevens Creek.
“The next thing you know, I’m in front of two sales managers, and I get offered a job, which started my sales career,” she said.
In a little more than six years, Kennedy went from sales rookie to managing Toyota Marin for Price Simms Family Dealerships.
Kennedy said she gets her resilience and determination from her mother, who emigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. in 1985 and ran a restaurant business.
“I saw how hard my mom worked,” she said.
Kennedy discovered her interest in cars in high school. She signed on for a two-year vocational training program in automotive repair. She was the only girl in the class, she recalled.
“It was intimidating, and I was uncomfortable at first. But I ended up really enjoying the class. I was working on cars — taking them apart, changing oil and timing belts.”
For Kennedy, the auto business isn’t just a career but a mission.
“I’m helping people — whether it is buying a car or getting them back on the road,” she said. “We’re changing lives every day because people need transportation to get home, to work, to school and to take their kids to activities.”
Kennedy is also giving back through the Price Simms Women’s Circle, a mentoring group.
“Finding and attracting talent is our biggest challenge — across the board and in all departments,” she said.
The group does outreach with the Girl Scouts and other organizations to show that the auto industry can offer women a promising career.
“You don’t just have to sell cars or work on cars,” said the mother of two. “There are many positions that are available to women.”
Kennedy said there are many paths to success.
“For being a dropout with no college degree, I’m making a very good living,” she said. “There’s that stigma that if you don’t go to college, you’re not going to succeed. I’ve proven that wrong.”
— Urvaksh Karkaria