Emily Illingworth Kosnik,
General manager, minority owner, Toyota of Warsaw
When a second-generation dealer prepares to succeed their parent, typically the younger generation learns the business by working by the parent’s side, getting an education in automotive retailing from the inside out.
But that’s not the way Emily Illingworth Kosnik has built her automotive retailing career. If anything, the daughter of former Lexus brand head Dave Illingworth learned how to be an effective dealer from the outside in.
“I was like a corporate kid, and then I became a retail kid at a later age,” Illingworth Kosnik joked. Her father had retired from Toyota Motor Sales in 2008 and opened a new point for Toyota in Warsaw, Ind. — a longtime family stomping ground — a year later, while she was in college at the University of Arizona.
Illingworth Kosnik, who grew up in Southern California, had wanted to be a social worker and studied to do so, but when she graduated in 2010 and moved to Chicago, she needed a job and soon found herself at McGrath Lexus of Chicago.
“I was trying to not go the automotive route, but I always knew it would find me, and I would find it,” she said. After a stint at the dealership learning how it operated, she “wanted to try the corporate side of the business” and successfully applied to Toyota’s management trainee program, joining the automaker’s Central Atlantic regional sales team as a service and parts representative in 2012.
In her corporate job, Illingworth Kosnik traveled extensively, visiting service and parts departments in four states and soaking up ideas and best practices from the dealerships she visited.
“One of the things I really liked doing in that job was the service flow analysis, where you would follow the customer driving in and just kind of go on the journey with the vehicle,” looking at how the customer and dealership interacted with each other, she recalled. “All of that was really eye-opening for me because I saw how many steps there are along the way and how inefficient some were and how very efficient others were.”
Illingworth Kosnik admitted that she would have been perfectly happy staying on the corporate side. “I really had no interest in going into retail, to be honest,” she explained, adding that she met her husband while both were working as reps for Toyota.
But when the opportunity arose in 2018 to become her father’s minority partner at Toyota of Warsaw, the appeal of not spending 80 percent of the workweek in hotels away from home had a certain appeal. And when she did finally step into her father’s dealership, she carried with her a bagful of how-tos gathered from her time visiting other dealerships and working for the factory.
The result: a 64 percent new-vehicle sales increase compared with pre-pandemic, as well as significant gains in service and parts.
And yet, there’s still a little of the old social worker mentality left in her heart, Illingworth Kosnik admitted. “We’re very people-oriented and always want to take care of our people because they in turn then want to take care of our guests.”
— Larry P. Vellequette