Idaliz Maldonado, 38
General Manager, Hello Mazda of San Diego
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the way dealers interact with car shoppers, introducing new expectations on how retailers manage customer needs and wishes. For Idaliz Maldonado, those changes are not unlike what she experienced throughout her automotive career, working in the ultraluxury sector of the business with brands such as Bentley, Aston Martin and Maserati.
“When you’re at the penthouse, versus floor number five, you always had to perform at the next level,” Maldonado said.
At the luxury end of business, both the clients and manufacturers are equally demanding.
“I was able to work with so many people, for customers that had so many different experiences, and employees that were so passionate about the brands because they had been working with them for so many years,” she said.
Maldonado, born and raised in New York City, moved to Minnesota before high school, where she snagged a job as a receptionist with the local Feldmann Imports dealership group. She left the car business to work in real estate, and when the market crumbled ahead of the Great Recession, she migrated to personal banking.
But while in banking, she bumped into her old boss from Feldmann who convinced her to come back and work as a finance manager. That kicked off an 11-year run with Feldmann, representing Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Smart. She soon received a promotion to general sales manager.
Mercedes gave her a taste of how luxury auto works, she says.
"It was fun to work with that client base because they were they were always celebrating something," Maldonado said. "It just felt like such a luxurious, Louis Vuitton kind of brand."
In 2018, Karl Schmidt, then-CEO of Morrie's Auto Group in Minnetonka, Minn., hired her away to focus on just Mercedes-Benz. She also dabbled in Jaguar Land Rover before making the leap to the group's ultraluxury platform that represented the top-shelf European brands.
There were travel opportunities that came with the job, including her first visit to California.
“Coming to [the West Coast] was so beautiful and the scenery was surreal. The weather was the amazing — it was always sunny.”
Schmidt, who left his post as CEO but remained a mentor to Maldonado, presented her with an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. He was opening a Mazda store in San Diego and wanted her to be its general manager.
“I knew I was ready to be a GM and I would have great mentorship and leadership with the company,” Maldonado said.
She now lives Southern California selling Mazdas from a former family fun center, replete with mini golf and an arcade, which the group took over while it awaits the opening of a permanent location in August 2023.
The family-owned Hello Auto Group is about to open its sixth rooftop.
The group has Hello Mazda of San Diego; Hello Mazda and Hello Subaru, both in Temecula; and Mazda and Kia stores in Valencia. A Subaru dealership is expected to open soon in Valencia.
“They like to provide genuine, honest, respectful and fair experiences, which are all of my cores,” she said. “If I were the business owner, I’d run it exactly how they are.”
— Carly Schaffner