Director of diversity, engagement & foundation, Walser Automotive Group
Dayna Kleve never guessed she’d one day work in the auto industry.
Kleve was a broadcast news producer in Minnesota and saw herself, first and foremost, as a journalist. The idea of auto retailing was a world away as she researched and wrote stories for broadcast.
But for Kleve, an avid cyclist with a love of travel, the wear and tear of the broadcast news business became too much.
“If you’ve ever worked in broadcasting, you know it can be a rough work-life balance,” she said.
Scratching an itch to spend time adventuring abroad, she left journalism and spent a year in South Korea teaching English. She then returned to Minnesota in search of a new career broadly in communications. She eventually found one at Walser Automotive Group, a dealership group with stores in Minnesota, Kansas and Illinois.
She began working as a “reputation management specialist” for Walser in 2017, responding to Google and Yelp reviews. Kleve soon switched to social media and corporate communications, where she was able to lean on her skills as a journalist.
“That was my sweet spot, thinking about executive communications and thinking about how we control our brand and tell our story on a larger scale,” she said.
That story is always centered around people, and making sure that Walser’s workers feel welcomed, included and able to succeed. Kleve has worked to boost communications and transparency between the dealership group and staff, and in recent years has made diversity a key priority.
Based on feedback from employees, Walser has launched employee resource groups for women, LGBTQ+ staff, Asian and Hmong workers, and veterans, Kleve said. The group is starting to become known for its “brand of equity and inclusivity,” she said.
“We’re not interested in talking the talk if we’re not walking it,” she said.
Her communications and DE&I strategies have helped reduce employee turnover at Walser. In 2020, the group had a turnover rate of 31 percent, well below the industry average of 46 percent, according to NADA’s Dealership Workforce Study that year.
With those successes in mind, Kleve said her unexpected journey to the auto industry has been a rewarding one.
“At the center of this is always telling our story of who we are and what we do,” she said.
— John Irwin