“I was always very competitive and wanted to do my own thing,” says Karen Sutton-Ford. “When I was young, maybe 10 years old, I told my parents I was going to run the dealership.”
“The dealership” was her family’s Ford store, started in 1989 by her dad, Nathaniel Sutton.
Sutton-Ford made good on her promise. Today she is Dealer Manager of Sutton Ford in Matteson, Ill. Her sister, Karmala Sutton, is Dealer Manager at the Sutton family’s second dealership, Honda of Kenosha in Wisconsin.
The Sutton sisters are among the group of young women emerging as leaders in the dealership industry—and receiving accolades for their achievements. Karen was named to the Automotive News 40 Under 40 list in 2019, while Karmala was the inaugural winner of the Ally Sees Her Award in 2018.
“Two years ago, we launched the Ally Sees Her Award to recognize women leaders of color at dealerships, … women who excel at business and at giving back to their communities,” says Jacqueline Howard, senior director of corporate citizenship at Ally.
“We believe that recognizing these women leaders—especially women of color, who are underrepresented in boardrooms across the country—lifts our entire industry.”
The Ally Sees Her Award was inspired by the Association of National Advertisers’ #SeeHer campaign. “They wanted to give young women across the country role models they could see and aspire to be,” Howard says. “We wanted to do the same thing with the Ally Sees Her Award. We wanted to hold up women making a difference and help advance the goals of diversity and inclusion.”
This year’s winner of the Ally Sees Her Award is Grené Baranco, manager of new and used sales at Mercedes-Benz of Buckhead in Atlanta.
“The award is our way of lifting women of color by spotlighting a leader who is making a difference in her community and at her dealership,” Howard says. “We want to showcase leaders like Grené who inspire other women.
“Grené has kept her eye on innovations throughout her career, implementing one of the first-ever auto internet sales departments in the country in 1997. She’s dedicated to continually improving the industry while also forging a path for the women who follow her.”
Baranco, who has worked at her family’s dealership since high school, says she sees more women in the business today, "it’s rare to see a female manager --especially in a luxury dealership, but it’s starting to ramp up. I've noticed more women in general manager and other management positions lately” she says. "It’s important that women are represented in leadership roles.”
Karmala Sutton says that when she started at the family business in 2014, women were present mostly in dealership offices, often unseen to customers.
“You wouldn’t see women on the sales floor or in F&I—and it was even harder to find a female tech,” she says.
Although that’s improving at dealerships, Sutton says, she’d like to see a broader presence of women throughout the industry.