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Lisa Copeland

Fiat-Alfa Romeo of Austin

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Managing Partner , Fiat-Alfa Romeo of Austin
Austin, Texas
Age: 50
Education: Associate degree, fashion merchandising, Art Institute (Dallas)

What attracted you to the auto industry? Funny story. I was in college and I was a fashion major and I wrecked my car. I had not paid my car insurance because my parents had paid it [previously] and I was buying all my clothes and everything to be fabulous. When I wrecked my car, there was no public transportation and all of a sudden I don't have a car. The guy I was dating and who now I've been married to for 28 years, he had just graduated from college and was a football player and had gotten hurt and was selling cars and he said, "You should sell cars."

I said, "Well, I sell skirts now." The only reason I should sell cars was because if you were a salesperson, you got a free car to drive. That's really my story, and it's a mortifying story but it's the truth.

I'm a fashion designer. I'm a true fashionista. So the thought of selling cars had never entered my mind — it was a necessity. And I'm so grateful I wrecked that damn car now.

First automotive job: In 1987 I sold cars at Jim Johnson Chevrolet in Dallas.

Big break: I'm the managing partner of Fiat-Alfa Romeo of Austin. I met my mentor, Nyle Maxwell, who is also my business partner today, in 1988. Going to work for him was the toughest, most miserable job I've ever had, and that can be said in Automotive News because we are still partners today. He taught me how to do everything right and never compromise.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? It's been 28 years in and out of this business, but back in the old days, it was being a young female in a very male-dominated business — I'm talking late '80s and early '90s — and just being taken seriously. Especially in Texas. It was kind of the wild, wild west.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Nyle Maxwell because he has believed in me at times when I didn't believe in myself. Probably the best example was the launch of Fiat in the U.S. I was his platform general sales manager when I came back to work for him, and we got this call to come to Detroit and see this new brand they were launching. I just remember being in Detroit, and of course I'm the queen of Fiat and the whole world thinks I am the one who pushed this thing, and I did, I did the work, but he really believed. I remember him telling me when we were leaving Detroit, "I think we can make history with this brand." I said, "You do?" He said, "I do. It's going to be hard, it's going to be tough, but, boy, if we can do it, I think it's going to change the whole face of the automotive industry." There have been so many times that he's believed when I've doubted.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? The No. 1 thing is flexibility. As women, we are wives, we are mothers, we are caretakers and we're businesswomen. That's usually three more hats than our male counterparts have to wear and there has to be some flexibility with that or she, the female employee, can't stay.

I stayed with Nyle Maxwell almost 10 years the first time, and I left because I had to. My kids were young and I was not willing to not raise my children. I started a mortgage company and was probably more successful at the mortgage and securities business than I was in the auto business. I did that for 12 years.

I came back because I wanted to. My kids were both in college and I had always kept a relationship with Nyle, and so I came back. We as dealers are missing out on a lot of amazing women in the prime of their careers because of the lack of flexibility. I was able to build a $100 million a year mortgage company in the 12 years I was gone. And I could do it and still raise my kids and have a fantastic life. There's no way I could do what I've done with launching this brand in America over the last five years if I had young children. The sacrifice would've been too great.

Tell us about your family. I've been married for 28 years and I've got two amazing kids. My daughter is 26 and my son is 24, and I've got a grandson who's 3 and who I'm absolutely obsessed with.

Are you able to maintain friendships? I try to go to dinner at least once a week in groups. I've been lucky because I'm at a point in life where most of my friends are in their late 40s and it's not like they have to run home and take care of their kids. That would be hard. When I was 30, there was no way I could maintain as many friendships as I can now.

What's your favorite weekend activity? Going to Lake Travis with my family.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I'm an avid reader. I try to read a book a week.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? My dad. He passed away seven years ago. We would have steak, salad and Bacardi and Diet Coke, our favorite dinner.

Do you have a guilty pleasure? Shopping. Christian Louboutin shoes.

By Ryan Beene

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