What attracted you to the auto industry? I was going to school to be a teacher. I ran afterschool programs for the YMCA and the Boys Club. CarMax, when it first started, had its own child care centers. You could shop for your car and drop your child off to play in the kids area. CarMax advertised in the newspaper for a child care coordinator, which is what I was doing at the YMCA. When I found out what the job was, I told them I'm going to school to be a teacher, I don't really baby-sit. Then they told me about the company and said we have other great opportunities.
I really had no intention of being in the car business when I was in college. And when I started with CarMax, I had no intention of being there 19 years later. I just happily ended up here.
First automotive job: In 1996, I started in business operations, which is titling, financing and all the back end of the business. The title was cash office administrator.
? Big break: I started in business operations and ultimately ran my own department. After I did that for a number of years, I was able to move to the director level in 2002. There were 17 different stores in the region, and each store had a business office. The senior managers in the business offices of each of those stores reported to me.
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? I'm tasked with making sure that all my store managers execute the same way and provide the same customer experience the same way, every single time.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Fred Wilson. He's the first person to really challenge me and give me some really direct criticism. He was executive vice president of store administration. He was the first real visionary that I worked for. He was great at saying, "This is where we need to go." I'd question, from a tactic standpoint, how are we going to do that? He'd look at me and say, "That's your job to figure that out."
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? From afar, a lot of people see the auto industry as male dominated, and it has been for many, many years. For me, as a female, I connect more on an emotional level. I see lives get changed every day — a single mom who can't get her kids to school, and she gets financed to buy a car. There's a human element. When we hear words like "dealerships" and "auto industry," we don't think about the stories behind the cars, the first-time car buyers or the parents buying their child a car to go off to college. I don't think we talk about the auto industry like that, so it doesn't connect with women on that level.
Tell us about your family. I've been married to my first and only husband for 15 years. We have three children, all boys, 14, 13 and 10. And we have three dogs. My husband is a stay-at-home dad for almost 14 years now. He was a stay-at-home dad when it wasn't the cool thing to do.
What's your favorite weekend activity? We camp a lot. We go down to the river and the lakes, nearby, and hang out by the campfire and sometimes go out on the boat.
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. My dad took me to get my driver's license on my 16th birthday, and he said, "We're going to get you a car." My car was a 1982 Pontiac Firebird. It had no hood, no rims on the front tires. It didn't run; we had to tow it. He said, "We're going to repair it." At the time, I wasn't too excited about it, but it was definitely fun. It took us about six months.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? Tony Dungy. I admire that he built a plan when he was the coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he ran that plan even though it didn't pay off originally. But he knew it was the right plan, and he kept running it. It did pay off for the team, and they were able to win the Super Bowl. He's also somebody who has had a lot of personal adversity in his life, and he gives back a lot.
? What's your guilty pleasure? Sitting by a campfire drinking my chardonnay out of a plastic wine glass.
Name one talent you wish you had. If I could play a guitar, that would be really cool.
By Arlena Sawyers