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Karen McKemie

Sonic Automotive

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Divisional Vice President, Sonic Automotive
Charlotte, N.C.
Age: 56
Education: B.A., economics and psychology, Albion College

What attracted you to the auto industry? I was recruited by AutoNation. It was an opportunity for industry transformation as they were trying to roll out the mega stores and change the whole customer experience.

First automotive job: Chief information officer for AutoNation in 1997

Big break: There are two. One was when I was in information technology. I had done that at Anderson Consulting for many years. That's why I was hired at AutoNation. But I really wanted to get into operations, so I had been talking to Mike Maroone, who was president of AutoNation, about that, and he gave me that opportunity to migrate into operations. I oversaw the training group and the group that rolled out one price and all the processes that we were trying to standardize.

A couple years later, I wanted to run a store, and I was given the opportunity to run a Mercedes-Benz store in Houston.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? The challenge I faced initially was that I was not from the industry and worked with people who owned dealerships, and it was difficult to establish credibility with them. I wanted to learn it, but at that time, it was an industry that was not very progressive, and if you weren't a car guy, then you didn't have a lot of credibility.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Jeff Dyke (Sonic executive vice president of operations). He never focused on the things I didn't know; he always focused on the energy, enthusiasm and hard work I was willing to put in.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? One is to help them understand that it isn't a good old boys club. There is plenty of opportunity and much more flexibility than they think. Another great thing about this industry is you're not time-boxed. You don't have to spend X many years in this role or X many years in that role. It's one of the few industries still left that you can chart your own path and through your performance accelerate your success. It's an incredible industry where the sky's the limit, and I don't think women know that.

Tell us about your family. I was born and raised in Michigan. My dad was on the fringes of the auto industry, and I never thought I would go into the automobile industry.

I have been married for 31 years to the same person. He has been a tremendous support to me. I couldn't do what I've done, I couldn't be where I am professionally, without Andy's support. We've moved multiple times to places that I know weren't on his list.

We don't have children. We have adopted cats, Tiger and Misha, who are great to have because they don't require a lot of attention.

What's your favorite weekend activity? We like to golf and mountain bike. We like to visit with family and friends and have people over and grill out. And we like to go to movies and read, but mostly we like to be active.

Best advice you've ever gotten? It was from Jeff Dyke. I'm very analytical, and I like to think things through and make sure I understand the cause and the effect. And Jeff would tell me: "Karen, just break some eggs."

There are times when any action is better than no action, and don't be afraid to break some eggs and get outside of your analysis paralysis.

By Jamie LaReau

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