As a junior in college, Savannah Simms spent spring break working with her dad at his auto dealership. She was within earshot when he called Diana Kennedy in for a meeting to appoint her the first female general manager in the dealership group’s history.
“It was a big deal and a really emotional moment for me,” Simms said. In November, she became the second woman named general manager at one of Price Family Dealerships’ 13 California rooftops, taking charge at Volvo Cars Palo Alto and McLaren San Francisco.
“This is my childhood dream,” said Simms, who grew up around the auto industry. Her father Adam, now retired, bought his first dealership when Savannah was only 5. Early on, she remembers handing out lemonade in the service lane and being put in charge of the Toyota dealership’s kid zone. As she grew up, she worked at the reception desk and helped in parts and service. At 15, Simms went through sales courses. Too young to sell cars, she said, “I had to buy them,” attending auctions and scouring Craigslist for prospects.
After earning a marketing degree from the University of Colorado Boulder, Simms spent time working on the vendor and agency side of the auto industry. And then came the pandemic. She found she missed being in the dealership world. Simms returned to the family dealership group as sales manager for Polestar Marin, working on a brand that “blew my mind. It was the future of automotive retailing.”
Today she and Kennedy, general manager at Volvo Cars Marin, are leaders of the Price Family Women’s Circle, which brings together more than 100 dealership group associates in addition to local business leaders, automaker partners and auto vendor teams from around the country. Simms said, “This is an employee-driven resource group committed to actively engaging women at all levels of the company, providing a chance to develop leadership skills and make connections with senior leaders across industries. Our mission is to educate on opportunity and inspire personal development through mentorship, discussion and experiences within our community.”
“Part of that is to discuss how we create an environment where women can build their dreams and develop the skills to unlock their full potential. We believe as an organization it is our responsibility to create a forum and safe space to discuss how we can make it a better place for our associates,” Simms said.
She said it’s important to involve everyone in the conversation. “We talk about what women need to feel safe in this business, how they can leverage their strength and present themselves with confidence. It’s critical to involve men in those conversations as well, to help open their eyes to the challenges women can face. How can we expect them to know what we need and what we expect if we do not share our experiences?”
Simms said she loves the dealership business. “I love that everyone is given an opportunity in the business,” she said. “My father comes from humble beginnings, and he has taught me that with perseverance, attitude plus effort and overall grit, anything is possible.”
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Simms said Catherine Bond Muir, CEO of the W Series women-only racing series, is a role model and inspiration. “She’s someone who doesn’t take excuses. Her philosophy is, ‘If you want it, go get it’ — and that even when things are difficult, it’s worth the hard work to keep reaching for your full potential,” Simms said. “Last year I was faced with some additional challenges and with her support and guidance, I stuck it out and dug further into my ‘why’ and I got my dream job. It has remained important to remind myself to ‘go get it.’ ”
Last year Simms recorded a mini biography for the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Women Driving Auto Retail initiative. In the video, she says, “What did you want to be when you grew up? I’ve had the same answer since I was 7: car dealer.”