Channel | Industry

She’s the Boss

Top female executives from around the industry reflect on their experiences and share their secrets for success in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
She’s the Boss

This summer, we put a call out to our readers for nominations for recognition in this issue. The response we received was immediate and overwhelming. The task of narrowing down the entries to the 25 profiles on these pages took several weeks and countless difficult decisions.

I am never surprised to learn about contributions women have made and are now making to the automotive industry in general or the F&I segment in particular. At every industry event I have attended, I have been joined by countless female executives, business owners, agents, sales professionals and F&I producers.

So if there was ever any novelty in a woman succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated industry, those days have passed. But that doesn’t mean women no longer bring a unique perspective to our work. It just means that our value as people and professionals can only be judged by the same standards as everyone else’s.

I hope you will agree that the stories that follow prove it. Each of these women earned their spot on our list through hard work and business savvy, and most found their way into the business through the traditional channels: a love of cars, a sales job, a family enterprise. Any business that serves a diverse market benefits from a diverse workforce, and our business is no exception.

Susan Buchholz

Vice President of Event Logistics
American Auto Guardian Inc. 

What drew you to the automotive industry?

Honestly, it was Al Ranieri, founder of American Auto Guardian Inc. (AAGI), who lured me into the industry in 2003. He envisioned a company which would grow with the industry, as well as promote industry changes. Once I was hired and learned what aftermarket products were and how they fundamentally impact the industry, I was hooked.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

Since joining AAGI, I have had the pleasure of working with two phenomenal mentors: Al Ranieri and Tim Brugh, the current owner and president of AAGI. Al told me I needed to trust those around me to handle their position and responsibilities, allowing me to pursue even more for myself and, in turn, the company. Tim pushed me to aim beyond my limits. The more you drive yourself, the better you will be at conceptualizing change, thereby assisting others in advancing their careers. Both Al and Tim conveyed two essential principles they expected, honesty and ethical behavior, which were values aligned with mine.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

It’s a very exciting time in the automotive industry! As technology takes us in fantastic new directions, each improvement in the car buying process must prioritize the safekeeping of consumer information. Since 2012, AAGI has held the SSAE No. 16, Type 2 designation from an independent audit. SSAE 16 compliance affirms AAGI’s commitment to meet the highest industry standards for its administration of automotive aftermarket products. Additionally, with women making up more of the car buying population than ever before, it is my hope that administrators seize the opportunity to increase diversity within their ranks and create more opportunities for women in the near future.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Being a woman in business is often challenging, something doubly true in an industry traditionally associated with men. Take time to learn what this industry is about and how great relationships with dealers and agents are formed and maintained. No matter what role a woman takes, confidence, an inquisitive nature and a healthy sense of humor are required.

Martha Harden Darby

Senior Vice President of Vehicle Service Contracts 
IAS

What drew you to the automotive industry?

My first opportunity in the automotive industry was purely by chance, but once I was able to see the potential and variety of opportunities, it was impossible to leave. There is an excitement about our industry and the diversity it off ers which makes it hard for me to think about doing anything else.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

Many years ago at my fi rst dealership position I had the opportunity to meet Dave Robertson, who is now the executive director of AFIP. He, along with the F&I manager at the time, encouraged me to further pursue a career in the automotive industry, and soon thereafter I landed my fi rst F&I position. In the second phase of my career, I would have to credit Frank Klaus, the former founder and CEO of First Dealer Resources and now COO of IAS. I have worked with Frank both as a client and then part of his staff for over 20 years. He has given me an opportunity to expand my experience at an agency level/administration level in addition to learning extensively about reinsurance and product development.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

There is no doubt technology is going to play a big part in the automotive industry, starting with the consumer’s approach to automotive purchasing all the way through the F&I process. Administration companies need to evolve to meet not only the consumer’s demands for new products but also to devise more efficient ways to handle their business.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

This industry has historically been male dominated but certainly doesn’t have to be in the future. My advice to women new to the industry would be to find a position that excites and challenges and not to give up. If approached with an obstacle, don’t give up on the industry. Just find a position — whether at a dealership, agency, TPA, etc. — that works for your skill set and interests.

Jill Decker

Controller 
Automotive Development Group 

What drew you to the auto industry?

When I started working for Automotive Development Group almost 11 years ago, I had never worked in the auto industry before, previously working in nonprofi t and home improvement. It was completely foreign to me. I was given the opportunity to learn from the ground up. I have enjoyed seeing the change and the resiliency of the industry. We have built a fabulous team at my business and the value add we provide, and seeing our dealers prosper, makes coming to work every day an easy choice.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I know I’ve never told them, but my agency’s two owners, Bill Kelly and Joel Kansanback, have both been my greatest mentors. They are always willing to teach, guide and provide opportunities for our entire team to grow professionally. I really admire the hard work and determination they have in building our agency into one of the best in the country.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

I am so excited to see how the industry is changing. Dealers today have a plethora of products to choose from that provide a customized menu for their customers, and training has never been more important. Price and making a profi t in the moment, used to be the deciding factor for many dealers. Now they are starting to think more long-term, and retention is now more important than ever. How do we get that customer to come back for service and future car sales?

What do you like to do in your time off ?

The Twin Cities has lots to off er in terms of fun things to do, great restaurants, music and art. Spending time at our city lakes and their beaches in the summer with my two kids, ages 14 and 4, and building snowmen and drinking hot chocolate in our extended winters keeps me busy. I also  love to travel as much as I can, especially in the UK.

Kate Eltringham

Vice President of Marketing 
GWC Warranty 

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I’ve always had a soft spot for the auto industry because my father sold used cars early in his career and shared stories of that time with me. What really drew me to GWC Warranty was the chance to work alongside such high-caliber people.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to have had two mentors help guide me in this space. Mike Melby, our VP of strategy, has been a great sounding board and advisor, particularly early in my time in this industry. Rob Glander, our CEO and president, has really helped me grow professionally. He’s helped me become a stronger leader and helped me to recognize and play to my strengths. Both Mike and Rob continue to be great supporters and strong examples of how to be successful.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

I think the infl ux of off -lease vehicles is going to present new opportunities for agents and dealers. Used vehicles are purchased by different types of customers with different needs. Delivering the type of experience that’s expected by a used car shopper means providing confidence to buy. Finding the right partners to help you offer that confidence is going to become more important going forward.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

It’s an exciting time for this space because the industry has started to shift, as evidenced by all of the women recognized in this feature. I’d tell women entering the auto industry to find a company that has a well-defined culture and strong values that resonate with you. Those elements are key to finding an environment where you can thrive.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

I try to spend as much time as I can with family and friends. I really enjoy going to concerts and am a big sports fan. But nothing is better than spending time with my husband, T.J., and our dog, Pearl.

Linda Fisher

President
Dealer Assurance Group

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I got into the automotive business by accident. I sold cars to make a little extra cash and it grew on me. Realizing that this was a great industry, I decided to make it a career. The automotive industry gets into your blood and you can’t stay away.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My greatest mentor was and is my father. He was a rocket scientist. He taught me to look at the world differently, not as it is, but what it can be and how I could make the difference. He always made me see the world as half full, not half empty, and that I could do anything that I wanted to do in life. I have had many people in the automotive industry that gave me great insight into this field, but only my father helped to shape my character.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

The industry is changing. We are focusing on the next generation and what they want in the way of electronics and social media. The industry has to stay ahead of this change in dealerships as well as manufacturers.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Knowledge! A woman has to know this industry inside and out. She has to stay up on all of the latest news, changes in the indus try, product knowledge, newest trends and what really goes on in a dealership by working in it. A woman can’t rely on her looks. She has to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk, and the only way to accomplish this is with knowledge. We have to work harder and smarter to excel. It is a great business for a woman.

What do you like to do in your time off?

I spend my time off with my family and children. Working the kind of hours we do in this industry, we have to make time for our families. I also travel to places I’ve never been to before in the United States. I am trying to see as much of it as I can.

Vinesha Frey

Operations Manager
Dealer Admin Services

What drew you to the automotive industry?

A need for a post-college job brought me to the automotive industry six years ago. This industry is unique. It is challenging, fast-paced, multifaceted, and, yes, sometimes frustrating. There are so many moving parts that it can be overwhelming. But if I’m perfectly honest, that’s what drives me. Being an integral part of DAS has allowed me to grow more personally and professionally than I would have anywhere else. Six years later, the automotive industry is not where I thought I would be, but I wouldn’t trade it.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

Five years ago, Joel Kansanback and Bill Kelly started an admin company. It’s been a steady progression and, at the end of the day, I can say that we’ve done things the right way. Joel and Bill have been amazing mentors throughout the journey. For those of you who know them, you know that opposites really do attract. Bill likes to build the intricate parts of the fireworks while Joel is your man to light them off. There is no question that Joel challenges me to run a better admin company and hit goals that seem out of reach while Bill encourages me to focus on the details in getting there, no shortcuts. They are trailblazers in this industry and I’m fortunate to be learning from them.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

It is becoming more apparent that a “one size fits all” solution no longer works. Dealers are looking for an administration company capable of providing a unique, customer-centric experience backed by efficient and sound processes. This requires extreme flexibility in the products that we offer and the ability to understand and maneuver the gray area. It’s all about genuinely taking care of the customer and, subsequently, the dealer.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

My advice to women in the industry is to believe in yourself and then find people in the industry who believe in you. Be confident and don’t let anything or anyone intimidate you.

Diana Grimes

Vice President of Operations
CNA National 

What drew you to the automotive industry?

When I was 21, I moved from rural Casa Grande, Ariz., to Phoenix, the “big city,” and I needed a job. I was lucky enough to be hired by a small company called Western National Warranty Corp. The company’s founders, Paul and Judy Askos, helped me develop myself and my career. They established a positive environment that made employees feel good about coming to work and offered plenty of opportunities for growth within the company. The relationships I’ve built and sustained over the years — with coworkers, agents and dealers — have kept me challenged and on my toes for 32 years.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I really can’t name just one person. There are many people who have served and still serve as my mentors. First in line are Paul and Judy Askos, who gave me the structure and freedom to learn about the industry. Two of my current colleagues — Don Oliver, CNAN’s executive vice president, and Annette Pantaleo, vice president of national accounts — have worked with me for years. I still seek their guidance and advice. But mostly I look to my dad. His attitude toward life was one of flexibility — that you have to roll with the changes. This has helped me to keep up with this ever-shifting industry. He also had a very strong work ethic.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

It’s so hard to say. The advancements in technology are going to move this industry into a realm that we haven’t even imagined yet. I’m excited to be a part of it. Whatever the direction, we will adjust and work with it, just like my dad would say.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

I have a daughter who is starting her career at CNA National. As I tell her frequently: learn as much as you can! Ask questions and seek out people who know the answers. And of course, never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

Kristen Gruber

President
Dealers Assurance Company

What drew you to the automotive industry?

The energy of the dealer services division at Great American Insurance Company drew me into the automotive industry. They were a group of really smart people who acted like business entrepreneurs as much as underwriters. Having come from personal lines insurance, where products were very regulated with little
flexibility, I loved the idea that insured dealer products were more creative and added value to the distribution channel.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

From a retail perspective, I think consumers are going to demand more and more transparency regarding the sale of F&I products, and dealers will adapt. As cars become more complex and computerized and repair costs continue to escalate, the demand for comprehensive service contracts that extend beyond the manufacturer’s warranty will grow, and I expect to see higher VSC penetration rates. From a provider perspective, I think we’ll continue to see the increased pace of acquisitions as companies look to capture a bigger piece of the F&I customer retail cost through vertical integration strategies.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Be authentic, even if it means feeling like a fish out of water! This industry is no different than any other and it benefits from the unique perspective we each bring to the table. Participate in a mastermind group that can be a sounding board for ideas, create accountability and provide honest feedback. I have been in a group for 10 years and it has improved both my personal and
professional life.

What do you like to do in your time off?

I teach indoor cycling at the YMCA and my favorite part is creating playlists and routines that are hard, motivating and enjoyable. As an avid reader myself, I volunteer with the Literacy Network and have been working with a student for over a year. She’s a year younger than me and we just finished her very first book! We’re now on Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” and it’s been fun to see her reading skills improve while being drawn into a story. In my free time, I love walking the dogs, reading, and cooking meals with my partner of 21 years.

Lori Hallissey

Chief Operation Officer
Portfolio

What drew you to the automotive industry?

My first job was working in a small-town, family-owned Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership in the early 1980s. I was fascinated by the process of ordering a customized vehicle for customers — selecting options, trims and colors, and then watching as the factory updated the status of where the vehicle was in the manufacturing process. The most impactful day was when a family came into the service department with a major breakdown. They did not have a service contract and could not aff ord the repairs and a rental. I remember the look on their faces when they realized they had no choice but to walk home and then would be without transportation for several days. That was the day I understood the true benefit of a service contract.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I have been lucky enough to have several fantastic mentors over the years, but Wesley Mashburn was my first great work mentor. Wesley was always willing to share the background on why he made a certain decision, and then he would talk through the pros, cons, rationale and possible outcomes. He allowed me to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. He challenged me and forced me from my comfort zone, but all the while, he always had my back and I knew he would catch me before he would ever let me fail.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

As the industry evolves from the mechanical to a more digital environment, an entirely
different skill set and expertise will be required throughout the entire chain, i.e. from development to sales. This new environment will attract innovative competitors from outside the traditional automobile industry. With increased technology and complexities, the cost of purchasing and repairing vehicles certainly emerges as a concern. Dealerships can’t lose sight of compliance, not only concerning the sale and financing of a vehicle, but also the F&I products that protect the customer financially during their ownership.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

My advice to women in any industry is to be courageous, surround yourself with people who challenge and appreciate you, and remember your self-worth comes from within.

Laura Hetland

Senior Vice President
American Financial & Automotive Services Inc.

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I grew up in the automotive industry and was given the opportunity to start working with American Financial during graduate school. It has been a fun and rewarding career.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My father has been my greatest mentor. He sets a tremendous example of how to live selfl essly and help others succeed. His leadership, both personally and professionally, have had a large impact on my life.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

As the buying habits of the consumer continue to change, professionalism and technology will drive this industry in the next decade. We cannot do what we did years ago if we are going to be leaders in the industry.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

This is an exciting industry with many opportunities for women who will focus and dedicate their efforts to it. If you uphold your values and work hard, you will succeed.

If you are part of a family business, what are the key elements of making it successful?

In a family business, I think it is essential to always keep your focus on God, family, and others. Reaching goals, whether personally or at work, requires team work and focus on integrity and
character.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

In my time off , I love to spend time with my boys. We enjoy being outdoors — especially boating and water sports.

Karen Johnson

Executive Vice President
PermaPlate

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I arrived in the automotive industry by chance. Having just returned from a study abroad in Israel, I searched the paper for job opportunities and found an opening at Siskin Enterprises (PermaPlate). The year was 1980, and I was 21 years old. I landed a second interview and was selected as a backup secretary for this new and exciting small company. I never imagined that I would spend my career in the automotive industry, or that I would find it so rewarding and fulfilling. I have learned so much and met such interesting and diverse people. I can’t imagine a career that
I would have enjoyed more. That newspaper ad brought me one of the most fortuitous opportunities of my life.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

Without a doubt, my greatest mentor is Bill Nisson, CEO of PermaPlate. He is fearless, adventurous, forward thinking, always positive —even in the face of adversity — and incredibly generous. It has been fun, exciting and always interesting to work for and with him for the last 36 years.

What are the key elements of making a family business successful?

Although PermaPlate didn’t start as a family business, it has become a family business. And even though I am not a blood relative, I am family. I believe the reason it is a successful family business is because every family member who works at PermaPlate has earned their place in the company. The employees (whether family members or not) are all valued and valuable. We have created a fabulous place to work and grow. Although we have more than 100 employees, we strive to keep the best parts of a small company or family business: comradery, respect, fun, inclusion
and openness.

What do you like to do in your time off?

I love to travel with friends and family. I love to cook and entertain. I enjoy music and concerts of all genres (well, maybe not rap). I’m not too shabby at a game of Words with Friends or Sudoku.

Susan Johnson

Vice President Director of Product Development
Wise F&I

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I was drawn to the automotive industry shortly after graduating college. I received a B.S. in economics, and began working in the accounting field. I quickly realized not having human interaction was not my forte, so I joined the automotive industry in 1992. When the Saturn division was first launched, I was part of the opening of a Saturn dealership in St. Louis. After working in the dealership, I got an opportunity to get into the mortgage industry during the refinance boom. I also worked in the insurance industry on both the company and agency side. I combined all of my experience when I joined Protective as the credit/GAP product manager. While at Protective, I was promoted to director of product management. Much later, I was fortunate enough to join the Wise F&I team as vice president director of product development.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I have been privileged to have many great mentors in all aspects of my life, but, professionally, Lori Hallissey has had the greatest impact with her experience, insight, common sense and professionalism. She was the first person I discussed making my career move to Wise F&I over three and half years ago, which most days seems like yesterday.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

I see the industry focusing more on compliance and moving toward more online applications
to make paper contracts and ratings antiques!

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

My advice for women entering the industry is simple: Do your best, set goals, ask
for what you want and don’t settle for less than you deserve. After this and a lot of hard work,
the rest will come.

What do you like to do in your time off?

I love warm weather and water, so in my free time, I enjoy lakes, oceans and pool time. I like to keep myself busy and enjoy entertaining at home and at our lake house. I enjoy traveling as much as possible with my husband, family and friends. I have two grown children and my first grandchild on the way. I also workout several times a week doing Les Mills classes. My favorites are Body Pump and Body Combat.

Brenda Cline Kereakes

Vice President
PayLink Direct

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I have always loved cars. I bought a very pre-owned Chevy Vega when I was 16 and I have been hooked since. My father instilled in me that with car ownership came responsibility. Dad and I did the maintenance for that car and even replaced the clutch together. After graduating from college, I worked at a Dodge dealership in an administrative role, but I routinely made up excuses to be on the sales floor or at the service drive. That was just the beginning. I have been involved in sales and the automotive world for the better part of the last two decades.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I have had many, however the greatest would be my maternal grandfather. He taught me from a very young age to have an excellent work ethic. He gave me the confidence that I could do anything if I worked hard enough.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

I believe that the industry, and the role of women within it, will continue to grow and thrive in the coming years. The industry is strong and vibrant and there are more and more bright and
industrious women entering the industry every day.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Be respectable, ethical, honest, hardworking, and a good listener. Never stop learning. As you become proficient in your current role, don’t become complacent. Have the intellectual curiosity to know both your role and the roles of those around you, including the roles of the people who serve as your mentors.

What do you like to do in your time off?

Two years ago, I would have said ride my Harley. All of that has changed. Now it’s spending as much time as I can with my husband and beautiful baby girl. Anastasia will be a year in November, and every day is a new adventure.

Amanda Miller

Director of Marketing
Wise F&I

What drew you to the automotive industry?

My background in marketing and advertising exposed me to numerous industries, including automotive. The largest being Nissan Automotive, where I developed marketing materials to support employee-focused initiatives. This, coupled with my experience in the finance and insurance industries, led me to my current position as director of marketing at Wise F&I.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why? 

Even though women are underrepresented in the automotive industry, women like Mary Barra make a significant impact in elevating women in the industry. Mary serves as a mentor and inspiration to the achievement of women in the automotive industry overall.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

This is an exciting time for the automotive industry and I’m looking forward to taking part in the changes that are developing. This includes changes in attitudes about women, as well as more
women taking on leadership and management roles. I see changes in technology being the biggest player when it comes to the future, as well as compliance and the buyer experience.

What are the key elements of making a family business successful?

Being part of Wise F&I has been a very valuable experience, and I think part of our success is due to the inclusion of women. As an independently owned company, Matt Croak, our owner and president, has created an equal and supportive workplace for women. In fact, 50% of our management team is comprised of women. We are dedicated to a culture of mutual respect, trust and integrity, and I believe this is what makes us successful.

What do you like to do in your time off?

In my free time, I love to travel, both domestic and international, and I’m always up for an adventure. I enjoy running, and have completed a number of marathons. I’m also a yogi and like to hike and be outdoors. One of my favorite things to do in St. Louis is to listen to live music. My most important role, that I love, is being a mom to my 11-year-old daughter.

Wendy Kreps Peterson

President and Owner 
Pro-Techs Dealer Services, LLC 

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

First, my late husband Keith Kreps, a true entrepreneur. He was an excellent coach and taught me the art of patience and gratitude. Second, Brad Hunter, president at IAS. He believed in me and gave me my first agency agreement. He shared his expertise in reinsurance and helped me understand the importance of tailoring the right programs to fulfill my customers’ needs, not just fitting my customer into a generic program.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

68% of automobile purchases, including 65% of automotive service purchases, are made by women. Forty-seven percent of women surveyed would rather work with a female, yet women account for just 13.4% of all dealership sales positions, and according to the most recent NADA workforce study, female turnover rate in sales is at 90%! In the future, dealers need to get more effective at hiring, developing, and retaining top female talent.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Integrity and relationships matter. “It’s just business” is thrown around way too easily when integrity isn’t part of the equation. Don’t just accept the status quo. Stay competitive by learning to adapt to the changing times. Never be afraid to ask for help. Work for a greater good — always give back, whether it’s championing someone else or giving back to your community, service should always be your ultimate goal.

What are the key elements of making a family business successful?

In preparing for my daughter, Nikki to enter the business, it was necessary for her to understand all of the responsibilities, duties and roles in a dealership and connect how the products and services we offer benefit not just the dealer, but the end user. We have to be hands-on to be a truly valued partner and we must never forget why we are here.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

Spending time with my adorable grandson, GK, and working on the foundation created in my husband’s memory, “Keys to Travel.”

Kelly Price

President
National Automotive Experts 

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I grew up on an RV lot, as my dad owned a few RV dealerships in Mesa, Ariz. I had moved to Ohio after school and a friend encouraged me to enter the automotive industry. I began selling cars, became fi nance director for a nine-store group and became very passionate about reinsurance and helping dealers maximize their reinsurance opportunities. Once I decided to open an administration company in the mid-’90s, it has been a whirlwind ever since. It’s a decision that I have never regretted as I have gained so many friends and partners along the way.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

My grandfather was by far my greatest mentor. He always treated people kindly, put his head down and worked hard. He was innovative and always a step ahead. But, God is who I follow most. Always keeping in mind that I am here to serve Him and support others less fortunate than myself. Giving back to the community and those in need is really my end goal in life.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Women are very successful in and around dealerships and the automotive industry. I would recommend always being a student of the business and applying the natural instincts women have to take care of their clients. It is the special touch that comes very naturally that clients
appreciate. Keep looking for innovative approaches, ways to go above and beyond, and you will go far!

What do you like to do in your time off ?

Spending time with my family is my favorite part of life. I enjoy watching my youngest son play baseball and basketball and helping my oldest with his pottery business. My husband and I enjoy going to sporting events (especially the Cavs!) and traveling when time permits. I read a lot and enjoy boating, bike riding and hanging out with our friends. I am very blessed that the people I work with are like family, so being at work or at home are both my “happy place.”

Jenny Rappaport

Chief Marketing Officer
EFG Companies

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I have two mentors. John Pappanastos, as the CEO of EFG, has set a standard of operating with integrity, while fearlessly pursuing fresh F&I approaches (even when the industry itself might not be excited about the need for innovation and change). He has taken a 40 year-old company and evolved the culture into one of entrepreneurialism and excitement, laser focused on measurement and results for our clients. My mother, Laura Threet, is my other mentor. Growing up, I watched her absolutely shatter every professional and political glass ceiling that she came up against. She made it look eff ortless and she never broke stride (even in her 4-inch heels).

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

We would be naïve to think that consumers aren’t going to continue to push for the ability to conduct a full car purchase online. There are obviously signifi cant regulatory barriers that will keep this from fully happening in the very near future, but I believe that the industry will be forced to ultimately go that direction.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Jump in with both feet. This is not a “put your toe in” industry. It is intense, it is competitive, and people don’t have time for timidity. Make up your mind, set your goals and go.

What are the key elements of making a family business successful?

That’s easy. Transparency and accountability are mantras of our organization. EFG is built on a backbone of clear corporate values, and the expectation is that we will operate in a manner that is 100% focused on the best interest of our clients. That means we are agile, and we can decision and innovate very quickly. We also invest more heavily than our competitors in identifying what’s beyond the curve, and enabling our clients to capitalize on it.

Gabriella Roberts

Vice President of Operations
National Automotive Experts

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I worked for a State Farm agent while attending college and found I really loved the automotive industry and assisting customers. I enjoyed learning about the different vehicle makes and models and how the various insurance products offered provided protection for these vehicles and the insureds. I decided to get my insurance licenses and that was the start of my career. I have thoroughly enjoyed working in this industry with great passion ever since.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I have been fortunate enough to have several great mentors throughout my career. My greatest mentor is Kelly Price, president and founder of NAE/NWAN, because she is an exceptional
leader who has built a successful business through providing unparalleled service to our clients while ensuring transparency and integrity. Kelly gives selflessly to her family, our associates, our
partners and to charitable causes. She is driven to help others both inside and outside of her company.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

With advancements in technology and changes in consumer preferences, the automotive industry should experience a gradual shift toward mobility services such as car sharing, e-tailing, autonomous vehicles, and other innovative concepts. There are still many challenges to identify and resolve before these trends fully take off . As customer knowledge and desires evolve, dealers will need to continue to adapt their selling and marketing strategies to keep pace. I believe that global car sales will continue to increase through the years.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

I would let women entering the industry know they made a very wise career choice and that they should be prepared for a lot of hard work, change and fun. My recommendation would be to maintain a positive attitude and work hard every day to exceed their management and customers’ expectations. In order to be successful, they should embrace continuous growth, both professionally and personally.

Christie Rocco

Internal Sales Manager – Aftermarket Department
ECP Inc.

What drew you to the automotive industry?

My love for the auto industry began as a young girl, when my father took me to my first auto show in Chicago. I was in awe, especially with the exotics. Over the years, my dad always had a weak spot for cars, and it is still something we share today.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

Throughout my life and career, there have been several mentors that I’ve had the privilege of meeting. I try to take something from each of them to further develop myself. Most people we call mentors will more than likely never know how they have impacted us. For the past 10 years, one specific person comes to mind. From the moment I met her, I knew I would be challenged, questioned and pushed to the limit — and that’s exactly the type of mentor I didn’t know I needed when I entered the auto industry. The women in the business that started 30 years ago paved the road for all of us and turned our possibility for success in this industry into a reality.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Looking back, it was unheard of for women to be in this industry, since it was very much a “man’s world”. Gratefully, the mentality of this industry has shifted and women have and will continue to experience great success. All of us welcome you and encourage you to join the industry. The best advice I can off er to a woman entering this business is to ask a lot of questions until she understands the concept. Additionally, the power of being able to say “I’m not sure, let me get back to you” is educational, empowering and more respected.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

My personal time is dedicated to spending time with my family. My husband and two sons are my “why.”

Christina Schrank

Chief Operations Officer
National Auto Care 

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I initially joined National Auto Care while attending college. I have to admit, it wasn’t the automotive industry that I was drawn to, but rather the leadership and the flexibility the organization provided. I do believe that people either love or hate the automotive industry, and I am fortunate that, all these years later, I still love it! Most of all, I value the partnerships. Nothing is more satisfying than supporting our partners and watching them succeed.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

I would give anyone entering the industry, male or female, the same advice: The automotive industry is a rough-and-tumble business, and you need a thick skin and perseverance to succeed. But if you do what you say you will do and act with integrity, you can earn the respect of your peers. Our industry continues to transform, and as leaders in the industry, we must evolve with it, but still retain the qualities that hold value for agents and dealers. Those include the “soft” qualities that make or break a partnership, like reliability, honesty, personal service and trust. Just as important, we need to be available and accessible when our partners need us, and be willing to work with them to facilitate their success.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

Customers are more educated than ever before. This fact, combined with oversight by the CFPB, means that dealers face more challenges than ever in driving profitable business. My goal is to provide our partners with the tools and knowledge to satisfy the educated consumer, and remain compliant. Technology will be one way to do this, but I believe that training and even legislative activism will be vital to this effort.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

My husband and I have three children ranging from 2 to 13 years old. My two oldest children are very active in sports and I do my best to never miss a game! You can also find us attending other sporting events (we are big Ohio State fans) or concerts together, or participating in church and school activities.

Tanya Stevenson

Director of Sales and Product Development
Portfolio

What drew you to the automotive industry?

Most people who have been in the industry can tell you the automotive industry is exciting, fun, and a continually evolving industry. I was drawn in by the incredible entrepreneurial environment that creates a place for hardworking people to flourish. The added benefit was how great the people are as well. I am thankful to work with so many people I admire and feel lucky to now call so many of these people my friends.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

It is no secret that technological advances are forcing the industry into a new direction. The ability to access so much information before even stepping into a dealership is changing the way people buy cars. With that, it is captivating to see all the innovative products coming into the market and adapting to this change in the car buying experience. People in our industry are versatile and resourceful and are already thriving in this online research oriented sales environment.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

To be yourself. I’ve been in the industry for over 11 years now, and I know that the core values inside the industry are the same as everyday life. Trust and loyalty go a long way and can ultimately lead to a rewarding career in the industry. Finding a strong mentor (male or female) is a key component to achieving success as well. I am lucky to know and work with so many brilliant women in the industry, and we all are looking forward to how the next generation of amazing women will impact the industry’s future success.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

My husband and I love to travel. This year, we were lucky enough to visit the beautiful Tahitian
islands of Moorea and Bora Bora. I am fortunate to be part of this industry that understands the work hard, play hard lifestyle.

Jacqueline Swank

Marketing Manager
AUL Corp.

What drew you to the automotive industry?

A better question I ask myself is, “What keeps me in the automotive industry?” What keeps me here is the opportunity and the people. This industry offers a little bit of everything. Anybody who knows me knows I love to talk about work and the business. Therefore it’s great to be at events like Industry Summit, Agent Summit and NADA, where you meet new friends and get to brainstorm and talk with people all day!

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

In my work life, there are several, but behind the scenes, my husband, Matthew, has been my rock. I picked a partner that 100% supports my career. I chose to have a family and a career, and without him, I am not sure how that would be done. He cheers me on when I win and keeps me grounded when I need it.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

I like this question. Don’t play the “girl card” and be prepared to work extra hard. Even if your looks get you in the door, if you don’t convey the knowledge and value you have, you will lose the deal and the respect of those around you. One of my favorite TED talks is Amy Cuddy’s “Fake it till you become it.” Often, we ladies suffer from self-doubt and a fear of wanting to be liked, we need to accept that not everyone will like us and not let that get in the way of winning. When you get that spot at the table, remind yourself you earned it and deserve to be there.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

I spend it with my 7-year-old daughter, June. She is the greatest joy of my life. We travel together, exercise, eat sushi, play games and have dance parties!

Carmen Torres

Vice President of Sales and Marketing
SouthwestRe

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

Stay curious, open to learning, accepting of change and, when given the opportunity, never turn down a challenging project. If you’re lucky enough to work for a company that off ers any type of professional or career development, take advantage. It’s hard to get noticed when you’re doing a good job for something that is relatively easy, so when a project with grit comes along, don’t hesitate to volunteer.

Who has been your greatest mentor, and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to have had several mentors throughout my career, but there are a few women I’ve had the pleasure of working with who really stand out. The first is Karen Gallo. When I joined the organization many years ago, Karen was one of a few women in management. Something that really sets Karen apart is her remarkable sense of confi dence; she never lets anyone rattle her cage. That’s important in this industry, because as we all know, it’s high-pressure all the time. In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with Kristen Gruber, president of Dealers Assurance Company. Kristen is highly regarded in the industry, and anyone that knows her or has worked with her knows why. Her knowledge of the business is extensive, the manner in which she conducts herself is nothing less than absolute professionalism, and her friendly personality is infectious. Kristen is unknowingly a mentor to a large number of women in the industry.

Where do you see the industry going in the future?

Technology will defi nitely continue to be one of the primary drivers of change in the industry. As Millennial numbers continue to grow and they take their place as the largest generation of auto consumers, the industry’s approach to their car buying expectations and experience will adapt. Today’s retail automotive customers walk in equipped with as much or more information about the vehicle they are going to purchase than the person selling it to them. Over the next few years, I believe that behavior will not only continue but expand to include online financing and the purchase of all F&I products. Dealerships, agencies and providers will be looking for more ways to market and diff erentiate themselves in the online car buying experience.

Courtney Wanderon

Vice President of Sales and Client Relations
National Auto Care

What drew you to the automotive industry?

This industry was in my blood from the start. My grandmother was in the business, along with my father, who began his career washing cars at 18. The following 47 years of his career were spent working in every area of the dealership. He retired as the GM of a Nissan store. As a small child, words like “midnight madness,” “tent sales” and “product penetration,” to name a few, were common knowledge in our household. My brother, Tony Wanderon, also worked in dealerships, and then became a partner in a successful agency. At 17 years old, I reached out to him and asked him for a part-time job. That was the beginning of my 24-year career in the automotive business. Being raised by one of the most energetic, passionate, and true car guys you could ever know, my father, Eric Wanderon, made my career choice an easy one.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

I am lucky to have two mentors in my life. Those mentors are Eric Wanderon and Tony Wanderon. Each of them have brought a diff erent style and manner in which they have mentored me. Each of them have equally shaped me into the businessperson I am today. They’ve both instilled in me the key things needed to be successful: Work hard, always prove yourself to others, be dedicated, be committed, and stay true to your word.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

My advice to other women entering this business is that, if you want to be respected, you must educate yourself about our industry. You will gain credibility when you become a part of the solution. I believe a key part of my success has been working my way up, and having the ability to work in all areas of our business over the past 24 years. Love what you do, believe in what you sell, lead with passion, do the right thing, and everything else will fall into place.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

I enjoy nothing more than spending time off with my amazing fiancé, Randy Hoffman, and four great kids, Savannah, 18, Rande, 17, Kaitlyn, 14, and Brandon, 9. I am very fortunate and thankful to have such an amazing family.

Jennifer Wood

Call Center Manager 
Alpha Warranty Services

What drew you to the automotive industry?

I found myself in the automotive industry after years of call center experience within both private and government projects. Immediately, I knew that Alpha Warranty Services was somewhere that had high growth potential and where my abilities as a trainer and manager could be utilized. It was exciting for me to learn a new industry and share my enthusiasm for structure and call center best practices. Since joining the company, we have seen substantial growth, much of which was made possible through my efforts and successes.

Who has been your greatest mentor and why?

Throughout my time with Alpha Warranty Services, I have been working for Jeff Robinson, our vice president of risk and operations, who has shared with me his knowledge of the industry and
has been a very supportive sounding board for the ideas I bring to the table. Not only has his friendship been helpful, but he has given me great career guidance and helped push me further than I thought possible.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?

For other women looking to get into the industry, I would suggest that they find both a good mentor and a good company as a starting point. Keep a healthy work/life balance. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. If men can learn automotive, so can we.

What do you like to do in your time off ?

When I’m not at work, I spend way too much time at the gym, focusing on form, balance, and lifting as much iron as possible. Health and fitness is incorporated into my every day. I enjoy powerlifting and pushing myself to new levels. Using that same mindset of striving to reach new heights has served me well in my professional career. I also enjoy spending time with my husband, daughter, dog, cat and fish, not necessarily in that order. We appreciate the close
proximity of the mountains and the rest of our family. We enjoy attending farmer’s markets to see what we can add to our barbeque menu. In the evenings, you’ll find us playing board games
and enjoying our electronics.

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