Plan ahead to help daughters become dealers

DETROIT — Dealership succession doesn’t have to be a father-to-son exchange.

There are plenty of daughters out there who have the ability to lead, too, but some dealers in years past have been reluctant to name them as successors, says Celeste Briggs, director of General Motors’ Women’s Retail Network.

The group works to attract more women to the car business and grow the number of female dealers. It was founded in 2001 as the Women’s Retail Initiative, and took its current name in 2008.

During the group’s annual conference here in September, Briggs spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. about the issues facing women in auto retailing, including succession.

Q: Is the succession of women still a developing issue at dealerships?

A: We’ve been really focused on succession planning and execution. It’s not enough to say you have a plan until you’ve actually got one, it’s on paper and someone’s identified. And then the work begins in making sure they’re ready. I’ve got a couple of young women in our 20 Groups who are at that stage. They’ve graduated from the [dealer] academy, and they’re in there learning. So when the family is ready, we know who they are and they’re in a much better place than someone we don’t know who hasn’t been working in the business.

In years past, were some families apprehensive about putting daughters in charge when the father stepped down?

Yes. I’ve got a couple [Women’s Dealer Advisory Council] members who come from a family of all girls. The dad doesn’t have a son, and he says, “Well, I’ll give it to my son-in-law.” And the daughter is sitting there like, “What about me?”

The cultural shift I’ve seen since we’ve been doing this over 16 years [means] I do get phone calls from fathers who say, “I don’t have sons. What do I do to get [my daughters] prepared?” That’s powerful. He says, “They’re getting ready to go to college,” and I say, “Make sure they do that and make sure they’ve been working with you, and when they finish, get them over to NADA so they can do that training as well and continue to work in the business. Those are the first steps. When they’re ready, and you want them to represent you in a 20 Group, send them over to me and we’ll get them signed up.”

Is awareness the biggest issue in attracting more young women and minorities to the business?

I believe so. Unless you’re going to a school like a Northwood, like Colorado State, that has an automotive management program, or like Macomb Community College, would you even know? Dealers have an awesome story to tell in terms of what the opportunity could be. They’re some of the best employers in their communities, and these are some great paying jobs.

You mentioned succession planning earlier. Is that something you provide guidance for?

We’ve asked speakers to come in to talk about succession planning. We did a whole yearlong series of articles a couple years ago about the importance of succession planning. Since 60 percent of the ladies in our portfolio [are ones] who [got in] through succession, a few of them a couple years ago said, “Ok, we haven’t done it yet. Now we are that dealer generation. We have to now execute.” They know either it was a terrible process with their parents, [or] it was something that caught everybody off guard, and it really caused them to think about, “What am I doing?”

What is the average age for a female dealer principal?

It’s about the same as the general dealer population, which is scary. We have a lot of people who are retirement age, but 60 is the new 50. It’s not a matter of your mortality, it’s a matter of life choice. Do I want to continue to do this every day? You’re planning for retirement, not the end of you. Even with our own council, we have dealers who are transitioning out, and, unfortunately, they don’t all have daughters. So we’ll lose some, but that’s the ebb and flow and natural attrition in the network.

Do you see a pipeline of young women coming up who could be dealer principals in the next 10 years?

We have 450 women named as successor dealer operators out of the network. The deal is to try to identify those people to see where they are in their career development. The regions are aware of who they are and we work with them, talk with them, and that’s how we’re getting a feeder pool to replace dealers who might be retiring soon.

What are the numbers for women in the service shop?

Only about 18.5 percent of the total retail employment population are women. The highest participation rate is in your back office, your administrative and support. It’s about 14.5 percent between F&I and service advisers. For sales consultants, about 7 percent, but they’ve got a 90 percent turnover rate.

We talk about culture. What kind of culture is producing those numbers? That’s not good for the business. You have to have [a culture] that is inclusive, that is constantly working to train people so they’re really fit for their jobs. If your turnover is that high, what is that doing to your [customer] retention? Because your customers see it. “Where is my salesperson that sold me my last car?” They’re long gone.

Is that turnover rate because they don’t like being in the business, or are they being pushed away?

I think it’s a combination of things. The worst thing you can do is put an ad in the paper saying I need a salesperson. You’re getting somebody’s reject from another job. You want to hire right to begin with.

And you can’t hire just one. [Dealerships say,] “We had a lady, but she didn’t work out. She left.” Why did she leave? Because she was the only one. You have to hire en masse. You have to do something that’s different than what you’ve done in the past and really focus on retaining that talent.

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