Introducing 16 of the Hardest-Working Women in Automotive Retail

By Ted Ings, Executive Director

The automotive retail industry was once a man’s world – but not anymore. Now, some of the most successful individuals in the trade are women.

Need proof? Then check out these stories from 16 of the hardest-working ladies in the car business.

Carol Kitts: Corporate Service Training Manager at Schomp Automotive Group

Carol Kitts: Corporate Service Training Manager at Schomp Automotive Group

Sixteen incredible ladies; sixteen stories of success

Regardless of your age, race or gender, the following women and their success stories will motivate you to kick your career into high gear. Each has overcome trials, tribulations and – all too often – discrimination to become a true hero in the automotive industry.

1. Carol Kitts: Corporate Service Training Manager at Schomp Automotive Group in Denver, CO

Stephanie Malone: General Manager at Capitol Ford

Stephanie Malone: General Manager at Capitol Ford

Carol Kitts, who is now a successful corporate service training manager, started her career working at Checker Auto Parts (now O'Reilly) at 17 years old. Through hard work, she became a salesperson at the local Kia dealership just two years later. Shortly after, Kitts moved to Ehrlich Toyota where she found her passion in fixed ops.

According to Kitts, her typical workday involves: “Analyzing data from seven dealerships to determine CSI scores and gross profits, conducting meetings with my team to work on specific projects with our dealerships based on their needs. Reviewing CSI surveys and current practices, looking for ways to improve. Lots of reading – always feeding my brain to help myself, team and dealers grow in every aspect.”

Throughout her career, Kits has reached many goals. But what’s she’s most proud of is earning her ASE certification. Also, within a year of becoming a service manager, she was able to move her department, which had one of the lowest CSI scores in the district, to the number one position.

Kitts says that, in the future, “I plan to continue growing my career with the Schomp Automotive group. Fixed operations is my passion and the culture within the organization is amazing. I want to become an operating partner to one of our stores eventually.”

Oh, and one last thing about Kitts: she was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia and moved to the United States at 15 years old. Another of her remarkable accomplishments is achieving U.S. Citizenship.

2. Stephanie Malone: General Manager at Capitol Ford in San Jose, CA

When she was just 16 years old, Stephanie Malone started answering phones at Manly Hyundai in Santa Rosa, California. Then, she went on to become a product presenter at Hansel Ford and, at the age of 18, she became a salesperson there.

Of her typical workday, she says, “I start my day at 7:00 am. I like to start with the service department, open up with them and get the day going. From there, I have a morning meeting with my sales team at 9:00 and then, just roll into whatever daily events I may have.”

Like most proud parents, Malone’s greatest accomplishment is her daughter. Her second greatest achievement: becoming a general manager at the young age of 28.

Antoinette Gordon-Hessing: Customer Experience Manager at Mercedes Benz of Rockville Center

Antoinette Gordon-Hessing: Customer Experience Manager at Mercedes Benz of Rockville Center

Malone notes that the auto industry is everchanging. Going forward, she hopes to: “ Keep up with the times; don’t forget what we are here for; take care of our employees our customers and make a profit. Some people look at this as a job I look at this as a way of life. This business is my family; it is what keeps me going and I want my team to feel the same way. We can do anything with the right attitude, the right motivation, and a clear understanding of what we want to obtain.”

3. Antoinette Gordon-Hessing: Customer Experience Manager at Mercedes Benz of Rockville Center in New York City, NY

Antoinette Gordon-Hessing was an aspiring journalist while in college. But then she got a job as a part-time filing clerk at a Ford dealership in Brooklyn and her entire outlook changed.

Of the experience, she says, “I was so efficient at organizing their records that they soon introduced me to other aspects of their operation and offered me an attractive full-time position. I jumped right in and there started my life long career in the automotive industry. My ambitions of being a journalist were blown right out of the exhaust.”

As a customer experience manager, Hessing works to ensure a phenomenal guest experience. Reinforcing processes, extinguishing fires, and monitoring customer satisfaction are all part of the job.

Although Hessing has too many achievements to list, she says, “There are so many personal accomplishments but the most recent is being part of a team who have received the Mercedes-Benz Best of the Best Award 4 years in a row. When a Mercedes-Benz dealer demonstrates superior performance collectively in sales, service, parts, operations and customer experience, then they receive this award. To be part of a team whose visceral drive is to excel every quarter is rewarding. Then to do it four years in a row is even more gratifying.”

And where does one go from there? Hessing explains: “Though I have been climbing the ladder, there are still so many rungs that seem unattainable. Yet I will continue to push for more knowledge, more opportunities, and more recognition. I recall the last factory meeting that I attended. When I looked around the room of about 50, the other two female attendees were vendors selling their products. That dichotomy needs to change; the Mercedes-Benz illuminated star needs to shine brightly for all.”

Carlyn Porteous: Director of Fixed Operations at Dueck GM

Carlyn Porteous: Director of Fixed Operations at Dueck GM

4. Carlyn Porteous: Director of Fixed Operations at Dueck GM in Vancouver, B.C.

In 1988, George Bush Sr. was president, big hair bands were all the rage and a movie ticket cost just $3.50. And, at the same time, Carlyn Porteous was starting her automotive career as a service and parts cashier.

“It did not take me long to realize that the service department in an automotive dealership is a hub of excitement,” she recalls.

Because Porteous is a people person, she understood the automotive retail industry, where superior customer service skills are key, was an ideal fit for her. She says, “I like nothing more than turning around an unhappy customer – or an unhappy technician for that matter. The opportunity for advancement and the many career paths you could take made me feel like the automotive industry was the place for me.”

A typical day for the director of fixed ops varies. But she usually starts by having an impromptu meeting with her team.

Jennifer Hinkley: Detailer at Campers Inn RV

Jennifer Hinkley: Detailer at Campers Inn RV

After that, she says, “I interview new recruits, hold meetings, interact with customers, and address team members concerns. I produce marketing plans, forecasts, and action plans. Track daily department sales and gross and ensure compliance with manufacturers policies and procedures. I also spend a part of my day training new staff on what I have learned over the years. Every day I am met with new challenges; this alone keeps me interested.”

What is Porteous most proud of in her career? Creating a “value maintenance plan” that enables consumers to roll 5 years of maintenance into their car payment. Customers ask for the package all the time. Porteous is also proud of the strong process driven teams she has built over the years.

Porteous feels like she has already reached one ultimate goal: overseeing a fixed operations department in a large dealer. Of the experience, she says, “The Dueck Auto Group has enabled me to reach that goal. Moving forward I want to continue to develop a strong team to service our customer in the best way possible and to continue to grow.”

5. Jennifer Hinkley: Detailer at Campers Inn RV in Hatfield, PA

Although Jennifer Hinkley’s background is in the medical field, she has always had a passion for the automotive industry. Hinkley’s grandpa, who worked on cars until he was in his 90s, taught her how to turn a wrench. The two of them spent many weekends tinkering in the garage.

Although Hinkley had to overcome gender-bias, she eventually landed a job as a detailer at Campers Inn RV. Her typical workday involves making well-worn motorhomes and campers sparkle like brand-new – not an easy feat. Also, she is responsible for noting any repairs that need to be performed by technicians.

“Most of my day involves cleaning and making the vehicles look great for shows and for customers to take home. I never let a customer leave with a vehicle that looks anything less than phenomenal,” Hinkley says.

Hinkley is particularly proud of a 22-year-old RV project she worked on. As one would expect, the old motorhome was filthy from decades of family excursions. But the dedicated detailer put in three days worth of elbow grease to get the vehicle showroom-ready.

Coleen Porter: Parts Manager at Premier Truck Group

Coleen Porter: Parts Manager at Premier Truck Group

Currently, Hinkley holds down two jobs: her detailing position and a role as a direct support professional in the medical field. One day, she hopes to become a mechanic within the RV industry, while also remaining a health care specialist.

“I work in two different industries and it helps to have people skills, especially when you have to explain procedures to customers so they can understand everything that’s being done. My work always leads to one thing: helping people. Whether automotive or health, it’s rewarding to work. Having multiple skill sets can open doors and lead to surprises.”

6. Colleen Porter: Parts Manager at Premier Truck Group in Mississauga, ON

Colleen Porter is – and always has been – a gearhead. As a child, she could identify nearly every car, while also carrying on informed conversations about mechanical specifications. So, of course, when she went off to school, she signed up for an automotive marketing program at Georgian College.

Attending classes there confirmed the car business would be her lifelong career.

Every day for the successful parts manager involves multitasking. She leads and coaches a team of over 40 staff members through everything from meeting goals to managing reports.

Porter says, “I am challenged every day to find new and innovative ways to ensure my team in the parts department is successful. It’s very important to me to lead by example and that my staff knows they are valued and that they deserve the credit for the success of our department.”

In 2018, Porter was chosen for and graduated from, the NADA/ATD Academy while only six months into her role as parts manager. While in the intense program, she was still able to run her department and meet goals successfully.

“Thank you to Premier Truck Group for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to study at the NADA/ATD Academy – it was an invaluable experience,” she says.

Gina Allen: Director of Fixed Operations at Santa Margarita Auto Group

Gina Allen: Director of Fixed Operations at Santa Margarita Auto Group

In the future, Porter aspires to even greater goals, saying, “ I have over 25 years of experience in different industries - trucking, auto & Powersports and in running my own business for 14 of those years. I feel confident that I have the skills and abilities to become a GM or branch manager with Premier Truck Group when the opportunity arises. I will be ready for a more senior management position in the next few years.”

7. Gina Allen: Director of Fixed Operations at Santa Margarita Auto Group in Orange County, CA

Like most 18 year-olds, Gina Allen didn’t know what she wanted to do after high school. That is until she happened upon an “assistant” position at the local Ford dealership. Although she knew nothing about cars, she quickly learned, as the role turned out to be an assistant to a tenured service advisor. She has now been at the same dealership for over 18 years.

Allen is responsible for fixed ops at three locations: Santa Margarita Ford, Santa Margarita Toyota, and Santa Margarita Ford Fleet Center. Typically, she starts her mornings at one store, then travels back and forth between locations several times. Each day is spent working with employees and management to facilitate progress.

“I get to focus on the big picture and long-term planning goals for my departments. I get the most reward when I get to help an employee one on one,” she says.

Looking back on her career, the director of fixed ops is proudest of the time she first took on the role of service director.

“I had been a service advisor and managed the BDC, but I was really nervous taking over the service department. I had really big shoes to fill and high expectations from ownership and the factory. When I served on Ford Motor Company’s PSMAC board for the LA Region, I felt like I was on top of my game. Sharing insight into what dealers go through every day and seeing them recognized by the factory was huge. While I was on the panel, we accomplished Ford changing their parts warranty from one year 12,000 miles to two years unlimited mileage, which gave us a competitive advantage,” she recalls.

Daphne Hecko: Automotive Sales at Treasure Coast Lexus

Daphne Hecko: Automotive Sales at Treasure Coast Lexus

Allen, who is now 36, intends to be a general manager by the time she is 40 years old. Another goal she has is to finish her bachelor’s degree. Currently, she’s enrolled in an automotive marketing and management program at Northwood University and is scheduled to graduate with a BA in 2020.

8. Daphne Hecko: Automotive Sales at Treasure Coast Lexus in Port Saint Lucie, FL

When Daphne Hecko was a child, she admired her older brother’s Nissan 300zx. She would help him work on the car whenever the chance arose. And that solidified Hecko’s love for the automotive industry; it also got her started in motorsports. To this day, she still gets behind the wheel at the race track.

A typical workday for the New York native involves arriving early, answering emails and attending meetings. Every morning she performs a “lot walk”, follows up on calls, mails thank you cards and sends business cards to internet leads. Of course, she also sells cars – and quite a few of them – while always keeping the guest as the number one priority.

Nowadays, online reviews are everything, and Hecko is proud to say, she gets excellent feedback.

“I am proud to say that in my first full quarter of being employed here, I received the Dealer Rater Certified status. This certificate requires 10 Positive Reviews per quarter, which I doubled and received 20. My secret formula to reviews is asking for it,” she says.

“When my guest is finished in both finance and technology, ready to depart the dealership, I slide in a ‘By the way, I’m going to be sending a review to your email’. To which the guest states they will leave one. After 24 hours, if I have not received a review, I log in and resend it. After another 24 hours, if the guest still did not leave the review, I send the link via text message.”

Hecko’s ambitions are remarkably admirable: “My goal in automotive sales is to be fair, transparent, stress-free, and likable; whether that is still in sales, or one day, higher up.”

Laney Floyd: Service Business Development Director at Joe Bullard Automotive

Laney Floyd: Service Business Development Director at Joe Bullard Automotive

9. Laney Floyd: Service Business Development Director at Joe Bullard Automotive in Mobile, AL

In 2013, Laney Floyd was working as a server coach when the president of Joe Bullard Automotive decided to call several local businesses to observe phone etiquette. One of those places was the restaurant where Floyd worked – and she picked up the call.

The automotive bigwig was so impressed with Floyd’s demeanor that he offered her a position as a service appointment coordinator. Floyd had no previous experience in the automotive industry but decided to take a chance and join the team.

Quickly, she immersed herself in the industry and began learning everything she could. At the same time, she was also working toward a degree in business management. Three years later, she got promoted to director of service business development for the entire Joe Bullard Automotive Group.

A typical day for Floyd is hectic yet rewarding. She starts every morning gauging how many appointments each store must schedule to stay on target to meet or exceed forecasted goals. From there, it's a constant battle of putting out fires: contacting and following up with clients and coordinating efforts within the individual BDC's of the four stores. Managing and measuring processes to maximize dealership traffic must also be done daily.

Most of all, she says, “My day always includes assisting my team by ensuring they have what they need to succeed – and in doing so helping the company succeed. My department is an engine that must be continually fueled.”

Norma Benavides: Manager Trainee at Group 1 Automotive

Norma Benavides: Manager Trainee at Group 1 Automotive

What accomplishment is Floyd most proud of? Consolidating the service business development efforts within her company into one organized department that performs very well. She notes that the achievement was a team effort, “These people are enthusiastic, dedicated to the company, the clients and each other. I cannot overstate their importance for making this work!”

As for goals, Floyd hopes to continue to build the sustainability of the Bullard service BDC so it will have the processes, leaders, and team members in place to ensure long-term success. Also, she plans to eventually become a general manager at one of the Joe Bullard stores. When that day comes, she says she will: “Continue to use my influence to serve and delight the clients as well as provide my employees with a company and a culture they can buy into and support.”

10. Norma Benavides: Manager Trainee at Group 1 Automotive in Dallas, TX

Passion for the automotive business runs in Norma Benavides’ family. Her father operates the Escamilla Used Car & Truck Center in Laredo, Texas and Norma started working there after high school. While in college, she spent summers training in the accounting, sales and finance departments.

Currently, Benavides is a manager trainee at Group 1 Automotive at Rockwall Ford in Rockwall, Texas. The program, which is 24-months long, provides an opportunity to work in service, parts, collision, sales, finance, and accounting. Right now, Norma is working in variable operations as an internet sales manager. Every day, she engages in activities such as setting up appointments, demonstrating vehicles, and assisting clients in finding the right car.

Nicole Schomer: Platform Finance Trainer at Motor Werks Auto Group

Nicole Schomer: Platform Finance Trainer at Motor Werks Auto Group

The ambitious manager trainee is proud of the person she’s becoming; how much she’s learned and the work she’s put in. She says, “I am proud of the hard work and dedication I have put into building a strong foundation to help me be a better leader in the automotive industry. I thank my family and mentors who have continued to support me along the way.”

Going forward, Benavides plans to work on self-improvement to better the lives of those around her. Holding a leadership position that helps others achieve their goals is also on the agenda. And she plans to help more women get into the automotive business.

In May of 2019, Benavides will have completed her training program and be ready to take on new challenges.

11. Nicole Schomer: Platform Finance Trainer at Motor Werks Auto Group in McHenry, IL

Nicole Schomer was interested in sales from a young age. Although she initially planned to work for her family’s printing business, her father encouraged her to try car sales. His hope was that she would dislike the position and decide to forgo sales altogether.

But that didn’t happen. Schomer immediately got hired into the BDC department at Woodfield Ford and began to thrive. Within just 45 days, she was moved to the internet sales department and became hooked on the automotive business.

“I remember opening my 1st commission check and almost falling off my chair. I did not think that kind of earning potential was available for a young girl without a college degree. I eventually moved into after sale and then finance and now FI director,” she recalls.

Typically, Schomer begins her mornings reviewing stats and putting together reports for the executive management team. Then, she reviews and puts together training content for the FI department, focusing in the areas of productivity, efficiency fraud prevention, and compliance. Coaching struggling F&I managers is also on the agenda.

The well-versed platform finance trainer is proud of her continual success in a male-dominated field. “I love that I can show my daughters that we, as women, can accomplish anything we put our minds to and that hard work pays off,” she says.

Sveta Gwin: Director of Finance at Elco Chevrolet Cadillac

Sveta Gwin: Director of Finance at Elco Chevrolet Cadillac

Going forward, Schomer plans to continue to learn, while improving and digitalizing the FI department at Motor Werks.

“I am very fortunate to work for a company that is interested in my learning, growing and improving as an automotive professional and as a valued member of their team. I'm very fortunate to have three mentors and role models here: Mick Auston, CEO; Debra Gammon, CFO and Rich Altenhoff, variable operations director. I can only hope to be able to pass forward and provide the learning and coaching that I have received from them,” says Schomer.

12. Sveta Gwin: Director of Finance at Elco Chevrolet Cadillac in St. Louis, MO

While in college, Sveta Gwin didn’t think about the automotive industry; her goal was to become an accountant. But that changed when – to earn some extra cash while in school – she applied for a receptionist position at the local dealership.

Kelsey Williams: Luxury Automotive Service Advisor/Technician at Caliber Collision

Kelsey Williams: Luxury Automotive Service Advisor/Technician at Caliber Collision

Gwin wasn’t placed in the receptionist position; instead, she was hired on as an F&I assistant. A couple of years later, she was trained for overflow. Even though she was still in college, she was able to buy her first house while working as a part-time business manager.

“My typical workday involves going through contracts in transit and held offerings while taking care of customer deals. I work as a producer as well, so I manage my deals and overlook my team’s deals. I will have meetings with different department managers and bank representatives. I also overlook the schedules for my department and training. Training is always ongoing in this business. Things are always changing in the auto business, so we all have to stay on top of things,” Gwin says.

Out of everything, the director of finance says her greatest accomplishment is being at the same dealership for over 20 years. She considers the people there family.

“My goal is always to do better and to be the best. Not too many women are in this industry and my goal is to get the word out that this is an untapped market for them,” Gwin says.

13. Kelsey Williams: Luxury Automotive Service Advisor/Technician at Caliber Collision in Zebulon, NC

Kelsey Williams started at the bottom: washing windows and vacuuming floors at Jiffy Lube. As a young girl, she had always admired her father, a diesel mechanic, and wanted to be in the automotive industry. So, she worked to climb the ranks at Jiffy Lube, reaching the position of assistant manager.

Then, one day, Williams got a call from the local Audi dealership and was offered a job as a technician. Naturally, she jumped on the opportunity and spent the next four years turning wrenches.

Now, Williams works as a service advisor, while also doing light technician work, at Caliber Collision in Zebulon, North Carolina.

Fika Host: Loyalty Manager at Audi Denver

Fika Host: Loyalty Manager at Audi Denver

“I started my current job at Caliber Collision Luxury shop as a service advisor. I have completed a month-long course in Service Advisor Foundations Training, which was a big accomplishment. Each day I write estimates, assist my technicians and painters through proper hands-on blueprinting, create repair plans, order parts, and follow up with clients and insurance companies,” she says.

One of William's greatest accomplishments is starting her Girl Tech Apparel line. The hard-working advisor explains: “The big picture for Girl Tech is to create a movement for women empowering other women in automotive to break stereotypes. I am working to make sure little girls growing up have the confidence and drive to excel in an Industry known to be predominantly male-driven.”

14. Fika Host: Loyalty Manager at Audi Denver in Denver, CO

One day, a client suggested Fika Host, who was working as a personal banker, would excel in car sales. Host took the advice and found a job at the local Mini Cooper dealership. Immediately after starting the position, she recognized the auto industry as her calling.

Usually, Host arrives at work around 7:30 in the morning. Her daily duties as a loyalty manager involve developing processes and talking to customers. Also, she performs client follow-ups and client meetings later in the day.

Last year, the successful loyalty manager developed a portfolio team for Mini Cooper that was highly profitable. Now, she has been hired by Audi to create a similar department from scratch.

Joselyn Fuentes: Service Business Development/Customer Experience at The Collection

Joselyn Fuentes: Service Business Development/Customer Experience at The Collection

“My current employer hired me to drive sales through thought leadership and innovation. My goal is to create something new that will further my career by providing techniques that can be applied much more broadly across multiple dealerships as a force multiplier,” she says. “When I build and run it successfully, I hope to lead a broader effort for the brand, or any brand, in Denver and beyond.”

15. Joselyn Fuentes: Service Business Development/Customer Experience at The Collection in Miami, FL

At just 18 years old, Joselyn Fuentes was hired at the local Honda dealership for BDC sales. Although at the time, she had no industry experience, it was obvious a great opportunity had been extended to her.

“I was eager to begin as all of my jobs previous to this were in retail stores. I finally felt as if this was my chance to prove myself in an industry that would lead to a rewarding career. The rest is history,” she recalls.

Fuentes intakes hundreds of phone calls each day while assisting customers with service appointments. In between, she places outbound calls to guests, reminding them of recalls and scheduled maintenance.

Previously, Fuentes was a service advisor – and that’s something she is very proud of since the position is held mostly by males. In the future, she hopes to continue her automotive education and become a warranty administrator.

16. Svitlana Balytska: Automotive Sales at LaFontaine Automotive Group, Novi, MI

Svitlana Balytska, a native to Ukraine, posted her resume online like many other job hunters. Although she knew nothing about cars – spoke limited English and had only been in the U.S. for a few months – she was invited to interview for a position in automotive sales.

The local Subaru dealership extended a job offer immediately. From there, Balytska began her sales career, while also trying to acclimate to a new country and master the local language.

Svitlana Balytska: Automotive Sales at LaFontaine Automotive Group

Svitlana Balytska: Automotive Sales at LaFontaine Automotive Group

“Being a people-person, I saw this as an opportunity to grow, meet more people and help them. I chose the Subaru brand because we have Subaru vehicles in my household and I know that they are great,” the successful salesperson recalls.

Balytska starts her day by following up with clients and confirming daily appointments. From there, she prepares vehicles, greets guests and helps customers find the perfect car. “I always personalize my deliveries for every customer,” she says. “I know how important a vehicle purchase is; that’s why I strive to provide exceptional service and give my customers a great experience.”

After just one year, Balytska was able to make it to the top of her dealership’s leaderboard in sales and gross – all without having much knowledge of either the automotive industry or the United States. Of her accomplishments, the salesperson says, “Now, I can deliver a vehicle not only in English but in two other languages: Ukrainian and Russian.”

Going forward, she hopes to become ‘that girl’ everyone goes to for a new car or buying advice.

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