Kimberly M. Cowan
What is the proudest accomplishment of your career thus far?
Yikes! This is tough. I am so proud and grateful to have been a part of so many awesome things throughout my years in automotive, from teaching on the front lines about the value of the digital wave back when print was king and the internet was just a “fad,” to managing the program for the early product development and strategy for what has become “KBB Instant Offer” to leading the charge on several major marking rebrands, to securing the first American deal with a top global bank for an international incentives management partnership. I have never said no to a good opportunity and as a result have had the ability to grow my skillset across multiple disciplines professionally, and it has been such a wonderful and rewarding journey.
To me though, it is all about the people. I believe that to be truly successful one must be surrounded with a strong team, and for a team to be successful, each person must feel fulfilled and strong in their commitment to their own success and to each other’s. I have grown to understand that “fulfillment” means something different to everyone and how those needs are met by leadership and cross functionally should be deliberate and motivating. Being a leader is an honor — one that I treasure — but the soft skills needed to be successful were not always second nature. It took me a long time to develop in these areas, but it is something that means everything, and is the most fulfilling. I deliberately work on these areas and strive daily to be better than the day before. Having the ability to help others succeed and achieve their goals gives me more of a sense of accomplishment than anything I ever accomplished alone … and when I have earned sincere gratitude from another, I am most proud.
What is your best advice to other women who want to excel in the automotive industry?
Do not be afraid to be authentic and never say no to an opportunity, no matter the size. I started out on the phones, smiling and dialing, and worked my way up the ranks. Hunger, humility and a thirst for knowledge will help you find your path. Learn retail, understand vendors, take the time to see how the ecosystem works together and consciously decide to give it your best every day — even when it is hard.
Remember, you are your own brand. The way you present yourself should be intentional and you should never expect respect to come lightly. Focus on being a talented person who happens to be female not a female who happens to be talented.
Get a good mentor and become truly open to feedback without sensitivity, it will change your life for the better — promise. Personally, I have had many mentors throughout my career, at different stages and for different reasons. I love to evolve and grow. My most impactful mentors were Brian Skutta, who taught me how to embrace the “pitbull” of my personality and Ian MacDonald, who taught me how to temper that “pitbull” and polish it up.
What are some of the ways you have seen the industry support women?
In recent years, I have seen more and more women bring their talents to automotive, which is incredibly exciting for obvious reasons. With the recent additions of “Women in Automotive” and, most recently, “Women of Color Automotive Network,” along with more females serving as industry faces and experts, the strength of the female voice has increased exponentially.
What is one thing the industry could do better/differently to support women?
I think as we continue to grow the balance of the male/female ratios across automotive, we need to reevaluate the way we interact with each other and the subconscious messages we may be sending. For example, one of my long-time pet peeves is the setup of shopping and spa areas at conference shows for women. Women do not bring their spouses to a show and drop them off to be pampered while “business” is discussed on the floor. Men do not come to the show to get their hair done and neither should we. Hosting events like these seem outdated and devalues the contributions and efforts of women working at the conferences alongside men. I cannot tell you how many times men have asked me over the years for directions to these areas simply because I was a female. And it always comes with a jab about how I must have already stopped by to check it out. Yuck.
Another great example is on us: We must stop with the “muffin girl” thing already! Ladies, stop putting yourself in a domestic role at work subconsciously. You are smart, competent and capable; you do not need to bring muffins, have candy, provide Band-Aids or take care of anyone on a sales call or in the office. Execute your job well, then lean on those merits.