Women In Automotive, My First Time

Women In Automotive, My First Time

The women power players in the auto industry were here and they were about to show me how a conference can be different.

As a man in automotive, I generally don’t care what your gender is as long as you have a great outlook, positive ideas and a creative nature.

I am rarely impressed these days. Recently, I was taken aback.

I attended the 2024 Women In Automotive Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

What makes Women In Automotive different? Why, as a software engineer with 29 years in the car business, should I care? What could I possibly learn? Well let’s just see now.

I have long been an attendee and speaker at Digital Dealer, NADA, AutoCON (RIP), Driving Sales, Innovative Dealer Summit (Tim Jackson), 20 groups and more. What all these conferences have in common are networking in the automotive industry from the dealer to vendor to OEM levels. But none of these were Women In Automotive. This was different.

This was my first Women In Automotive conference. I was uncertain what to expect. I was invited by my long-time friends Veronica Dunford and Gary May, as governing board members and co-owners. I was privileged to also meet industry veteran and powerhouse, Kathy Gilbert.

So, I made the journey 18 miles south to Cheyenne Mountain Resort, nestled at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, home to the world’s premier underground security facility and original command center for NORAD. Colorado Springs has much to offer including sitting below the base of America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak, which Eliana Raggio’s husband Mike went off and drove into the clouds and then joined a group of hikers to hike to the top, a feat few can muster as the air is super thin. It’s pretty darn cold and you rise to 14,115 feet above sea level. Box checked for Mike.

When arriving at the luxury resort for registration, I was surprised to see many faces I knew. The women power players in the auto industry were here and they were about to show me how a conference can be different.

The night started with drinks and conversation, a true social hour greeting new arrivals as they came in, in droves. We chatted, we met new people and we expanded our minds. We even had some pretty good brussels sprouts from the restaurant in the resort, which had a beautiful view of the golf course and old money homes in the mountain side. Great first meeting. I was getting more comfortable.

Day 1

I arrived in anticipation of learning much and was not disappointed. They began the conference with a room full of women, myself, Ron Morrison (Pureinfluencer), Gary May and Mike Benavides (board members) and a few other guys. So, like eight, maybe 10 brave men and the rest all women. Yes, intimidating even for a 29-year veteran of the automotive space.

This first session was a discussion of support, namely the support that the WIA Board was extending to the women in the audience. The discussion then moved toward the mentoring that all the board members participate in. Finally, they moved into support groups where board members would share their experiences in mentoring. They discussed the importance of mentoring and how mentoring can be bi-directional. How we all have skills, and we can share them with each other. Iron sharpens iron. That was not lost on me.

I also realized I have aged. I recently turned 50. I have been in the car business since I was 21. Most or many of the ladies in this room were younger than me, and some may not have my knowledge. I was thinking, “Geez, should I be mentoring some in this session? Should they be mentoring me? What would I learn?” It was all very eye opening and exciting. I love to learn, and this was looking promising already, just 20 minutes in.

Next, we moved into the main hall for the start of the conference and opening keynote from the world-famous Subi Ghosh. Subi described her journey from landing in a male-dominated dealership to helping since the very beginning of Women In Automotive and how we are and/or should be lifting each other up in life, cheering each other on. It was a message well received. The next keynote came from Sharon Kitzman, a powerhouse and president of Dominion DMS, sharing her story of blazing trails in self-discovery and creating the environment to allow women to rise to the top in their field and craft.

The format then switched to breakout sessions, and let me share the impressive list of who spoke in these sessions: Cheryl Lopez, corporate controller from Headquarter Automotive; Robin Wilson, CEO from SCP Agency and Social Grenade; Bobbie Herron, founder and president from The Bees Knees Agency; Lanie Dattilo, marketing manager from Spectrum Automotive Holdings; Kathy Gilbert, senior director, minority dealer and women retail, CDK Global; Tara Rego, automotive director of sales and strategy, Spectrum Reach; Micha Goebig, founder and CEO from GO BIG Coaching & Communications; Jessica Gao, Cars Commerce associate general counsel from Cars.com Inc.

After the breakout sessions, we regrouped with a panel featuring Tara Williams, Amy Wessel and Joe Nuszkowski, all from Protective Asset Protection. Then some final comments came from Eliana Raggio. Lastly, each WIA Board Member and some of the VIP sponsors had a planned dinner that conference attendees could sign up for. These are very special dinners. What a day.

Day 2

Day 2 began with sunrise yoga lead by author Katie Mares ( “CustomHer Experience”) on the patio overlooking Cheyenne Mountain in the crisp, dry Colorado air at 6,200 above sea level. Yes, a new and interesting experience for many on the yoga mats, which were provided to all by GoFit.

As day 2 of the conference got underway, we were greeted by a keynote from Jake Stacey, executive vice president of sales and training from LGM Financial on the Power of Storytelling. That was followed by a powerful testimony from Laura Murphy, automotive retail specialist from Google Detroit on self-care and how to “Be your Own Best Friend” as well as how to tell yourself “#IAMREMARKABLE” and believe it. This was an incredible session.

Next, I found two people very interesting to meet, they had a Fireside Chat on stage. Jennifer Rafael, vice president, partner and Sandra Liem, director of marketing, both from DSMA – Valuations, Mergers & Acquisitions, discussing Empowering Diversity in the Driver’s Seat. It was very interesting to learn about both styles and strategies unique to each of them.

The food was amazing at every break, every lunch — it was five star all the way. Really appreciated the choices they prepared.

Following the world-class lunch, the breakout sessions were in full swing. We heard from Dr. Martha Rader, principal and professor from Rader Leadership; Candice Lowe, senior account executive, PureCars; Cheryl Thompson, CEO and founder, Center for Automotive Diversity, Inclusion and Advancement; Michelle Blakeley, vice president of OEM strategy and development, Affinitiv; Carla Cosenzi, president, TommyCar Auto Group; Tianna Mick, chief marketing officer, Dealer Synergy; Kelechi Ikemefuna, senior director, diversity and talent at Volkswagen of America, Inc.; Jessica Mitchell, vice president client support, Xcel Media Group; Tara Kasica, vice president of sales, Nation Safe Drivers; Katie Mares, author, “CustomHER Experience”; Crystella McIvor, founder, Support Our Scrubs; Ali Carlson, solutions manager, One View; Amber Daniel, VP of product and strategy, Cognition Digital; Lisa Gener, director of digital and marketing operations, Covert Auto Group; and topping the afternoon off was Shari Fitzpatrick, founder and author of Shari’s Berries, “Berried in Chocolate.” 

The networking reception concluded the day. It was a chance to meet and interact with other attendees and even the speakers themselves. It was nice to talk to those who bravely shared their stories.

Day 3

Day 3 began again with sunrise yoga. Then Eliana Raggio opened the conference with her witty humor and professional organization of thoughts. Clear, concise and energetic. I was now ready for the day. We immediately moved to a panel discussion with Susan Burke, VP of marketing, and Adrienne Riley, implementation manager, both from 700 Credit; BreAnna McCready, fractional CRO; and Nicole Cockroft, service director, Headquarter Mazda. Following the panel discussion, we finished the sessions with Megan Mahon, head of sales enablement at Premier Truck Rental, with an interesting twist on self-defense that had everyone on their feet and interacting.

Last but not least, the award ceremony and conclusion. There was so much power in that house. There were some of the greatest leaders in automotive in one room. You could feel it. With the awards given out, you can physically see these women lifting each other up. It was during this conference that I realized one key difference between genders. Women lift each other up to a level men just don’t. Don’t get me wrong. Some can also tear their own sisters down. But largely, women are way better at supporting each other than men are.

My final thoughts. We are all uniquely different and when the purpose or mission is to share data, stats, stories, thoughts, experiences and such, we do it because if their story or mine can shed light on people worldwide dealing with the same scenario, just maybe we can inspire them to push through that tough time. We believe as people that we should all be storytellers. Storytelling helps all people. It helps to understand, it helps to consider other perspectives, it helps to see the heart of another at risk or under duress and how they overcame what they did and how they smiled the whole way. Women In Automotive is about the stories. Women are better at sharing their stories then men, as men we need to take heed of the sharing of our journeys and frustrations and not worry about being “a man about it.”

If we men can aspire to learn to share, consume, consider, empathize or generally just understand others, we would achieve more and have better lasting friendships and relationships with our family, friends and even business associates.

What I learned at Women In Automotive is life is a great journey. Many times the path forward requires a step back, a snapshot of your environment and an adjustment to your strategy. We must look closely at all those around us and to look for the stories. Ask your co-workers or team members questions and find the story in each of us. Because that is where you get a great understanding of who that person is. When you identify that, then you can unlock their personal power and what motivates and drives them to achieve and/or create greatness. It exists in all of us, we just need to try to unlock it in our people.

This was my first time at Women In Automotive. I will never miss another one. I learned a truckload of useful information, which I will use in my future endeavors. Thank you.

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