Three area auto dealership executives said family connections did not ensure an easy career.
Whether the ladies knew they intended to work in the family business or not, their time at the dealerships as teenagers allowed them to watch and learn how to lead by building a support network and communication skills.
Lauren Benedict, executive manager at Knudtsen Chevrolet Co. in Post Falls, started working there eight years ago as a project manager to update the employee handbook.
Benedict was guided by Knudtsen’s department supervisors and the company’s attorney.
Benedict stated her mother, Knudtsen Chevrolet president Eve Knudtsen, delegated the guidebook assignment.
She stated she learnt a lot about herself, authority, and navigating family relationships.
Benedict’s 2016 employee handbook initiative became a human resources position.
“We had no HR department,” she remarked. Our office manager handled all new employee paperwork, and all managers hired as they pleased, but we felt that with 75 to 80 people, we were certainly big enough to need someone to specialize on human resources.”
At Knudtsen Chevrolet, she handles financial choices, customer and staff interactions, and other activities.
She’s seen women’s leadership roles change as she’s grown up in the business.
“My mom became the dealer in 1995, and it was still assumed that the dealership would transition to her brother,” she added. “She faced more industry-related adversity and scrutiny than I did.”
Benedict said that when she joined Knudtsen Chevrolet, she felt supported by a large network of industry leaders her mother had built.
Benedict, a servant leader, hopes to mentor people in her profession.
“Our philosophy as far as employment goes, is that it’s our job to get you ready for your next opportunity; for women… but also the men,” she stated.
We require skilled people to give promotions in-house.
Mentorship goes beyond training. Being a resource for community development.”
Benedict has been an executive manager for six months and is pleased of helping the organization survive the epidemic. She stated she’s still trying to manage her new obligations.
Knudtsen Chevrolet employs 120 people, 102 full-time.
Kristin Goff, president of Spokane-based Wendle Motors Inc., struggles with work-life balance.
“I work hard and a lot of hours and I’ve always struggled with juggling the multiple responsibilities,” Goff said.
I hope my daughter improves in it. Most business owners battle with it.”
Goff said she has maintained a supportive corporate culture for all Wendle employees, including her daughter Rylee Pulliam, who is becoming the fourth-generation executive leader.
Goff said Pulliam recently graduated from the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy, which teaches future dealership leaders financial management, parts and service management, inventory, marketing, sales and associate management, and business leadership.
The academy costs $13,000, requires a sponsor, and has a rigorous admission procedure.
Goff called it valuable training.
“Well worth it,” she added. “Everyone from Wendle has gained so much.”
Goff said she grew up in the car industry with her father and the late Marti Hollenback, owner and dealer principle at Dishman Dodge Ram Chrysler Jeep in Spokane Valley.
“She was a really good mentor, and it was important for me to see another female—especially someone local—in the auto industry,” Goff said.
Networking at the Spokane New Car Dealers Association helped Goff meet Hollenback.
In addition to the organization here, Goff added that many new automobile manufacturers provide networking, support, or development groups for women in the sector, although attending might be difficult.
As a female car executive, Goff stressed communication. Her 2021 Journal of Business Icon dad, Dick Wendle, taught her great communication.
She claimed she learned how to listen to other viewpoints, speak directly but with kindness, and other leadership abilities by following him on the job.
“I think it’s important to say what’s on your mind and feel comfortable speaking up,” Goff added.
Kyeli Reinert, Parker Automotive’s human resources director in Coeur d’Alene, grew up helping in the family company like Benedict and Goff.
Reinert wanted to work outside the family business, but she always wanted to remain connected at Parker.
Reinert worked for Northwestern Mutual in Boston and Colorado Springs, where life was quicker.
“There’s just so many different ways to do business and different ideas and different leadership styles,” Reinert added. Two wonderful bosses… I learnt a lot from them and brought some of that to Parker.”
Reinert advised women entering the auto sector to communicate and stay grounded.
She stated, “There’s always going to be different challenges, so it’s just working through that and taking care of your people and making sure that you’re being transparent and communicating.”