Audrey McKinely’s father was a car salesman in California. It says so on her birth certificate. But there was no place on the certificate for her mother’s profession; it was assumed that she didn’t have one. This was the late 1960s.
Still, the business seeped into McKinely’s veins, and when she was in her last semester at the University of California, Irvine on her way to a bachelor’s degree in social sciences, she walked into a local Toyota dealership to inquire about job opportunities. Four men sat behind the dealership desk.
“They asked, ‘Doing what?’ and I said sales, and they all laughed,” she recalls. “As I was leaving, a man, the general manager, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was serious about wanting a job. He said, ‘I don’t have a job in sales, but I have a job as a receptionist.’”
And there, in 1991, began McKinley’s decades in the business. She didn’t turn up her nose at the receptionist job, and it was to her benefit, because the role launched a career that led her to roles few women held at that time. In fact, her first ladder climb came less than a year later.
“The general sales manager, as I helped him one evening with his paperwork — I always went above and beyond serving a need — he asked me if I could have any job in the dealership, what would it be. I said, ‘I want your job,’ she said with a smile, remembering the exchange. “He said the director at our group’s largest Toyota store needed an assistant.”
McKinley had also been recommended by someone at a different store in the seven-dealership group that included the No. 1 Toyota dealership in the country at the time, Toyota of Cerritos.
“Word travels fast in the car business,” she said. “It’s a small industry.”
She would train under the Toyota of Cerritos finance director for a year to become a finance manager, a coveted job dominated by men in an already male-dominated industry.
From there, she rose in the field, becoming a finance director at a large BMW store, then running a special-financing department, followed in 2000 by her development of one of the early dealership “internet departments.” After a break to raise her family, she worked on the vendor side for a large original equipment manufacturer as a sales executive before launching her own master finance-and-insurance agency in 2015, merging it with a retiring male mentor’s business to become a rare female agency founder.
Today, her Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.-based Auto Network Consulting Inc. has about 20 dealerships and over $1 million in annual revenue as she manages dealerships’ F&I revenue and reinsurance portfolios, exceeding $80 million in dealership profit from her products annually.
Though natural at sales – “no doesn’t seem like no to me” – she said she had to employ something extra in the early days of her career to help her succeed in the business as a woman, particularly as a minority.
“You had to have thick skin. They would tell me, ‘Don’t take anything per-sonal. You’re not going to get compliments on your job. If you don’t get told anything, that’s your accolade.’”
McKinley said that beyond her own driven personality and work ethic, having mentors to guide her as a woman in a man’s business has been crucial, and she recommends that any woman entering the business or considering it do the same.
“Find someone that believes in you just a little bit more than you believe in yourself, and you can move mountains.”
Such support can keep female professionals steadfast in their professions despite the possibility of being treated disrespectfully, she said.
When she worked for General Motors as an F&I account executive representing products and F&I development for dealerships in Orange County, Calif., and Los Angeles, she won a President’s Club award for achieving third place in the country in sales, along with multiple Champions Club awards.
McKinley recommends women read the book “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman” because men still make up the majority of industry employees. “They have to learn how to play the game and win like a woman.”
But she said the climate has changed for women in the automotive industry as younger generations enter the business and bring different attitudes.
“Women and men are working together instead of separate,” she said. “I think the perception women have now is that there is an opportunity. The more stories that women tell about the opportunities, the more women will be attracted to the industry. They have not only a seat at the table today, but they have a voice.”
Since McKinley is still a rarity in her corner of the industry – at conferences of agency founders, she said she’s one of about 10 women versus 200 men -- she likes to mentor younger women who are new to the business, and sits on the board of Women in Automotive, which empowers and develops women in the industry.
A lingering challenge for women, as in many industries, is balancing work and family. She’s fortunate that her husband took over child-rearing when she resumed work in 2008 after their daughter’s earliest years, but realizes many women don’t have that possibility. And, “Moms still need to be moms,” giving their kids a bath and tucking them into bed. She implores dealerships to allow women to work from home so that more women would join the industry.
“There’s no reason somebody couldn’t make appointments from home and go into the dealership to deliver the car.”
Looking at her career, from dealership receptionist to owner of a successful agency, she sees that moving through obstacles was essential.
“Doubts and fears, they’re natural. Do it scared.”
McKinley said she’ll soon publish a book on Amazon that she wrote about her career, and she hopes it will inspire other women. It’s called “Pathway to the Land of Milk and Honey.”
She recently received an email from one of her clients who’s a longtime dealer and had read an early copy of the book.
“He said it was ‘motivational and should be read by not only women, but anyone who wants to move ahead in their working life.’”
McKinley’s Tips for Moving Up
Women should keep these methods in mind as they try to advance in the auto industry, she advises:
- Secure a mentor early on in your career and continue that practice.
- Seize opportunities when offered them – be ready for them at any time.
- Be yourself, not who you may think people expect. Remember that you’re good enough.
- Be willing to try new levels of work that challenge you. “Do it scared.”
- Master your role and be willing to serve others.
Hannah Mitchell is Executive Editor at Agent Entrepreneur.