You Can Drive My Car

In the market for a new car? These days the stereotypical sleazy used car salesman isn’t the guy you’ll meet at most area dealerships. In fact, here in San Antonio, you may not meet a man at all when shopping for a car, for these days women are fast becoming the most popular and highly successful car sales professionals in the business, often out-selling their male counterparts. Today’s San Antonio automobile showrooms and their sales teams are class acts, with exciting technology and design-oriented, state-of-the-art vehicles that set the bar high for excellence and innovation. That’s why those in auto sales today have to be as sharp, determined and as customer-satisfaction-driven as the cars they sell.

We wondered how some successful San Antonio women feel about finding themselves in the driver’s seat in today’s auto sales business, so we asked these “fab four” women to tell us how they got started and what they’ve learned on the road to success.

Esther Luna, general sales manager
-Ken Batchelor Cadillac

Years in the auto sales business: 25

Education: B.A., St. Edwards’ University, Austin; continuing education: Management Leadership for Extraordinary Performance at Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia; Creative Leadership, Colorado Springs; and, this spring, attending Executive Education Women’s Leadership Forum at Harvard

Esther Luna may be part of the top-tier management at Ken Batchelor Cadillac, but she still had to pay her dues and work hard to get there. However, even from the beginning, she had her eye on a career in some form of management. She just didn’t know at the time that her career would involve cars. Her first job out of college was with General Mills as a manager trainee for a restaurant near St. Louis, Mo., but it wasn’t until years later, when she moved to San Antonio from East Texas and needed to work, that she first got acquainted with the automobile sales field. “There was a dealership near our home, so I applied and was hired,” says Luna, who has spent the 25 years since learning all there is to know about car sales. But she’s learned more than just about automobiles over the years, as she’s quick to explain: “I wish I could say that the business I’m in is about cars, but at Batchelor Cadillac we are a service-oriented company that just happens to sell cars. We pride ourselves in the service we provide our customers at the time of sale and after the sale or any time they are in our dealership. Buying and/or servicing a car should not be stressful,” she says. “Customers should be sure to buy from someone reputable that they trust and like, since the sale is just the beginning of a long-term relationship.”

Most people think of automobiles, the automotive industry and the car sales field as being mainly a man’s world, but Luna says that there are many women in the business today: “At Batchelor Cadillac, which is part of the Sewell Automotive Companies, we see ourselves as a team and a family, and we employ lots of women … Women and men are recognized on their own merit (not gender-based). Sure, once in a while a customer will still ask me if I’m Ken Batchelor’s secretary, to which I reply ‘Absolutely! How may I assist you?’” she says with a smile. As much as Luna loves her job, she loves her family even more, explaining, “Family time is precious. Most Sundays are a day to take Mom to lunch. I am very fortunate to have her living in San Antonio, and I’m even more fortunate because she is healthy.” Luna also finds time to take care of herself through Bikram yoga (“It’s great for the mind, body and soul”), and she gives back to the community by supporting charities such as YMCA, EWI and Any Baby Can. Her dealership is also generous: “Ken Batchelor Cadillac and my associates give not only money but time to many organizations, including the March of Dimes, Any Baby Can, YMCA, the Greater Chamber of Commerce and others. Educating and supporting our young people is a way we enjoy giving back by participating in events at Alamo Heights, Churchill, Clark and schools in the Boerne School District. I could go on and on about our community involvement.

“San Antonio is special to me,” says Luna. “It’s the home of the Spurs, and my mom is a huge fan, so that is special to me. Living near my family is wonderful, and being connected with the associates and customers at Batchelor Cadillac makes San Antonio the only place to be.”

Elizabeth Cox, director of eCommerce
-North Park Lexus of San Antonio

Years in the auto sales business: 10

Education: BA in criminal justice from the University of Texas at San Antonio; master certified through Lexus

Elizabeth Cox has lived and traveled internationally, but she says San Antonio is home and feels content here. “I appreciate the culture of this city, the growing arts, the Texas barbecue and the ‘small town’ environment. I enjoy raising my kids in San Antonio, where it truly does take a village I can rely on,” she says. But perhaps it is because she has lived and traveled elsewhere and worked in several demanding jobs over the years that she’s found contentment, not only in her city, but also in her work. Cox, who formerly worked for AT&T and who also worked in pre-litigation negotiations for other companies, now enjoys her work in the automotive industry. Cox first went to work in car sales after visiting North Park Lexus to look at the luxury Lexus SUV, the RX. “I was impressed with the car and the dealership experience, and I was interested in taking the sales and marketing experience I gained from AT&T to a place where I could effectively run my own business and grow my own client base. My owner base was and is my business, and I have the fabulous product of Lexus to support the relationships I have built,” she explains.

As a woman in a business that is traditionally thought of as a man’s field, Cox says that she’s finding that those traditions are changing. “There are many women in this business and many clients that prefer to work with women. So I view this business as a wonderful opportunity for anyone, and women in particular can be very successful,” she says. Cox, whose work keeps her busy, also values the things that she and her dealership do for their community. “Lexus is very involved in community efforts, and we participate in many worthy charitable causes in and around San Antonio. I’m proud of all that Lexus does, and I personally attend many of the events that we sponsor to show our support,” she says. “I also serve on the executive board of the Battered Women’s and Children’s Shelter; I have a passion for helping victims of abuse, especially when innocent children are involved. This organization is extremely effective, and I am honored to serve alongside the wonderful people there.” Cox has a busy life. She is wife to husband, Kevin, who enjoys working at Rackspace in product development. “He has been there for five years and was previously at AT&T for 10 years. He was raised here in San Antonio, and I have discovered that when you marry a Texan, you stay in Texas!” says Cox. They have four children: Raymond (16), Sophia Madison (8), Weston (6) and Nolan Wayne (4), and they stay busy with the kids’ school and extracurricular activities.

But their support for children goes beyond that: Cox works as a court-appointed advocate for children in the foster care system. She was appointed to the Supreme Court of Texas’ Permanent Judicial Commission for Children, Youth and Families, where she serves as an advocate for the education of children in the Texas foster care system. “When foster children age out of the system, the education opportunities for college are there for these kids. I want to help them,” she says. Her husband also serves on the technology committee through the Commission. Cox is glad when her work makes a difference in children’s lives.

Lisa Rudd, certified sales consultant
-Mercedes Benz of San Antonio

Years in the auto business: Nine

Education: High school in Wisconsin; formerly elite certified Chrysler Jeep & Dodge; currently star certified with Mercedes Benz

“What happened if I never sold a car? How would I overcome my image of those car salesmen with a gold tooth and a wink for a heck of a deal? Ha, was I wrong!” recalls Lisa Rudd with a smile when she thinks back on her first days on the job in car sales back in 2003. Like many women, Rudd had to overcome not only first-day-on-the-job jitters but also her own preconceived notions about “typical” car salesmen. But it didn’t take long for her to realize she was in the exact place, and career, where she was meant to be, and it took even less time for her to figure out that the worn-out stereotypes about car salesmen and women were wrong. Perhaps Rudd was able to learn all that so quickly and embrace her new career so heartily because she was raised in a way that prepared her to go forward in life with a good attitude, hard work and strong-willed determination.

“I am originally from Wisconsin and was raised by my aunt and uncle, who collectively influenced me to be the person I am today. My awesome and hard-working aunt, Barbara Wengel, was a factory worker at Briggs & Stratton who started on an assembly line after high school graduation and retired just a few years ago. My Uncle Jim is a former mechanic, and he shared a passion for cars, just as I do. My aunt and uncle taught me that drive, determination and hard work pay off,” says Rudd. When Rudd was 18, she moved to California, where she lived for a few years prior to relocating to San Antonio in the mid-1990s. “I worked part time and dedicated my life to raising my two children, whom I love and adore. As my children grew up, I took on a full-time job,” says Rudd. Today, her daughter, Brittney, attends Texas A&M, and her son, Brandon, is in high school.

“My longtime friend Bob Terrill, whom I saw weekly at my son’s football practices, recommended that I consider going into auto sales … With my children growing up so fast, I wanted a career that reflected what my aunt and uncle had instilled in me. I was reluctant at first because I had never had a commission-based job,” says Rudd.

In January 2003, Rudd’s friend worked as a used car manager at an auto dealership, and he hired her and recommended she be the auto trader representative.

“Internet sales was the absolute best selling tool for my skill set, and it assisted me in selling over 200 cars per year. My best accomplishment at work to date was selling 310 vehicles in 2007 and 43 cars in August of that year. Last year, I joined the luxury brand, Mercedes Benz of San Antonio, and I feel I’m at the pinnacle of my career. It is a dream come true,” says Rudd. “I enjoy selling and thriving in a male-dominated industry in which women are the most influential decision makers in the car-buying experience. I couldn’t sell 2,000 cars in nine years without listening to the woman’s voice … I always give 110 percent to my clients with the understanding that trust and value cannot be underestimated,” she says.

“It motivates me to overcome and break the stereotypes of the do’s and don’ts of the auto industry. In 2007 I met my fiance, Cody Robinson, who also sells cars …The cons of my job are the same thing we share in our careers, including working late nights and having less time to share with my fiance, my children and my extended family,” says Rudd, who spends time away from work traveling, shopping, watching movies, going to the San Antonio Speedway racetrack, hiking, taking her (animal rescue) golden retriever for walks and going out to nice dinners.

“San Antonio is a melting pot and a great place for women to work. Our economy thrives because of the empowered and modern-day woman,” she says.

Victoria Hammond, auto sales associate
-Ancira Kia

Years in the car business: Nine

Education: High School in California, silver elite certified with Kia

Victoria Hammond says there are only two ways into the car business: “You’re either born into it, or you stumble in. I stumbled into it.” But was it coincidence or was it fate? “It seems like in a two-week period I had person after person ask me if I had ever considered auto sales. I thought they were all crazy. Me? Sales? No way! Then my car started having problems, and I went to see about purchasing a new one. While going through the process, the manager asked me if I wanted to work there selling cars. I believe that the world sends you signs, and you should pay attention. I did just that, and I’ve been having a great time ever since,” says Hammond — who, as fate would have it, is really good at sales. “Prior to selling cars, I had been in the nightclub business. I worked every job from waitress to management. It was a great training ground. I learned that I got paid what I was worth; if I took care of my clients, I would make money. The car business is all about listening to the clients and assisting them in finding a vehicle that fits their needs while catering to their wants and considering what best fits into their budgets,” says Hammond.

Raised in Santa Cruz, Calif., Hammond recalls moving to San Antonio after high school: “It was a major city with a small-town feel and a great place to live and build a life. Today I work in auto sales at Ancira Kia, though I’ve been in the car business for nine years—all of it in sales,” she says. There’s never a dull day in car sales, as Hammond will tell you, and no one right way to sell a car: “Once there was a woman whose car had broken down on her way to work. She had called the dealership upset, not knowing whom to call to tow it into the service department or how she would be able to get to work that day. I answered her phone call. Her car was an older model with high miles. I asked what she liked best about her car, what she wished were different, and what colors she preferred. I got her location and told her I would be there to pick her up in 20 minutes,” says Hammond. “An hour later she was signing the paperwork and driving away in the vehicle I had picked her up in. No longer worried about how to get to work or how to pick up the kids after school, she had a brand-new, shiny car, a payment she could afford and a 10-year warranty! She was a very happy customer who sent me several other happy customers. And all the men I was working with thought I was wasting my time to go help someone stranded at the side of the road,” she recalls.

Hammond loves her colleagues but admits working with men all day can be a challenge. “Some days it’s like working in a frat house (no, men never grow up); some days it’s like being the queen of the castle (this is Texas, and chivalry isn’t dead). Men and women are different, but for the women who survive and adapt in the business, we become a type of bilingual: able to communicate and negotiate with both men and women. The pro’s and con’s of being ‘the girl’ are that you stand out. It’s easier to distinguish yourself from the rest of the sales staff, but you will never truly be one of the boys. You are going to be a women, no matter how long you are in the biz,” says Hammond, and that’s perfectly fine with her.

“At Ancira Kia, I am proud to be part of a company that cares about its community. The employees here contribute to over 100 charities, including Toys for Tots, Wounded Warriors and Operation Home Front, and we are one of the largest contributors to United Way. We work long hours in this business, but whenever I can, I spend time with my son, Reno (17). He’s an ice skater. Also I spend time with my nephew, Denton (15); he is all about karate. I love to dance and listen to music, too, and my boyfriend is a local musician and singer, so I can often be found watching him play at the local venues,” says Hammond, who is happy to have found what she was meant to do in life.

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