It was 2009, and the auto industry was reeling from the impact of the Great Recession.
Jane Millman was standing in the showroom of what is now Riverhead Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Riverhead, N.Y., when the dreaded letter arrived.
She breathed a sigh of relief when it confirmed that the family-owned dealership was not among the almost 800 Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep Ram dealerships that would be sacrificed under Chrysler’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring.
It was a “pivotal point” for Millman.
“I needed to be involved with all legislative aspects of my industry to protect the investment myself and my family have made in our business as a franchise dealer,” she said of the business that sold only Dodge and Ram vehicles before adding Chrysler and Jeep in 2017. It retailed 504 new and 198 used vehicles in 2018.
“I needed to be a voice to help promote and protect my industry. You can’t be a voice for your business unless you know what’s going on around you.”
Millman found her “voice” about six years ago when she became more active with the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association, and she set her sights on becoming its leader.
Her voice was figuratively amplified in June when she was sworn in as the association’s chairwoman during GNYADA’s annual charity golf outing. The event raised over $110,000 for automotive education this year and over $1 million since 2005.
And, for the first time GNYADA’s history, women dealers hold three of the seven top leadership positions in the association.
Millman, 54, said she will use her platform to promote the financial and personal rewards of dealership careers as service technicians, sales persons and managers. A big part of that effort will be devoted to attracting more women to those jobs.
“I’m a believer that you have to have different genders, different nationalities; everybody comes from different places,” said Millman, who is the dealership’s secretary-treasurer and is in charge of its day-to-day operations. “Men and women have different perspectives as individuals and having those individual perspectives is what makes us grow.”
Leader, dealer advocate, role-model
GNYADA president, Mark Schienberg, said Millman brings a fresh perspective to the position. Her vision, management skills and experience in the automotive field, makes her a very strong leader, advocate for GNYADA members and role model, particularly to other women entering and advancing in the industry, he added.
“Prioritizing the need to recruit younger workers to fill the critical shortage and employment needs and join an automotive workforce that offers high pay with good benefits and long-term career opportunities will help strengthen the retail new-car industry and position us well in the future,” he said in an email statement.
Melanie Spare-Oswalt, president of Sayville Ford, in Sayville, N.Y. is an association vice chairwoman and Jordan Daiagi Harary, president of Leader in Cars Auto Group, which operates Mazda, Hyundai and Genesis franchises, is the association’s secretary. Leader in Cars is in New Rochelle, N.Y.
The association is working hard to publicize that it is offering scholarships to help young men and women pursue rewarding career paths as service technicians, Millman said. The strategy is to include a social media campaign and interviews with media outlets. GNYADA is working with the state of New York, which announced in April that it was creating a task force that will develop programs to train individuals to become auto technicians and enable participants to transition into the industry, she added.
“The association is very active with high schools, especially in New York City and with colleges,” she said.
Recruiting women: ‘not easy’
But Millman admits that attracting women to jobs in dealerships — as service techs or on the sales side — “is not an easy task.”
She also believes that many women who have current or past experience working in retail sales in clothing stores and other establishments and industries such as real estate can easily transition into dealership sales.
With many retail stores going out of business or reducing their location count, the auto industry has an opportunity to recruit women who were displaced or looking for a change, Millman said.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for women to move into our sales environment and have a successful career, a long-standing career and make more money than they did in retail establishments,” she said.
“It goes back to training and giving women the confidence. They’re already talking to customers. All they have to do is learn the product and help negotiate the sale.”
Millman’s father, Tony Strollo, who is president of the dealership, purchased it in 1976, when Millman was 11.
She took her father’s motto, “You need to work for what you are worth,” to heart at an early age and spent her teen years detailing cars at the dealership. But she didn’t mind, because “I liked making money,” she said.
She continued selling cars as a summer job during college.
Finding her future
But when Millman graduated in 1987 from Plattsburgh State University, in Plattsburgh, N.Y., armed with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing, “I didn’t think this was where my future was,” she said of the family business.
She moved to New York City after landing an outside sales job in telecommunications and moved up to become a sales manager. She liked her job, but the hours were long.
When she got married in 1995 and moved back to the Long Island area of New York where the leadership is located, her father said: “‘I think it’s time for you to come back,’” to the family business. She agreed.
“If I was going to be in outside sales and if I was going to work 50 or 60 hours a week, which I was doing, I might as well work with my family,” she said. “I have a great relationship with them.
“As we get older and a little bit wiser, we learn from our experiences. I saw it as my future.”
When she rejoined the family business, she started on the showroom floor selling cars. Gradually, her father started giving her more management responsibility. Around 2000 she was promoted to her first management position: general manager overseeing parts and service and in that timeframe became the dealership’s secretary-treasurer. Her job evolved to encompass the store’s day-to-day management.
In the mid-2000s Millman was on GNYADA’s board of directors but “took a step back from association” when she and her husband started a family.
About six years ago, after her children were older, Millman got involved with GNYADA in earnest.
“I came back to it with a whole new excitement of being involved with the association,” she said.