To continue the momentum started by our Women in Remarketing and Women in Auto Finance franchises, AuSM has launched Women in Retail, an awards program that specifically recognizes leaders on the retail side of the auto industry.
This inaugural class of honorees is spotlighted in the , which includes Q&As with each recipient of the award.
We begin those Q&As with Wadette Bradford, who is the dealer network diversity and investments manager at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
AuSM: What was your career path to the retail auto industry? Did you always see yourself in this line of work?
Wadette Bradford: The automotive industry seems to have chosen me well before I realized that it was my passion. When I was in high school, my general interests led me to enrolling in auto mechanics, where I learned the intricacies of vehicles and wrote essays about high performance exotic cars.
My career path began after completing college. I applied for a retail sales position with a Chrysler Jeep Subaru dealership while working on my master’s degree. After completing my second-degree program, I was offered my first management position with one of my earliest mentors in this industry, Mrs. Ellenae Fairhurst, owner of Lexus, Infiniti and Dodge of Huntsville, Ala.
After several years gaining invaluable experience in various operations management positions, I attended and graduated from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Dealer Academy. It was during my time at the Dealer Academy where I realized my passion for fixed operations.
Over the next decade I honed my skills in fixed operations and upper level dealership management, most recently as general manager. In September 2018, I was recruited by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to manage the Minority Dealer Network and our industry-leading Dealer Market Investment Program. This position has afforded me the unique opportunity to work closely with our dealers nationwide in support of values of business diversity and inclusion.
It’s a role with tremendous cultural capital impact, and I’m grateful for the unique experience. I did not always see myself in this line of work, but once you have been bitten by the “car bug,” it is in your blood forever — it certainly is in mine.
AR: What’s a typical day like in your job? (If there is such a thing as typical)
WB: Every day in this industry is unique! There is no such thing as a typical day; however, the goal of each day is the same: to support our business center team in their goal to increase diversity in our dealer network.
Our minority dealers are more profitable than our general dealer body. Data shows that when the dealer owner reflects the diversity in the community, there is a great return on investment. As the diversity of our country continues to shift, ensuring our dealer network is diverse and our dealerships are comfortable for our customers is paramount to long-term success.
AR: What are some of the top challenges (and opportunities) in the retail car business this year? How are you and your company addressing these?
WB: With advancements in technology, increasing focus on environmental responsibility and shifting cultural norms in nearly every facet of the business; transforming our business processes to meet the dynamic needs of consumers and stakeholders is one of our top challenges and a source of great opportunity for the retail automotive industry.
This is also a top priority for my company, and the underlying thread that draws us closer to solutions in each of these areas is harnessing the cognitive diversity of our corporate and dealership partners. Collectively, we have hundreds of years of experience spanning the spectrum of retail automotive. In my role as dealer network diversity and investments manager, I’m excited to be a part of this solution, and I work collaboratively with our field team and corporate leadership to create a diverse dealer network across the country and ensure that dealer network decisions are informed and inclusive of varied perspective that reflect the true pulse of all of our customers and stakeholders.
It’s through this inclusivity that we will develop transformative processes that are agile enough to accommodate evolutions in the industry and will position the company for success and profitability well into the future.
AR: What accomplishment or moment in your career are you most proud of and why?
WB: To date, I am most proud of being selected by AuSM to be a member of the inaugural class of Women in Retail honorees at this juncture in my career. Having relocated to a new area of the country as a single mom with an infant and joining an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) after more than 15 years of dealership management experience is a tremendous honor in the midst of change.
Reflecting over my career through the years, I’m reminded of the joys and trials of my journey. I strive to learn and grow from every challenge and celebrate my achievements as well as the achievements of others around me, whether large or small. Each of these moments have made character building deposits into my life, which have contributed to my overall success and molded me into the woman I am today. We must focus on our positive aspects and champion one another, knowing that God always provides a rock to step out on and a support system that will come from areas that are completely unexpected.
AR: Who is a leader outside the auto industry that you admire and why?
WB: I admire Robert F. Smith, founder of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that focuses on buying and selling software firms. Vista has about $46 billion in assets under management, according to Forbes and is believed to be one of the best-performing firms in the country. Mr. Smith, like I, grew up in a predominately African American upper middle-class neighborhood. He applied for an internship at Bell Labs in high school but was told he was too young. Mr. Smith called every Monday for five months and finally got the position.
I respect his tenacity and ambition as core traits I also possess. He identified his strengths, properly marketed his abilities and has built businesses to satisfy needs in the marketplace. Mr. Robert F. Smith then ensures the minority community that he came from benefits through his philanthropy and openly shares the steps to his success. I further admire that he became an expert at his craft which is what I have endeavored to do in the ever-evolving auto industry.