Women in Business - Sarah Hindle: Creating a new dealership culture
The SQ5 pulls in the restaurant parking lot, and Sarah Hindle gets out of the car slightly flustered. On her way out to meet me for dinner, she was caught in a dispute with a lady over $2.50. The stranger insisted that Sarah reimburse her for the spilled drink in her car as she had to swerve to get out of the way of Sarah and her son playing in the driveway.
After a minute, Sarah is all smiles and gives me a big hug. She looks like a rockstar with her bright blond hair on one side, low rise jeans, black blazer and blue suede heels. Oh did I mention Sarahs’ promotion to General Manager was announced today?
No big deal though, just another day in a superwoman’ life.
As we sit down and order our drinks and appetizers, her phone is blowing up with congratulatory emails and text messages. The email announcement of the promotion was sent out to 1600 of Pfaffs’ employees. She laughs and says; " …. ya, but tomorrow it'll be;"so what have you done.""
Sarah has paid her dues supporting Sales Managers and General Sales Managers over the years, and she's been overlooked twice for the General Manager position. Now, although calm and collected, she says she's happy that people are considering it a "promotion". Being at an Audi dealership for 12 years, and leaving her current General Sales Manager position at the Newmarket location was a difficult decision. The VW store will be different she explains. It will be a "clean slate," and she's looking forward to that. The new store will have its' challenges as well, but she's excited to lead a new team and implement new things she's learned along the way.
When did you start in the car business, Sarah?
"I started selling cars when I was 17. At the time, OMVIC came to the dealership to give you your license." Sarahs' dad was very involved in motorsports. She completed all of her coop hours during school with automotive companies, including Honda Finance, and Mercedes-Benz. By the time she graduated high school, she had questioned whether or not to continue her formal education. Her father encouraged her to go back to school, and she decided to work part-time selling cars. She eventually finished her business degree in Australia and came back to pursue her career in the automotive industry.
Soon after meeting Chris Pfaff (through scholarships and mutual friends) she took a receptionist position at their Porsche store. Sarah knew that she wanted to be in the Business Office, and knew she had all the right experiences and credentials for the position. Then, the Pfaff Audi store in Vaughn opened, and Sarah fought for the Financial Services manager position. She was at that store for five years, but Sarah had bigger plans for herself. I love it when she says; "I always knew that I wanted to run a store". Powerful words from someone who has just been promoted to run an entire dealership as the first appointed woman General Manager within the group.
Everyone is talking about the automotive industry changing, specifically at the retail level. How do you see these changes happening?
"Pfaff is good at predicting these things," she says. With support groups and research, the giant dealer group is in works to pilot a "new age" sales process at a new location. However, Sarah has her own ideas of how things should change at the retail level. She suggests to eliminate all outside advertising from the budget and instead use the funds to create an "in-store experiences" for the customer. Focus on what the customer wants rather than pushing the "we're having a sale" message. Since we know customers are coming to the dealership for the experience, the advertising budget should be spent on creating a good impression and lasting relationship. She has pitched these "Pfaff Socials" ideas but knows that’s it's a significant commitment, and everyone needs to be on board before that happens.
At this point, we've orders our entres, and we're working through our bottle of wine. I've never seen another woman speak so enthusiastically about her work in the car business. Sarah can hardly catch her breath when she starts telling me about how excited she still gets when they turn on the lights in the delivery bay, and she can see the surprise on her customers' face. "I've cried from surprising people," she says.
Then it gets even better. She tells me the story of this woman she met at an event. The woman was not an Audi customer and approached her to ask about renting a "cool car". Her cousin was a big car enthusiast who was battling terminal cancer with two kids and expensive treatments, and she wanted to treat him. Sarah gave the woman her card and asked her to stay in touch. "Forget renting a car," Sarah says with a huge smile on her face. She had made a few calls to her friends at the Pfaff motorsport race team and organized for their top driver; Scott Hargrove and herself to take a trip to Burlington with an R8. They picked up the cousin and chauffeured him to and from Mosport to race on the track for the day. Sarah says the woman still keeps in touch with her and keeps her updated on her cousins progress and health. The story gave me goosebumps. Then it hits me. Maybe the car business has already changed. Perhaps with people like Sarah running new stores, new reputations and positive car buying experiences, the change is already slowly happening.
With a husband and toddler at home, how do you manage your work/life balance?
"There is no work-life balance," she says with a laugh and takes a deep breath before she continues. "The higher in position, the more exhausting to transition from boss to mom. I have people lined up my office door for nine hours a day with questions and requests. Then I go home, and I still have to be a good person, and sometimes I don't know how to be any more friendly for any more hours." I have no words to process what she just said, so thankfully she continues on her own. "I get home, and it's month-end, and I still have 800 emails to get through, and my husband says; "hey baby wants you to bath him and put him to bed tonight". It can be very overwhelming, and I've had moments when I think; "how do people do this?" When I have a day off, and I can have a "kid day" and not look at my phone, I'm happy, but that takes a lot of effort in 2018."
People don't talk about the reality of mom/boss challenge. During a work day, Sarah says she received one email per minute. "The cc'ing is excessive in a big company, and we are out of touch," she says. "During a busy week, I may only see my son one hour before bed or 30min before I leave for work in the morning. When I'm working over 50 hours a week, I can look at my kid and think; “I should be doing xxx right now," or I can look at my kid and completely zone out work and be present which is just as challenging. Either way, I have mom guilt." I'm trying to relate, so I chime in and say; "Retail hours are hard on moms, and on top of that you have a team to manage, you're running a dealership, you're coaching your salespeople and dealing with customer service..."
"....and people don't care.." she cuts me off.
"That's why I was arguing with a lady on my driveway earlier... you get spread very thin".
As we wrap up our dinner, it's time to finish that bottle of wine. She's taking a lot with her in the new position, and that includes knowing when to voice her opinion. This hits me close to home, so I ask her to elaborate. Sarah explains that the biggest criticism she received when she was promoted to GM was that; "you have to control the passion". I feel like my jaw has just dropped open to the table as I look at her completely stunned. She looks at me perfectly still and says that passion is what makes people amazing. I want to scream at this point; "Yes Sarah, your passion is what is so extraordinary about you! Please Please please don't change or tone it down EVER!" But I don't say any of that. I just look at her with a smile, and we both know. We both know that she's a fighter, she's a leader and she's a boss who will be part of the change in this wild business because she HAS passion. She is exactly what the industry needs and I can't wait to see what Sarah will do in her new position but also for other women in the industry.