It Takes More than “Smarts” to Lead

As the leader of Cox Automotive Inventory Solutions, managing six brands and 18,000+ team members, and as the mother of two young children, I strive to lead by example and share lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Of course, it takes knowledge and skills to excel. And there’s some truth to the notion that women need to work harder than men to prove their capabilities and talent. Yet my career journey has had a few added twists.

As an Asian-American woman, I may appear an unlikely leader in the male-dominated U.S. automotive industry. Further, I lead the largest used vehicle auction network and come from a different background than most of my peers. Raised by two scientists and starting off by taking international consulting assignments, today I serve as a change agent for the biggest division of Cox Automotive, an Atlanta-based company that touches three out of four cars sold in North America.

I recently led the completion of a $400-million transformation of our wholesale auto auction business by incorporating an expanding digital, mobile, and end-to-end solutions strategy. The changes—nothing short of historic for a 70+ year old company—set the industry standard by providing B2B clients, such as auto dealers, a simpler and easier auction experience.

Reflecting on this effort, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned:

  • It’s not just your smarts that matter, but how you engage, mentor, and motivate people.
  • Strive to create a positive work environment for your employees. When they enjoy what they do and feel valued, they will deliver a great client experience.
  • Think of feedback as a gift, and offer it generously. Encourage colleagues to act on it and grow.
  • Guide those who receive feedback to recognize it is someone’s perception of them. Although it may not be based on facts, it can be someone’s opinion, so it’s an opportunity to change others’ thinking.

In closing, success should not be hindered by old norms and misperceptions. This hit close to home several years ago when my boss sent me a happy birthday text. When I told my kids, they immediately assumed that my boss was a man. As alarms went off in my head, I knew that I had to reset their perceptions of leadership, ensuring that they understood that success is not based on gender, but rather on hard work, valuing diversity, and a passion for what you do.