NADA’s First Female Chairwoman Offers Career Advice to Women

“I’m often asked about gender issues,” Annette Sykora says. “I think of my gender as an asset, as all women should.”

Steve Finlay, Contributing Editor

January 24, 2019

2 Min Read
Annette Sykora
“He laughed,” Sykora says of her father’s reaction to her voiced ambition to become a dealer.

SAN FRANCISCO – Annette Sykora recalls telling her father 37 years ago she wanted to work at the family dealership near Lubbock, TX.

She was 19 and working at a bank at the time, but decided that wasn’t for her. So she asked her dad for a job at the dealership her grandfather had founded, Smith Ford Mercury.

“He laughed,” she says of her father’s reaction to her voiced ambition to become a dealer. “He went home and reminded my mom I had quit piano lessons.”

He ultimately relented, hiring her as a title clerk at a pay rate “lower than anyone else in the store.” She learned a lot, eventually took on managerial positions, graduated in 1988 from the National Automobile Dealers Assn.’s dealer academy and then assumed the role of dealer principal.

In 2008, she became NADA’s first (and so far only) female chairman.      

Working in the male-dominated auto retail industry doesn’t daunt her, and it shouldn’t discourage other women from pursuing dealership work, she says during a keynote speech at the American Financial Services Assn.’s annual vehicle finance conference held here in conjunction with NADA’s annual convention and expo.

“I’m often asked about gender issues,” Sykora says. “I think of my gender as an asset, as all women should.”

When she was starting out, she felt no gender bias from dealership colleagues. She singles out a male sales manager who was “supportive and noble.” Fellow dealers were “accepting and encouraging.”

It was a different story with some vendor representatives. “They’d say things like, ‘Do you want to check with your dad first?’”

She and husband Patrick Sykora own Smith South Plains Ford in rural Levelland, TX, west of Lubbock. They bought it in 1998. Three of their children and a son-in-law work there. The original dealership founded by her grandfather closed in 2010.  

Asked what advice she would offer to women who may seek key jobs in auto retailing but lack family connections, Sykora says, “Many times, it’s just raising your hand, stepping out of your comfort zone and getting involved. Do that, and you will have more opportunities for leadership roles.”

Much has changed in the dealership world, especially as digital and technology forces have altered how vehicles are bought and sold.

But Sykora recalls something her grandfather told her years ago: Don’t let the system interfere with the sale.

“We’re in the people business,” she explains. “Systems should enhance both sales and the car-buying experience.”

She adds: “No matter how digital our world may become, trust and transparency will rule the galaxy.”          

About the Author(s)

Steve Finlay

Contributing Editor, WardsAuto

Steven Finlay is a former longtime editor for WardsAuto. He writes about a range of topics including automotive dealers and issues that impact their business.

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