“I Want Other Women to See it Can be Done”: Erika Foley’s Story

Introducing our brand new General Manager Spotlight story series: a new take on our Employee Spotlight stories. In this series, we will specifically highlight the talented roster of General Managers leading our dealerships across the country. 

With unique backgrounds and journeys, our GMs will give us an inside look at how they landed in one of the top leadership positions in our company, what they’ve learned along the way, and what advice they’d give to others who want to be in this seat one day. 

For all of us, this month marked the beginning of 2022. For Erika Foley, it’s a new year for her, too.

But it’s more than that for Erika. January 2022 is an important anniversary. Her first of this kind, actually.

On January 4, 2021, Erika took the reins as General Manager for Garber-owned Volvo Cars Rochester in Rochester, New York. She’s held this coveted role for over a year now.

Sitting in the GM seat is a position often eyed by many in the Garber organization. A symbol of leadership and loyalty. The professional peak of the mountain. 

Erika has reached the apex. Want to know how much experience she had working in the automotive industry six years ago?

Zero.

Erika is proof that input of years does not replace output of results and determination. With dedication and a heck of a lot of grit, she grabbed the brass ring – and she’s not letting go.

The Start

Growing up in Saginaw, Michigan, Erika had no interest in the automotive industry.

Instead, she lived in the world of retail.

“I was an assistant store director at Burlington,” Erika explained. “I was on the fast track to being a store director of my own location.”

But in 2016, a text with a childhood friend inspired Erika to wade into uncharted territory.  

“I’ve been friends with Kellie Malacos [Accounts Payables Manager at Garber Management Group] since fourth grade, and she’s a very dear friend,” Erika explained. “She shot me a text one day and said, ‘Hey, do you know anyone looking to make a change career-wise?’ I texted her back ‘Lol me.’ She was like ‘Seriously?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve never done cars. I’ve done admin work but not to this degree.’”

“Kellie was like, ‘Oh no, you don’t have to worry about having an accounting background. We would train you from the ground up. Let’s just talk about it.’ I had always heard good things about Garber. Her and I had not talked about career changes before, but she always seemed so happy. She loved her job and the people she worked for. I was like, ‘Oh what the heck, what do I have to lose?’” 

Erika, tired of the challenging hours that came with retail work, decided to meet with Kellie and Kim, the Account Payables Manager at the time.

“I liked what I heard,” Erika said. “I liked the fact that it was different than what I was doing. I was getting burnt out in the retail world. I was a number instead of a valued asset to the team. It was a thankless job. I really liked that Garber was 9-5, bankers’ hours. And I thought, ‘If they’re going to train me from the ground up…what do I have to lose?’”

Erika decided to make the leap. The career switch came with some losses – but it had more important gains.

“To be candid: I lost half of my annual salary to come to Garber back then,” she said. “But it was a better quality of life. I had to weigh the options: Do I continue burning myself out for someone who doesn’t really care, or do I go somewhere to find a great quality of life, feel great coming to work, and have the opportunity to grow? Yes, I take a pay cut, but I still get an opportunity to grow. That was it.

Erika decided to join the Garber team. Her first day as a Payables Clerk at Garber Management Group was memorable…but in other ways that you might think.

“Kellie and I talked and she was like, ‘OK, I do have to tell you this,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, here comes the other shoe,’ and she said, ‘Your first day is Halloween, so the only catch is when you come here, you have to dress up in costume. I was like, ‘What? Um, okay.’ The theme that year for the Payables Department was Carnival, so I showed up on my first day dressed as a carnie to meet Dick Garber.”

A memorable first day, indeed…which would lead to the beginnings of a memorable career for Erika so far.

The Shift

Erika was bored.

She had worked at Garber Management Group for 11 months. She liked the company, but something was missing in the day-to-day of her duties.

“The work was fine, but I was really bored,” she said. “I’m not a desk jockey sitting behind a desk and crunching numbers,” she said. “It wasn’t appealing to me anymore. It was helpful, and I am forever grateful to start at GMG because it really did give me a really good appreciation for the work they do to make sure we are functional and we can do our jobs on the retail side with ease.”

Erika didn’t sit back and let her boredom get the best of her. She spoke up.

“I said to Kellie, ‘I’m bored. I don’t see me doing this forever. I don’t see me doing this even for the next three years. But Garber has so much to offer. What else can I do?’ Erika said. “I’m a mover and shaker; I came from retail. You have to be fast paced and on your toes. So Kellie and I sat down and she said, ‘Well, you could explore the retail side, like working in a dealership.’”

Garber values the person first rather than the role. So when Erika expressed interest in selling cars, she received immense support.

“I had 110% support to explore other options within the company,” Erika said. “Kellie said to me, ‘We value the fact that you are a hard worker, and we don’t want to see you leave based on this position.’ She said, ‘If this isn’t the right seat on the bus, we will find a spot that will work. You want to sell cars? Let’s find you a spot. If it’s going to help you grow and have a good quality of life, you can be in control of your own destiny. Let’s find a spot for you.’”

Erika’s first step on her journey to get out from behind the desk and sell cars? Watch how others do it. She job-shadowed at Garber Buick in Saginaw.

She was hooked from the start.

“Selling cars was so fascinating to me: the customer interaction, the pure amount of knowledge that you could have about a car….it was fascinating to me. I had the bug. I wanted to do it. I thought, ‘I want to stay here, what do I have to lose?’ I am tough, I have thick skin, I can do this. I did sales before. If you can speak intelligently about what you are selling, you can do it.”

She had her eye on a new prize.

The Lesson

Opportunity knocked on Erika’s door soon after she defined her new career goal.

“An email came down the pipe three to four weeks later that said Scott Ellsworth [General Manager] was looking for a sales consultant at Nissan Hyundai in Saginaw,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is my shot.’”

She had never sold cars before, but she took a leap of faith. She met with Scott at the Saginaw dealership.

“I said to Scott, ‘Listen, what I don’t know about selling cars, I can learn. I will outwork everyone here. I will be here from open to close until I figure this out.’”

Erika started as a sales consultant on September 1, 2017. She had landed the role she wanted, but she felt a little like a fish out of water.

“I didn’t talk to any of the other sales consultants for two weeks,” she said. “I didn’t make eye contact; I did not try to reach out for questions; I kept my head down and did all my training. Looking back now, I was scared. It was scary. I had never done it before. Coming into this environment with all these men, I was like, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”

Erika’s tentativeness showed. It cast seeds of doubt. But from those seeds grew a career-defining moment.

“Almost two weeks to the day I started, Scott pulled me in his office, and I was like, ‘Oh no. What did I do wrong?’” Erika said. “Scott said, ‘I think I may have made the wrong decision to bring you on board. I don’t know if you are fitting in.’ I was a deer in headlights.”

At that moment, something shifted in Erika. Rather than back down, she stood up.

“I thought, ‘No. You don’t get to tell me I can’t do this’,” she said. “I said to Scott, ‘Listen, I’m in a unique situation here. Don’t give up on me. I will surprise you. I promise.’ It was the beginning of something much larger than something I’d ever been a part of.”

Three days later, Erika sold her first car.

“I wasn’t going to let someone else tell me what I could or couldn’t do,” Erika said. “I was not going to let someone dictate my future and my capacity and my capabilities. I wasn’t going to allow it. I had never let someone have that control over me and I wasn’t going to let it start that day.”

From that day forward, Erika changed her approach. She said good morning to her colleagues. She asked questions. She made eye contact. She didn’t hide in her cubicle. She talked.

It made all the difference.

“I made a conscious effort to do the exact opposite of what I was doing previously,” Erika said. “I was talking more and checking in. I had lost a sight of who I truly was…and so I started talking to people and being me. I started asking questions about cars.”

Questions were the connector to her colleagues, she said.

“Questions were a common ground. They were learning the product too, and we were learning the same stuff together. It was also me saying, ‘OK, great, I need help.’ For a long time in my life, I wouldn’t ask for help. This was a pivotal moment for me to ask for help. It was the most interesting experience of my life. And boy, it changed me to the fiber of my being.”

Erika was on the fast track. It helped that she had friendly competition.

“I want to beat Bill Case [sales consultant], who was a veteran salesman,” she explained. “I started selling cars in September and in December, I beat Bill Case by one car. I was happier than a pig in crap. I am competitive. I wanted that feather in my cap. I wanted to prove a point; I wanted to prove that I could do this. I wanted to be number one.”

Erika did so well, she got promoted to Sales Manager at Nissan Hyundai. One day, she asked Scott about that fateful conversation at the start of her sales career.

“I said, ‘Do you remember that conversation you and I had? You told me you made the wrong decision.’ And he said, ‘I don’t even remember that conversation. I pulled that to motivate you.’”

It worked.

The Call

With a new outlook and attitude, Erika found her stride at Nissan Hyundai.

“I really felt that I was making a difference,” she said. “I felt I was having an impact: the community, the people coming in and needing a car. You get to share in that moment in their life to get a car. It’s much larger than you and I can fathom. Something clicked when I started selling cars. I get to be a part of this awesome experience of helping someone get a car.”

With passion came promotion. In February 2018, Erika became the dealership’s Business Manager. Then in January 2020, she became sales manager at Nissan Hyundai.

Still, she felt that familiar rumbling for more. Her thoughts lingered on a goal she had defined from her first day on the sales floor.

“I told Scott in my interview, ‘If I make it and do this, I want to be a GM. I want to be a leader in this company.’ The thought of becoming a GM was ultimately my goal. It felt like being a GM was at my fingertips. I thought, ‘I just gotta keep doing what I’m doing and do what’s right.’

Her goal wasn’t just for her.

“I didn’t want to become GM because of the notoriety,” she explained. “I want to leave a legacy. I want other women to see it can be done. I want to be the leader that I’ve always wanted for myself. I want to be someone they can walk behind and have confidence coming to and know I will do everything I can to make the right decision for them and the business.”

Her goal was personal, too.

“As these doors started to open, I wanted my daughter to see she can do anything she wants,” she said. “If she puts her head down and works hard, she can open any door in her life, in any arena, male or female. It doesn’t matter. You can do whatever you want to do as long as you do the work.”

Then things took a turn. An unexpected one.

“It was December 4 of last year,” Erika said. “We had a computer outage and I came in ready to work. I had a cup of coffee in hand, feeling jazzed up. John Margaritis [General Manager] comes over and I turn around, and he said, ‘I need to see you in my office right now.’ I was like, ‘Oh no. John has never said a sentence like that to me ever since I’ve known him.’”

“I was going through my brain thinking, ‘What did I do? I didn’t do anything wrong… I always do what’s right. I’m ready to pass out.’ I’m like, ‘John, am I losing my job? I’m going to pass out and you’re going to have to peel me off the ground.’”

“He’s like, ‘Erika, calm down, this is really great news. I need to talk to you behind closed doors.’ Then he says to me, ‘There’s an opportunity that has presented itself in the form of a GM position. I’m like, ‘OK, is he moving?’ I’m oblivious. I’m thinking, ‘There’s no way it’s me. I’m light years away from that.’”

“He said, ‘It’s in our New York market. Dick called and asked if I thought you possessed the qualities to be a future leader and was ready. I told him you were more than ready.’ I was in full on panic mode, but I was trying to stay cool as a cucumber.”

That day, Dick Garber called Erika.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,’” she laughed. “I answered the phone. He said, ‘I want to know if you could talk to me about this opportunity.’ I said, ‘Well, Mr. Garber, you run this company, so you tell me when I need to be there.’ He said, ‘I want to talk to you right now.’ My adrenaline was running. I went down there and talked to him and he told me about the opportunity, the people in New York, the area, etc. That was on December 4, 2020. I will never forget it.”

On December 12, Erika went to New York to look at the store and the area. She walked into the doors at Volvo Cars Rochester as the General Manager on January 4, 2021.

Goal achieved.

The Future

Though she’s reached her goal, Erika doesn’t forget her roots – or what this means for her, or others.

“It feels surreal to be in this seat,” she said. “This job is by far – of course aside from the birth of my children — the most rewarding experience of my life.”

She said working at Garber is transformative and unique compared to other work environments.

“What makes Garber unique is we live so adamantly by our values and mission statement,” she said. “It starts at the top and it’s a trickle-down effect. When you have the opportunity to spend time with leaders, they believe so enthusiastically in this company, it makes me get excited. I want to tell people that this is a great company. It starts at the top. People believe it and go out of their way to walk that walk. They aren’t just saying that. People believe what they see and not what they hear. You get to see it here.”

Those values are the backbone of the company, she added.

“Let’s face it: the automotive industry has gotten a bad name for many years because people don’t make sound decisions and those stand out,” she said. “Making sure we are living by our company values is so critical to our success.”

Along with the values, Erika said the support she receives from her colleagues is monumental.

“It’s really nice to have someone to call and say, ‘Hey, did you go through this too?’” she said. “Just the camaraderie and knowing people are in your corner and they are there when and if you have questions. That, in my opinion, is something you don’t always see when you get to a certain point in your life.  

Erika has realized this role has a major impact beyond her own career.

“When I was talking to Erika Ardouin and told her that I was becoming a GM, she said something to me that I will never forget,” Erika explained. “She said, ‘Erika, did you think of the impact that you will have on the women of this organization?’ That never clicked. What is rewarding with my story is knowing that I can potentially be a part of someone else’s story to have this dream and see it come to fruition. In creating more leaders and building the relationships, it means more to me than I can describe in words.”

Fast Six (Extra Bonus Question)

First job? A store called Rave. It was a clothing store and it was the tackiest clothes ever. I cleaned stuff off the floor and helped people get into fitting rooms.  

First car?  1992 purple Buick Skylark. It was a POS but I was so proud of it. I took the initiative to go to the junk yard and put the door on myself. It had the worst paint job but I was proud of it.  

Favorite meal? All food. Okay, probably pasta.  

3 words to describe you? Strong, hard worker, confident  

Best piece of advice you’ve received? I used to work at a mom-and-pop shop and the owner said to me, when they knew they would lay me off soon, he said to me, “Erika, money comes and goes but your family is always there.” He paid me for an entire year after they laid me off so I could stay home with my 4-year-old son.” 

Advice you’d give someone who wants to be a GM one day? Get comfortable being uncomfortable because you won’t make it if you don’t get outside your comfort zone. If this is something you want to do with your life, don’t give up. Don’t take no as the first answer. Don’t let someone else tell you that you can or can’t do it.

 

Share This Article

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Reddit
Email
Lindsay Henry

Lindsay Henry

Lindsay is the Digital Communications Manager for Garber Automotive Group.

Get Directions

, , NY,
Garber Rochester 43.074128, -77.645541.