Dealerfloor recently met with Annelie Viljoen, Dealer Principal at Nissan, Lichtenburg. We asked her about life as a woman in a man’s world…. Or is it no longer a man’s world?
1: James Brown’s song states “This is a man’s world” to quote him selectively. Is this still the case in the motor industry, which has been traditionally known as such?
Women are putting their stamp of approval on this industry. I see more women in management positions, not only at dealership level but also at manufacturers – and with great success, I may add. In my opinion, this was never a man’s world. They would just like to believe it, and we let them.
2: Where does the biggest resistance to women in leadership and management positions originate (not necessary talking about you!)? Is it the industry or customers?
I think from within the industry. It is a talent to work with people. Sometimes customers trust a woman more. In some instances, customers can “be wary” of men. This stems from generalisations in the past when men basically occupied all positions. Some customers believed you could not trust a salesperson. I think women have succeeded in changing that stereotype.
3: How quickly and intense did circumstances change for women in the motor industry?
It took time, and change came systematically. About ten years ago, more women started selling vehicles. During the last five years, I would say we were increasingly considered as more of a safe bet throughout the industry. This is because of the success of the female approach and strong skills on the admin side, and a woman’s touch when it came to social media and marketing.
4: Does a woman still need to work harder and smarter to prove herself to her male colleagues?
Yes, I think men still have the benefit of the doubt because they are immediately associated with this industry. Men may have a certain advantage in the technical aspects of the motor industry, but women are better with the emotional side of customer care.
5: Knowledge about cars is gained since a young age, with the typically stereotyping of a boy assisting dad with the car while the daughter is in the kitchen helping mom. True?
The cars we sell, service and repair are only the products we trade in. We still need to convince a customer to buy that product. I quickly realised I do not need to know all the technical ins and outs to sell a vehicle. I must get the customer to trust me, something women are good at with our softer and more emotional approach. You asked about being with mom in the kitchen. Well, while busy in the kitchen, we learnt the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and that is valuable knowledge!
6: Can the motor industry be more accessible to women and can the process be accelerated?
Women are involved in most aspects of the motor industry, with room for improvement at top managerial positions and on the technical side with servicing and repairing cars. The best way is to give a woman already in the trade the chance to grow in her environment and test her potential to move to the next level.
7: How did your career develop, and what are your low and high points so far?
I started as a salesperson, and although I was not sure about being able to do the job, I quickly realised you must understand people, their needs and how to communicate with them. From there, I went on to the financing side and later became Sales Manager and then Dealer Principal. The first year after my appointment, we won the Dealer of the Year in our category from Nissan, which really is a high point in my career. There are no real low points.
8: Any advice for young girls about the motor industry as a career path?
Do not let an attitude of “but I know nothing about cars or the how to sell a car” stand in your way. You do not need to know how a car’s engine operates to sell it. You must know how people’s hearts and minds work because then you have a winning recipe.
9: Any anecdotes?
At one stage, we had a new sales lady and she was still learning the ropes about the product offerings. One day she assisted a customer with, I think, a new Navara-bakkie. But not really knowing much about the bakkie, she improvised; something women are good at! Not really knowing what to tell the customer about the bakkie, she opened the door got in behind the steering and said: “See, look how nicely you can get into the vehicle.” She got out of the vehicle, telling the client: “Look how nicely you can get out of the vehicle.” I cannot remember if we closed the deal, but full marks for her initiative.
10: How is business doing in these troubled economic times?
Since May, we had average to reasonable months. I do not follow the news that much. I get up, I dress up and I show up. What I do not know cannot influence me doing business.
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