When you think of New York City, car dealerships might not be something that comes to mind. However, they abound in the city’s surrounding neighborhoods and contribute to one of the most influential dealers associations in America: the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association.
Preparing to enter its 110th year, GNYADA represents over 400 new car dealers in New York City, Westchester, and surrounding counties, supporting almost 70,000 jobs and generating nearly $50 billion in economic activity. It also represents the largest retail auto market in America, and is perhaps best known for running the popular annual New York International Auto Show.
Overall, no small potatoes.
In an industry that’s traditionally male-dominated, GNYADA recently named automotive native and Secretary and Treasurer of Riverhead Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram Jane Millman to its top leadership position of the board.
Two female Long Island business owners join her as officers on the board – Vice Chair Melanie Spare-Oswalt, President of Sayville Ford, and Treasurer/Secretary Jordan Daiagi Harary, President of Leader in Cars Auto Group. This marks the first time women have held three (out of seven) high-ranking board positions, the most ever.
Millman sees her responsibility as Board Chair mainly as twofold: to help fight for legislation that protects franchise dealers and to bring awareness to the need for more service technicians, including the opportunities there.
She also hopes to influence more women to pursue careers in automotive.
“It is critically important that we continue to bring a diversity of experience and perspectives to the leadership of one of the most important industries for New York’s economy.”Jane Millman
“It is critically important that we continue to bring a diversity of experience and perspectives to the leadership of one of the most important industries for New York’s economy,” says Millman. “That diversity extends from the showroom floors and the repair shops to the executive suites. My decades in the business has taught me that we need to constantly learn and adapt to meet the evolving changes our industry and dealers face.”
A Family That Carpools Together …
Millman was 11 years old when her father, Tony Strollo Jr., bought Riverhead Dodge on the east end of Long Island. He had worked for several years at a dealership prior to that but “was fortunate enough to have a dealer help him become a dealer,” Millman says.
Some of Millman’s fondest childhood memories were when she and her family would pile into the car and carpool to the dealership. To pass the time, they’d sing along to songs on the radio and play a little game: name the artist.
“I remember a lot of Elvis Presley – both of my parents were big fans,” Millman says. “It was so fun. We mostly played just to make the 45-minute drive tolerable. But we did keep score!”
Another favorite memory was watching her father interact with customers at the dealership. Her mom served as office manager for 25 years, so she also saw her mom working hard to grow the family business.
In college, Millman spent the summers selling cars with her family at Riverhead. She took a job in the Telecommunications industry after graduation and worked as a sales manager in Manhattan. This experience would help her succeed in leadership roles at Riverhead once she returned to Long Island in 1995, after getting married. Her dad asked if it was time to come back to the dealership.
Credit: Rachel Siford, Riverhead News-Review
“And I did,” Millman says. “It was good timing. I had gone out on my own and gotten experience in the corporate world, so I had this unique perspective coming back to run the family business. Especially in regard to our employees.”
She says the most important thing she learned as a manager was how to communicate effectively. Setting and meeting goals as a team through making timelines and holding each other accountable were additional valuable skills she gained.
Today, Millman brings her two children to the dealership with her when school is out, and they play their own game on the drive: “We pick a color and see how many cars we can find in that color. I see it is another way of following in my parents’ footsteps.”
Working to Protect the Industry
For over a century now, GNYADA has worked not just for the benefit of New York Metro dealerships but for the success of the automotive industry overall. It joins efforts with other regional dealer associations as well as the National Automobile Dealership Association. It also plays a big role in the community, organizing as well as participating in various charity efforts.
Millman first joined the board in 2006. The year before, GNYADA invested $30 million in the 45,000-square-foot Center for Automotive Education & Training. Here, members attend courses taught by industry leaders covering every aspect of the dealership business. The board also created a scholarship program for service techs that year.
“I joined the board to help protect my business, my employees, and my industry.”Jane Millman
“I joined the board to help protect my business, my employees, and my industry,” Millman says. “I also want to help fill the shortage for service technicians across the country. We’ve raised over $1 million in scholarships for people interested in service tech careers. That money comes from auto dealers and others within the industry.”
GNYADA consistently keeps a close eye on legislation affecting dealerships and works to educate dealers and the public on these issues.
With possible tariffs on the horizon and a slowdown of vehicle purchases, most dealers have a lot on their minds lately.
“There is uncertainty in the business right now, but uncertainty isn’t new,” Millman says. “A benefit to being in the business for a long time is seeing these cycles of uncertainty and difficult periods come and go. The best advice I would have for dealerships to survive turbulent times is to keep a low overhead. That’s the most important thing. Also, keep your focus on what’s important to you as a dealership but stay flexible, otherwise you’ll grow stagnant.”
Millman says she is proud to be one of three women leading the board. Women influence nearly 85% of all auto sales yet account for less than 25% of the auto industry workforce.
“Having women on the board helps break the [gender] barrier in general – that women can make goals and achieve their dreams, including top executive positions, which might not have always been possible.”
GNYADA President Mark Schienberg says the board is lucky to have someone with Millman’s industry knowledge, experience, and insight serve as Board Chair: “Jane’s vision and leadership skills combined with her commitment to the retail auto industry will be a tremendous asset to GNYADA and franchised new car dealers as they face the challenges, the added burdens and costs of the heavy regulatory environment they must operate under from local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as the effects of manufacturers’ demands on their franchisees.”
Looking to the Future
This summer, the board presented four auto tech students – one, a woman – with scholarships totaling over $20,000. Earlier this year, it held its National Auto Technology Competition, which for decades has drawn attention to tech job opportunities and set interested students on a path for a rewarding career in the industry.
Millman says the service technician field has never been more attractive for women. Computer skills are more necessary than mechanical skills, making the job increasingly accessible to a wider range of people.
“Really, the job has a lot to offer. There’s longevity, tenure, and great growth potential, and it’s a well-paying job,” she says. “But on the sales side, there is just as much opportunity for women. A lot of women work minimum-wage retail jobs. They can work similar hours selling cars and earn double what they’re making in retail.”
Having worked in sales both inside and outside the industry, Millman has noticed a few qualities that make someone a good fit for the profession.
“You have to like to talk to people – you have to be good at communicating. That’s the main skill,” she says. “People want to buy from somebody who wants to earn their business and is jovial and attentive. You also have to be knowledgeable and want to educate people on what they’re purchasing, pointing out all the features. Basically, people just want to be treated fairly and kindly.”
While preparing for an upcoming trip to Germany for the 2019 International Motor Show, Millman’s 8-year-old daughter expressed her disapproval of the trip.
“She doesn’t want me to go,” Millman says. “But I talked to her about it and said part of why I’m doing it is so she can grow up seeing that women can attain whatever they want. I want to be a role model for her.”
Being a role model and helping move women forward in automotive – and in any area – certainly influenced Millman’s decision to accept the nomination of Board Chair for GNYADA.
“I’m thrilled that we have more women’s voices sharing their experience across all industries. And I’m so proud and honored that the past Chairs had faith in me and wanted me to take on this role,” Millman says. “As women, when we have a great opportunity open up to us, we have to run with it.”