2017 Powered by Women
From reader nominations, DBusiness selected eight professional women who are driving growth in Michigan, the nation, and the world.
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Terri Harwood // Katie Bowman Coleman // Amy B. Robinson // Monica Martinez
Lilly Epstein Stotland // Christine Sitek // Tricia Ruby // Sara Blackmer
Katie Bowman Coleman
President/Owner • Bowman Auto Group, Clarkston
Employees: 124 • Revenue: $145.7M
Since her father owned a Chevrolet store in Belleville, Katie Bowman (now Coleman) may have been destined for the auto business. Or maybe not.
In 1982, the same year she graduated from high school, her dad closed his dealership due to the early 1980s credit crunch, then “reinvented himself” as a stockbroker — so it seemed as though being part of the auto industry was not in Coleman’s stars, after all. She earned her bachelor’s degree in speech and communications from Denison University in 1986, and then took off for New York to work in the fashion industry.
“I had always loved fashion and retail,” she says. “I thought it would be great to work in New York City, and I had family there. I wanted to work for a big fashion house, and luckily I got a job at Ralph Lauren and ended up as a buyer for their retail and factory outlet stores. It was a lot of fun, and I got to travel and experience a lot of great things, but (after a while) I was homesick for Michigan.”
Meanwhile, her father had re-entered the car business by acquiring a Chevrolet store in Clarkston in 1984.
“After five years, I came back and worked for Ralph Lauren here in Michigan for a couple of years and then went to Sydney, Australia, for almost a year to work for a Ralph Lauren licensee there. When I returned, there weren’t many jobs here with Ralph Lauren (that were) as exciting as what I had (already) done, and my dad said, ‘Come work for me.’
“I thought I would give that a try, and started there in 1993. It took just a few months to fall in love with it. I saw how diverse, complex, and challenging it was, and how much there was to learn. And I could see the relationship between what I had learned about high-end customer service at Ralph Lauren and how that could be brought to a dealership. That really excited me, because dealerships back then weren’t as focused on customer service. It’s something I’ve felt passionately about ever since, and have strived to create in my store.”
Coleman’s father put her to work in just about every job in every department. She drove a parts truck and spent time as a receptionist, in service, in the business office, as a porter, in finance and insurance, and, of course, in sales. In 1996, she earned a master’s degree in finance from Walsh College in Troy. “I knew I needed more accounting and finance, so I went at night and on weekends for two years,” she says.
When her dad retired in 2011, she was more than ready to take over. Bowman Chevrolet — the Bowman Auto Group includes Bowman Isuzu Commercial Truck and Bowman Auto Center, all in Clarkston — has been the second-fastest-growing Chevy store in Michigan since 2014, and 124 employees sell some 4,000 vehicles annually.
What's more, Coleman serves as president of the Greater Detroit Chevrolet Dealers’ Association, and is a board member of both the Clarkston Chamber of Commerce and the Clarkston Downtown Retailers’ Association.
Coleman says her leadership style is all about empowerment. “I empower my managers to be self-sufficient, but (they) come to me for guidance. I share our financial statements with them, so they can see the whole picture of what’s going on at the dealership and understand their part of it. I set targets for sales, financial results, and our Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) with General Motors, and modify them if business conditions change.
“We won the highest new-car sales CSI for GM in our region last year, and we’ve won that before. My dad always said (to take) care of the customer. … If you take good care of them, they’ll recommend us to others. I like to be hands-on, meeting customers and being present, because it’s fun and because I think it’s important for people to see that I’m involved.”
Her advice for women in business is to keep moving forward. “If there are times when you feel, either for yourself or your family, that you need to work part time, push yourself until that time, then stay involved so you can come back in. I think that’s our biggest challenge.
“We are as capable as men, but we do tend to get pulled away at times. I did that when my (three) kids were little, but when they went to school full time, I went back to work full time. I believe women can do anything, and if we’re passionate about people, process, and business, the auto business is a terrific place to find a great career.” — Gary Witzenburg'