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Female dealer spotlight: March is Women's History Month

Friday, March 19, 2021 6:01 PM | Anonymous
According to a recent NADA dealership workforce study, women hold 19% of jobs at U.S. dealerships, a figure that continues to increase annually, albeit slowly. The CATA was encouraged to sit down with two area female dealers to learn more about their leadership roles and the paths that led them to where they are today.
Karen Sutton-Ford, Dealer Manager, Sutton Ford 
Sutton-Ford entered the auto industry in 2012, when she began her career at Toyota Motor Corporation before shifting gears in 2015 and entering the retail side of the car business at Sutton Ford in Matteson. Her father, Nate Sutton, is the principal there. 
Growing up in the business, Sutton-Ford learned at an early age the ins-and-outs of working at a car dealership, and she grew to love that each day is different and rewarding, never boring or monotonous.  
Life in the business, however, doesn’t always come easy. When Sutton-Ford began working at the family dealership, she started as the Commercial & Fleet Manager but quickly grew her role — and responsibilities — to Dealer Manager, a title she earned through hard work and experience.
Another challenging aspect — especially for a young, minority female — is feeling the lack of representation in the industry. 
"It gets exhausting speaking up on behalf of a group of people and trying to be heard," said Sutton-Ford. "Women have the biggest influence on car-buying decisions, yet men are always targeted when it comes down to the actual transaction." 
Despite this, Sutton-Ford said: "I also see this as a positive because, at the end of my career, I’ll be able to look back and see how far we have advanced because I was vocal and stood up for what was right. I know we will move forward because I am not silent about issues that impact women and minority groups."
Sutton-Ford was recognized in 2019 with Automotive News’ 40 Under 40 award, and she recently completed her certificate from NADA’s Dealer Academy.
Her advice for younger people looking to get started in the business — both females and males — is to fail forward and to not be afraid of pushing limits or boundaries that society has outlined. She attributes her father as her greatest mentor and influence in her life. She also enlists an executive coach who has helped build her confidence when leading teams of men and individuals who are older than her. 
Ultimately, she would like to become the COO of Sutton Auto and add at least two more franchises — including a luxury brand — to the dealership’s portfolio. To connect with Karen Sutton-Ford, find her on LinkedIn
Kelly Webb Roberts, President, Webb Automotive Group 
Webb Roberts grew up working in her family’s Ford store (which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary), completing every task available, including sweeping floors, washing cars and working in the office. Today, as president of the Webb Automotive Group, she oversees six franchises under an umbrella that includes Chevrolet, Genesis, Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
Webb Roberts worked hard to get to where she is. She started her career in automotive public accounting before joining the family business. At 23, she took over the family’s Chevrolet dealership in Oak Lawn and later expanded the Webb Automotive Group’s footprint.
Surviving the recession in 2008 instilled a foundation of prudent business practices for Webb Roberts, including a strong focus on the professional development of her employees, something in which she heavily invests both monetarily and timewise. She attributes a lot of her personal professional development to being raised with a strong work ethic and the General Motors Women’s Retail Network 20 Group, in which she participates.
"Being a part of the GM Women’s Retail Network has been a privilege and an honor," said Webb Roberts. The group of 20 female dealers from across the country meets a few times a year to trade advice and share best practices with a focus on improving business performance. Webb Roberts and her sister Jackie Webb, who also runs the dealerships, believe more women should work in the car business and that they should pursue the education they need to be well-prepared. For this reason, the Webb Automotive Group continues to promote and support scholarships for women pursuing an auto-related education at According to the Webb sisters, there never has been a better time to pursue an automotive career.
Automotive News recognized Webb Roberts in the 2017 edition of its 40 Under 40 awards. At the time, she was just 34, which was also about when she was elected to the CATA board of directors. She currently is on the CATA’s executive committee — the first female ever so elected — as the association’s treasurer. 
When asked about the challenges of being a female in the industry, Webb Roberts said: "Things have progressed dramatically in my short time in the industry. I don’t focus on being a female in the business so much as on the challenges of operating multiple businesses. My mantra is ‘make results, not excuses.’ Instead of worrying, focus on understanding and overcoming the challenge that is in front of you."
To connect with Webb Roberts, visit her LinkedIn profile.

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18W200 Butterfield Rd.
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(630) 495-2282


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