Tammy Linkfield had just received a marketing degree from a business college in Maine. In the Northeast in 1990, marketing jobs were few and far between, so she took the recommendation of a college friend and applied for a job at GMAC's office in Quincy, MA. "I thought it would be a gig to tide me over," Linkfield says. "And here we are, 27 years later."
Linkfield stayed with GMAC as it evolved into Ally in 2009, and now she is executive director-sales for Ally's recreational finance business in the western United States.
She says those early years at GMAC-collecting on past-due accounts, conducting dealership floor plan audits-provided the foundation for her career as a woman in the auto industry. "I learned who our customers were, both on the retail and dealer side, and learned things about the business that have stuck with me," she says.
When she was tapped for a sales opportunity at GMAC in the mid-'90s, she says, "There were very few dealer/owners or managers at dealerships who were women. There was a very small footprint and a lot of barriers.
"But I grew up with one brother, have three sons and a male dog; my entire life, I've been surrounded by men. So I never thought of myself having to be 'one of the guys.' I've always just been myself."
At one point she worked in Charlotte, N.C., directly under Doug Timmerman, now president of Ally Insurance. She credits him for bringing her into calls and meetings, and for teaching her "the value of speaking to the numbers-of being data-driven in your approach," she says.
In the inevitable moments when a dealer has tested her-or perhaps not taken her seriously-she says her weapon has been her knowledge of the business. "If they know you know what you're talking about-that you know the numbers and can speak intelligently about the business-it dispels the stereotypes very quickly," she says.
Linkfield is part of an Ally Employee Resource Group called Women Allys, made up of Ally leaders like Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Riley. The group's goals include supporting Ally's recruiting and mentoring efforts, and supporting women's causes in the community. "Diversity is something Ally has been extremely conscious of," Linkfield says. "When we recruit at job fairs, we want to show candidates the diversity of our leadership. We make sure we have females in management participating with our HR partners. Likewise, when we have interns, we are conscious about the diverse mix of our intern pool; we make sure that they have time with our local Women Allys group."
She believes its incumbent upon all businesses in the auto world-dealerships, lenders, factories and service providers-to portray diversity and inclusiveness, and to show the efforts being made to attract a diverse workforce.
Her advice to young women considering a career in the auto industry: "Be passionate about what you do, and be a student of the business," she says. "One of the things women struggle with is thinking that we shouldn't speak up. But if you're truly a student of the business, you should throw yourself into it. That knowledge will make you more confident and the passion you exude will be infectious to the people around you."