Cheryl Miller, 43
Executive Vice President and CFO, AutoNation
What attracted you to the auto industry? The size of the industry, the relative opportunities and the pace of the industry. I started my career at Circuit City. CarMax was a wholly owned subsidiary, so it was one of the business lines I did work on. I would spend part of my day raising capital for Circuit City's credit card portfolio, and then I would spend the other part of my time helping set up CarMax's funding.
First automotive job: My first full-time automotive job was in 1998 as a structured finance analyst for AutoNation Financial Services.
Big break: Returning to AutoNation in 2009 as treasurer after being treasurer of JM Family Enterprises.
What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? Keeping a corporate and board view and marrying that with the fact that we have 25,000 people. You have to be able to meet with board members and then you have to be able to go in and shake hands with people on the parts and service side of the business with credibility and understand the issues and the implications of decisions you make on the business and on the customer. It's balancing: You can sit in a building all day and never see a customer, so the biggest challenge is how do you put it all together to serve your customers and your owners.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career? One would be (AutoNation CEO) Mike Jackson, who is a big supporter of women, of people. He expects great performance. He doesn't care what your gender or background is. It's been the ability to watch him take complex issues and boil them down into succinct, actionable items and strategies. Then tactically there was the former CFO of JM Family, Mark Walter, who is excellent at people development.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? Earlier recruiting, more college-based or first job recruiting to introduce people to the industry early on. You need to continue to look at pay plans relative to other retail pay structure. When people are supporting families, I do think women and millennials look at [commission-based plans] differently. In terms of stability, security, you can argue risk taking. But people look at that differently than they did in the past.
Tell us about your family. I was born in Puerto Rico. My mom is Puerto Rican. I'm from a big Puerto Rican family and a big Irish family on my dad's side. My wedding is a good example: You put together the Irish and the Puerto Ricans, and you have a sudden dance party. My husband is very flexible and open-minded. We met late in life and neither had been married before. He likes cars. He's been supportive about the obligations the job entails as well as benefits of the job. It's important to have a partner who understands, irrespective of which person and which gender is doing what.
What's your favorite weekend activity? Scuba diving. I try to go every two or three weeks in the summer. I just finished my rescue diver course. I got certified around 2000. It's so different. It's nice to be off the grid. It's relaxing. It's not a natural place for people to be, so it's nice just to be able to zone out and see some amazing things that you would never be able to see on land.
Are you able to maintain friendships? Yes. My maid of honor has been my best friend since we were in kindergarten. She's a counterterrorism attorney, and her father was the officiant at my wedding (in May).
Name one thing about yourself that most people don't know. I did track and field in high school, including the discus. I was decent at the discus and the hurdles for a while. Some people don't know I'm Puerto Rican. That's what hair color does for that.
When and where was your last vacation? My honeymoon in May to Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, we did go see the town where our family was from: Lombardstown. What surprised me was the people in Ireland like to meet and talk to people who are coming to see where they're from.