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A Look at Life as a Female Fixed Ops Leader

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Long ago, Nicole Cockcroft was taught a valuable lesson: you learn from your failures in life.

Embracing that belief has helped Cockcroft make a quick ascension in just four years in the auto industry, after time spent working in the restaurant and medical fields. Cockcroft’s fearless nature helped the Florida parts and service manager earn a recent breakthrough leader of the industry award; she was honored in late June, at Cox Automotive’s Women in Automotive Conference in Orlando.

“I’ve never been scared of a challenge,” said Cockcroft, who works at Headquarter Mazda in Clermont, Fla.

Despite the fact she didn’t grow up immersed in the auto industry like many peers, Cockcroft has helped Headquarter Mazda generate a 90.5 customer satisfaction rating due to the empathy she shows both clients and employees.

“I bring the human element to it,” the parts and service manager explained. “I think the empathy, and caring, and understanding of the customers and their cars—and even with my associates—has helped.”

When she began working for the Headquarter group, Cockcroft’s boss told her “you don’t have to know automotive—you have to know how to take care of people, to understand them, and to be a team leader, and you’re all of those things.”

Yet, life as a female leader in the auto industry isn’t always easy, largely due to the fact that women make up such a small percentage of the workforce at dealerships. Consider: according to a 2016 NADA study, only 19.4 percent of employees on new-car dealership payrolls were women.

That can make things uncomfortable for females who are entering the industry.

“My male technicians, some of them had never had a female service manager,” Cockcroft noted. “So, that was a little bit of an obstacle to get over at first. But, you know, we’ve never had problems. They respect me, I respect them.

“I think it’s that trust. … I’m here to support them for anything they need.”

Cockcroft said her initiation to the auto industry was aided by the mentorship she received by the Headquarter group’s officials, along with the fact, when she began her automotive career working at a Headquarter Honda facility, she joined a service-advising team that featured multiple women.

“Of course I’ve heard some horror stories about dealerships and women … probably from 20, 30 years ago, where it was an all-men’s world, you know?” she said. “I guess in the old days it was a good-ol’-boys club at the dealership.

“I was very fortunate, I guess, to come into the Headquarter family. … We’re not treated any differently here. It’s been very equal. I don’t have any nightmare stories to tell, because I’ve never experienced it. I think it has come a long way.”

While Cockcroft would love to see dealerships hire more women—especially in the sales department—and adjust scheduling practices to better accommodate parents with young children, she’s largely encouraged about the industry’s future.

Cockcroft’s first four years in the industry served as a crash course on dealership fixed operations. The definitive lessons she has learned so far include the following:

  • Employees appreciate open-door policies. Cockcroft tries to speak openly with employees, and cater to whatever they need to have a solid work/life balance.
  • Promoting from within inspires a staff. The parts and service manager has surrounded herself with ambitious employees, like service advisors who seek to further their career. And she lets those employees know that they can likely advance their career at Headquarter Mazda, as long as they master their current role.
  • By building relationships, you can build your business. Though Headquarter Mazda hasn’t even been in business for two years at this point, the dealership is thriving and continuously building its client base. Cockcroft said that’s due to the fact her staff focuses on treating customers with compassion. “We take care of the customers,” she said. “And they’re coming back for service, and for us to do work on their cars—everybody’s happy.”

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