Women in Business: Renee Durham
Harry Robinson Buick GMC
Residence: Fort Smith
Education: B.A., liberal arts, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Professional background: Over the past 20 years, Durham has served in a number of roles at her family’s dealership, from business and finance management, to sales, to service. She was promoted to general manager in 2012. She is a 2014 Leadership Fort Smith graduate and also completed the National Automotive Dealers Association Dealer Candidate Academy.
How did your career path lead you to where you are now, managing your father’s car dealership business? Mr. [Harry] Robinson asked me to come work for him in 1996. I can remember Mr. R telling me “You don’t get into the car business. The car business gets into you.” Every successful person in the automotive industry will agree with that. I’ve worked in every department at the dealership at some point in 20 years, but I spent the majority of my time working in the service department. I studied the automotive industry, learned a lot about customer service, human resources and analyzing numbers. In June 2012, I was promoted to general manager where I have the opportunity to do things I love every day.
What aspects of your work to you enjoy most? The opportunity to be innovative, create new departments, add jobs and implement new processes. I love to crunch numbers, find where improvements can be made, implement changes with our team and measure the success. I get to do these things while celebrating team members’ personal and professional accomplishments. As much as I like numbers and innovation, I love celebrating team members’ accomplishments.
What’s the most useful career tip you’ve ever gotten? “Never be afraid to hire someone smarter than you.” — Harry Robinson
What’s your best advice for someone just starting out in your industry? Be honest, transparent and treat every customer the way you want the person you love the most to be treated. These traits are key to repeat and referral business.
What has been the biggest challenge of your career? How did you overcome it, or is it a work in progress? I’m the “dealer’s kid,” and that comes with assumptions in all peer groups. It will always be a work in progress, but I don’t mind because it’s an honor to be allowed to manage your family’s business. Every day I know I’m making decisions and representing everything Mr. Robinson — a.k.a. Dad — has worked for his entire life.
Have you ever felt disadvantaged in your industry because you are a woman? No. I have been put in positions where I felt like I had to prove myself to the “car guys,” because I’m a “car girl.” I have never felt at a disadvantage, but I have definitely been asked questions to determine my knowledge and experience.
What is your proudest professional achievement? Implementing change, creating new positions and watching growth as a result of innovation. The automotive business has changed so much in 20 years, and we’ve taken a lot of risk developing departments and positions I thought there was a need for. Now I measure those departments’ success and celebrate the risk. In 2012, we employed 65 people, and in 2017 we employ 90.
What are the attributes of a good leader? To me it’s optimism, positivity, integrity and being humble.
What is the bottom-line motivator for you in your career? I definitely strive to be the best in whatever I’m doing. I believe this can be accomplished while helping people. Celebrating being the best when you haven’t made a difference isn’t really a celebration. I believe if you do good things then good things will come to you.
What would you say are the top-three personal values you follow each day in your work? Honesty, self-motivation and knowledge.
What’s something unique about you that not everybody knows? I’m an introvert who is very compassionate.
With which community activities and/or charities are you involved? Why have you chosen those activities or causes? My community involvement and training began with the Junior League of Fort Smith. I continue to support JLFS because I believe in their development of civic leaders while identifying our community’s most urgent needs, as well as helping address them with initiatives that improve lives. I’m proud to be a partner in education to ensure we are involved with our school administration, educators and students. I’m involved in many other community activities, but my personal focus is usually children and improving their lives however possible.