By Mark Campbell
When Kim Day (BComm’96) became Steele Auto Group’s new president and COO in fall 2017, she wondered how she would be received. After all, she was taking on a leadership position in an industry that has long been male dominated. It was clear there would be challenges, but she never let that impact her decision and, overall, the experience has been positive. So much so that Day was recently named one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry by Automotive News.
“There have been situations where I felt that, if I had been a man, I would have faced fewer objections or had to work less hard to make my case,” Day says. “Fortunately, I can count those instances on one hand, which I think comes down to my experience and the fact that I stick to the facts in my approach to negotiation. When you do that, you can win people over.”
Day continues to win people over with a business acumen that has not only enabled her to lead Steele Auto Group through several high-profile mergers and acquisitions but also to navigate the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“From the moment Kim stepped into the role, it was clear that she had a unique ability to unite, motivate and collaborate with people to move initiatives forward in ways that were authentic and inspiring,” says Rob Steele, CEO of Steele Auto Group. “It has been exciting for us to watch her use those talents to grow our business and to see the industry recognize her for her achievements.”
Day had never envisioned a career in the automotive industry, let alone a role beyond that of CFO. But when Rob Steele approached her in early 2015 to assist the auto group with several key acquisitions, she was intrigued.
“At the time I was working as VP Finance at a publicly traded radio group predominantly owned by the Steele family,” Day recalls. “Mergers and acquisitions have always appealed to me, and I had been involved with several at the radio group, so I agreed to help out the auto group for a while. I soon found myself spending more time at the auto group than at my day job and eventually they asked me to join full time.”
For Day, the biggest lesson she has learned as president and COO is the importance of being flexible and nimble. “If you cannot change when you need to change for the right business reason, then you can easily be lost in the shuffle,” she says. “COVID-19 is a good example in that we had to pivot quickly in the way we serve and communicate with our customers. If you are not afraid of change, you’ll be successful.”
Speaking of change, Day has noticed more women taking leadership roles both at Steele and in the industry. “It’s nice to see that progress is being made, but there is still a lot of work to do,” she says. “My objective is to bring more diversity to the group and the industry as a whole.”