By Rudabeh Shahbazi

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – America’s largest automotive retailer has a new CEO, a first of a kind.

The announcement of Cheryl Miller’s promotion at AutoNation sent the company stock soaring. No stranger to the company, which brings in more than $20 billion dollars annually, Miller has worked at AutoNation for more than a decade, five years as CFO.

But she made history this summer, becoming one of fewer than 30 female CEOs running Fortune 500 companies.

“Luckily, I grew up in a family that believed we could do anything,” said Miller. “My parents are younger.  Both my brother and, we could be anything we wanted to be, so I was fortunate enough to grow up that way. I always felt like the sky is the limit, but you had to work really hard, and you had to listen.  You have to learn, and also bring other people along, so it’s been something for me in my career – I’ve always tried to bring other people along and make sure that I tried to afford the opportunities to other people that I’ve been given in my career.”

Miller is now leading 26,000 employees, at more than 300 dealerships, a colossal and potentially overwhelming responsibility – but not for Miller.

“What actually keeps me up at night at AutoNation, is thinking about all the great things we are going to do,” she said.

That optimism is battle tested.  The challenges have been many throughout Miller’s career in finance.  To her, they are opportunities.

“When I think about pivotal challenges, I always flash back to 2008-2009,” said Miller.  “For many people in our country, that was a really difficult time, and it taught me a lot about team work and resilience.  When you literally were wondering what financial institutions were going to be here tomorrow, and which ones aren’t, you get a sense of gravity, and a sense of the magnitude of the personal impact that that had on people.  Having managed through that, when people ask me, ‘Are you worried about whether rates go down 25 basis points or up 50 basis points?’ I say no, because the bigger pictures is, we’re in a great position.”

To Miller, disruption is a good thing.  She has led the way with a strategic partnership with rideshare company Waymo, and started her career at Circuit City, which is no longer in business.  Its subsidiary, CarMax wasn’t even making money in its infancy.

Miller says she leads with one foot in the present, and one in the future, which is “bright” and “amazing.”  She says her leadership style revolves around attracting, retaining and developing great employees, providing formal training, competitive benefits, mentorship and career mobility.

“The only way to run a company of 26,000 people, is by having great people” she said.  “That’s really the secret.”

When Miller isn’t working, she is likely running, or diving off the coast of South Florida.

“It’s a great stress relief, and I think it’s really important, not only for me, but for our associates, that you have a balance in life,” said Miller.  “We always work very hard, we’re a retail business.  We’re open long hours, but at the same time, we want to make sure people have their freedom and their personal time to do whatever it is that gives them passion in life.”

The company headquarters in Fort Lauderdale even has its own certified Chief Emotional Support Officer, a friendly dog named Cooper.  And the focus on wellbeing extends beyond her associates.

AutoNation has brought in more than $20 million for cancer research with its Drive Pink initiative, a victory for which Miller credits the entire AutoNation family.

“I think all of our associates actually love contributing to our actual business, no matter what role they have,” she said.

Rudabeh Shahbazi

Comments