Jennifer Hurley, finance director for the Royal Auto Group in Tucson, Ariz., said she entered the automotive industry as a “bit of a fluke.”

After college, Hurley — who was planning to apply to law school — joined the dealership world as a receptionist at Royal Kia.  Then the finance director approached her about a position with a new finance initiative called the Buying Center. Although Hurley assured the finance director she would still be shortly leaving for law school, she agreed to give the position a try for a few months.

“I fell in love with it, and that was about 12 years ago,” said Hurley, who is one of Cherokee Media Group’s 2023 Women in Auto Finance Honorees.

And now, with over a decade of dealership experience, Hurley heads up that very same Buying Center as the dealer group’s finance director and leads a staff of all-female employees. When Hurley began in the center, there was one other employee. Over the past 12 years, the team has grown to 14 women, and the team oversees four rooftops.

For Hurley, the role of mentorship and networking is key, as a woman in auto who has climbed the ladder with the leadership of others along the way.

“I was very lucky to have the previous finance director as a mentor. She was really good at what she did,” said Hurley.

The industry is always changing. Hurley said the biggest thing she learned from her prior boss was the importance of building relationships.

“She was so good at it. She knew everybody; she knew everything about everybody. She can have personal relationships with people,” said Hurley. “And she passed that down to me, and I think that that’s been just tremendous in learning about the industry.”

In terms of mentoring and training women at her dealership, just take a look at her team of women auto professionals. Although the dealer group doesn’t have an intentional program to funnel women into leadership roles, “it’s just kind of part of the culture,” Hurley said.

“We have a lot of top executive positions in our company filled by women,” said Hurley. “Obviously, that’s pretty special in a predominantly male field.

“It’s just been something that’s never really even been questioned where we are,” she said.

With Hurley’s department, she said it is a bit of a coincidence her team is all female.

“There’s nobody that has had finance experience prior on my team; no car dealership experience prior,” said Hurley. “And that’s where I came from. I’m just kind of duplicating that culture and that mindset, and we all have a mentorship mentality.”

Beyond her dealer group, Hurley has a few ideas on how to get more women in leadership, technical and finance roles in auto.

“I think we just need to keep talking about it,” Hurley said.

“It’s difficult, I will say, especially in the sales role. I would love to see more women on the sales floor. And unfortunately, we’re just not quite there yet,” she said.

The dealer group’s corporate trainer, who is in charge of hiring, is always looking for strong women candidates.

“I would say as a woman, I never was growing up thinking I wanted to sell cars,” said Hurley, which is why priorities visiting colleges and high schools when looking to attract more young people and diversity to the auto business.

Events like NADA Show can also be particularly important to women in the dealership.

“First of all, networking; we don’t have a lot of opportunities to get out of the dealership. There’s no secret in that,” said Hurley.

Although her dealer group gives employees Sundays off, that is not the norm, with many dealership employees working seven days a week.

“So there’s not a lot of opportunity to go out and network and figure out how other people are doing … you meet so many people, you see the vendors that are doing progressive things in the industry,” Hurley said. “That’s huge.”