If you spend enough time around car dealerships, like I do, you start to get a sense of the normal career path that people take in the world of car sales. There’s no set standard, of course, but across the board the hours are long, the work is tough and climbing the “corporate ladder” takes time. A lot of time. For Maryam Malikyar, the new General Manager at Mercedes-Benz of Nashville, her story is a bit different. Maryam is new to Nashville, fresh from running a top-performing import store in Fairfax, Virginia and she’s one of those rare people you just can’t help but like immediately. Enthusiastic, eager to laugh and genuinely interested in what you have to say.
Maryam’s meteoric ascent through the ranks of the car business started with a chance encounter. A woman who worked in management at a Chrysler Jeep and Dodge store met Maryam, spotted her potential, and asked her if she’d ever thought about a career in the car business. The woman who would eventually become her mentor was persistent and reached out repeatedly over a few months to see if there was any interest. Maryam was young and at a bit of a crossroads in life and knowing nothing about cars, had never considered the automotive industry. She eventually took a leap, and like everyone else, she began in sales but after only six months transitioned into the finance office, filling in for those on their day off or on vacation. She jumped between a handful of dealerships within a dealer group, gaining insight and experience across the board with a variety of car brands.
I think we should take a moment to pause and reflect on the transition from sales to the finance office in only six months. Selling cars is hard - really hard, especially at the entry level. The turnover rate is extraordinary, usually between 30 to 40 percent and sometimes higher. If you’re a superstar, they’ll start grooming you for finance after you’ve spent a year proving you can not only swim with the sharks and survive, but thrive. Some dealerships will wait even longer than a year, so if you’re good enough to transition in only six months, you’re already in the top one percent.
After cutting her teeth in finance for a year and a half, Maryam decided to treat herself to a brand new import sports car. While going through the buying process, they found out she worked in the car business, spotted her potential and professionalism and offered her a job. When you and I go to buy a car, we leave with some paperwork and a monthly payment. Maryam left that day with a new car and a promotion.
After 13 years of successful leadership, Maryam is now the General Manager at Mercedes-Benz of Nashville and ready to bring her enthusiasm and experience to Music City. I asked her what makes MBofNashville stand out from the competition. “The only thing that’s going to set you apart from the competition is the customer experience. The single most important 'make or break’ is what people think about you - reputation and guest experience is everything.”
She’s a firm believer in playing the long game, investing in customer relationships and taking care of each and every person who walks in the door. It is immediately apparent that her ethos has already been passed down to everyone else at the dealership. When I first walked in the door at MBofNashville everyone was very friendly and quick to help point me in the right direction.
I asked Maryam what, in her mind, sets Mercedes-Benz apart from the rest of the automotive industry and she said, “The Mercedes tagline is ‘the best or nothing’ and they really take it seriously. Mercedes is classic and traditional all at the same time.” She went on to point out that Mercedes has arguably the largest target audience of any other car brand. Everything from Super Sports cars to luxury limousines, from delivery vans to off-road G Wagons and entry level ‘first cars’ to futuristic next generation electric cars.
I concluded my conversation with Maryam by asking her what advice she would have if she met a young woman who was at a crossroads in life, knew nothing about cars but had obvious potential.
“Are you good at your job? Do you care about your customers? Are you a hard worker? Are you good for culture? Are you a good fit for the team? Are you intimidated? If so, don’t be.”
She went on to say that aside from her mentor she didn’t have many women to look up to in upper management when she first started her career, “These [management] jobs are achievable. Seeing is believing. You just have to go get it.”