Whitney Yates-Woods: Breaking Barriers in the Automotive Industry

by Holly Morgan

Today, Yates Buick GMC is one of the premier automotive dealerships in the country, serving the greater Phoenix metropolitan area in a way few can boast. But the legacy of the family-owned business started more than 37 years ago when Mike Yates, who had big dreams and very little money, purchased a used car lot.

“My dad started out by founding a truck dealership in Avondale called GMC Truck Country, which was designed to cater to agricultural clients,” Yates Buick GMC Dealer Principal Whitney Yates-Woods says. “Over time, the business evolved, and more vehicles were added to the inventory.”

Yates-Woods recalls visiting her dad and his staff regularly while growing up. “A memory that stands out the most was when our service technicians showed my fellow Daisy Girl Scouts around the shop at 5 years old,” Yates-Woods recalls. “I’m not sure which badge we earned, but the memory sticks out as one of my earliest.”

Those spontaneous and playful stop-ins as a kid eventually turned into regular responsibilities as a teen. Yates-Woods worked at the dealership as a file clerk starting at the age of 15, then as a receptionist, and later transitioned to marketing and customer service.

“Everything I do is a result of what he taught me,” Yates-Woods says of her father. “He was my first call, always coaching me on how to structure a sale or handle a relationship with a customer.”

Growing up, Yates-Woods had no idea the importance her father’s lessons would play in her adult life. When Mike Yates passed away in March 2021 after a fight with COVID-19, she took the destiny of the family-owned dealership into her own hands by applying for the Dealer Principal position. 

“It’s not common for women to hold this position, because it’s traditionally male-dominated,” Yates-Woods says. “I sprang into action and applied for the position because I wanted to carry on my dad’s legacy to my own family one day.” 

It was a milestone first for Yates Buick GMC because her dad had run the dealership since it opened, and a move that breaks barriers in the automotive industry, where, a recent auto workforce study found, only 19% of all positions are currently held by women.

“With the majority of dealership payrolls being male, there aren’t enough women at the table, and there should be,” Yates-Woods says. “I was asked many times by people from several different industries how I would run Yates with two small kids. That’s not a question people usually ask a man.”

The General Motors vetting process is quite extensive. Aside from financial and legal background checks, candidates are interviewed to ensure the GM brand is in capable and safe hands. A strong business background made Yates-Woods perfect for the job.

“My skills are diverse and come from a few different industries aside from automotive,” Yates-Woods says. “I had previously been in real estate, insurance sales and marketing, and am well-versed in customer service.”

Now in the driver’s seat, the 35-year-old mother of two strives to employ people of all walks of life and aims to hire more women in the male-dominated field. She’s also putting the dealership at the forefront of the electric vehicle transition with a planned investment of $500,000 to General Motors for new equipment, charging stations and training programs.

“Yates Buick GMC is totally aligned with GM’s pledge to be all-electric by 2025 and we’re scheduled to receive one of the first 70 all-electric Hummers made in the United States,” Yates-Woods says. “People who visit the dealership can already see some of the big changes that are underway, including our charging stations that charge 100 miles in 10 minutes.” 

The dealership is still very much family-owned as Yates-Woods and her brother, Tyler, work together as a team to maintain the well-oiled machine their dad started 37 years ago. “Tyler has years of dealership experience and manages the majority of our community involvement to maintain our presence in the West Valley,” Yates-Woods says. “He’s a natural-born sales professional and does an amazing job training sales staff and managers. I handle the day-to-day processes to take our business to the next level.”

Each day is a new adventure, but Yates-Woods has a plan in place to grow the brand, foster a positive company culture, and work through the current inventory crisis brought on by the pandemic. “I want to continue our presence In the West Valley, and I want to expand,” Yates-Woods says. “I see Yates having more locations and adapting to all the innovations headed our way, with electric and self-driving vehicles being at the helm.”

While many exciting changes are in store, one thing will always stay the same. “We have a saying at Yates that my dad started years ago — it’s, ‘Our people make the difference,’ and that is true. There are many different dealerships you can choose from, but at Yates we take care of our customers like family, and they can feel that when they walk in.” 

Shifting Gears 

Whitney Yates-Woods was named Dealer Principal of Yates Buick GMC in Goodyear, Ariz., after her father passed of COVID-19 in March 2021 and she passed an extensive vetting process with GM. 

The family-owned dealership is at the forefront of the electric vehicle transition after Yates-Woods made a $500,000 investment to General Motors for new equipment, charging stations and training programs.

Yates-Woods believes more females should be at the table when it comes to leadership positions and plans to hire more women at the dealership in the coming years. 

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