Driven to succeed
Donna Giannoccoli becomes the first female president of Al Hendrickson Toyota
The automotive industry long has been known as a man’s world, despite evidence that 80 percent of all car-buying decisions are influenced by women. But these days, its leadership is no longer an exclusively male domain. Indeed, women lead some of the world’s largest automakers.
Ask Donna Giannoccoli about being the first female president of one of the largest auto dealerships in South Florida, and she’ll tell you her theories on leadership.
“This is a people business—from the employees at Al Hendrickson Toyota to our customers,” she says. “It’s about being a good listener. If you listen to what people are saying, you find out where you can improve.”
Not only does Giannoccoli have the distinction of being the first female president of Al Hendrickson Toyota on West Sample Road in Coconut Creek, but she’s also the first person to hold the position who isn’t a member of the Hendrickson family.
It’s about being a good listener. If you listen to what people are saying, you find out where you can improve.
Now in charge of day-to-day operations at the dealership and overseeing 240 associates, Giannoccoli got her start in the car business 23 years ago after answering a job advertisement in the Sun Sentinel.
“The ad said that they were looking for an assistant controller with automotive experience,” she recalls. “I had worked for public accounting firms in New York, but I hadn’t worked for a dealership. I thought, ‘Well, I have audited a lot of different businesses, so how hard could it be?’”
It’s this can-do-anything attitude that not only got her hired at Al Hendrickson but helped her move up the ranks—from assistant controller to controller after only two years, then to various positions in human resources, chief financial officer and executive vice president before her appointment to president in mid-October.
Giannoccoli says she learned how to run the dealership by watching Al Hendrickson Sr. and Al Hendrickson Jr. over the years.
The idea for the family-owned business started when the Hendricksons saw a father and son operating a video store together and liked the idea of having their own business together. In 1989, Al Hendrickson Toyota opened its doors with Al Sr. as 90-percent owner and Al Jr. owning the rest. Today, Al Jr. has full ownership, but both Hendricksons start their days by walking through the dealership, greeting customers and associates, says Giannoccoli.
“The Hendricksons are always available to everyone. You’ll see Al Sr. in the service lounge introducing himself and asking customers if he can help them,” she says.
Al Jr., says, “We’ve always operated as if we’re in the people business and not the car business.”
Giannoccoli couldn’t agree more.
“They look for what a person can bring to the dealership,” Giannoccoli says of their philosophy on hiring. “I was always myself and always tried to do the best job I could. I had confidence in them and they, in turn, have confidence in me.”
The Hendricksons have welcomed Giannoccoli into their family. “Donna is a modern-day Wonder Woman,” says Al Jr., the owner and chairman of the board. “I feel grateful being involved in recognizing her for her accomplishments. In today’s world and society, I hope this is an example to anyone who has daughters that anything is possible.”
Al Sr., who serves as honorary board chairman, says, “Donna’s confident demeanor is second to none. She has the ability to make accurate decisions—and she’s not just good with numbers, she’s also good with people.”
The new president wants to continue the family’s legacy, especially the contributions the dealership makes to the community. She cites their partnerships with Coconut Creek organizations, particularly those that help children, such as SOS Children’s Villages and Tomorrow’s Rainbow. She’s also proud of the dealership contributing two new automobiles to the Area Agency on Aging of Broward County.
“We do look to help the community,” she says. “We are a community business. We bring people in to Coconut Creek from all over. We sell close to 10,000 cars, new and used, annually, and we’re bringing people to Coconut Creek from Palm Beach, from Miami.”
The dealership sits on more than 12 acres in Coconut Creek, and Giannoccoli says there are plans to expand. “We have the capabilities to increase sales, which means we’ll need to increase our space.”
Giannoccoli doesn’t have many plans to change anything about Al Hendrickson Toyota, except to keep the wheels turning in the family-owned business that is one of the most successful Toyota dealerships in the country.