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October 12, 2015

AskPatty Visits Detroit for the General Motors Women’s Retail Network Conference

General_Motors_Womens_Retail_Network-226-RenCenBy Cherie Watters

After three decades in the automotive business I finally was invited by the General Motors to participate in the Women’s Retail Network. Headed by Celeste Briggs, the event is held in a location that is to me the Mecca of the automotive business world, Detroit.

Growing up in the US with a passion for automobiles, I’ve always seen Detroit as the place, the center of it all, the birthplace of what I love most… cars. I love them all: Fast cars, fancy cars, big cars, and let’s not forget all the wonderful, powerful trucks. When it comes to automotive, to me Detroit is the leader of them all, the American Automotive Mecca.

I traveled with my business partner Jody DeVere, CEO of, and she told me that, every time someone mentioned Detroit, my face lit up with excitement. I really had no idea what to expect in Detroit, so much has changed since the once-glorious days when the “Big Three” ruled the automotive world. I had heard about the crime and the closed buildings and all the decay, but it did not matter to me, I had to go to the automotive birthplace and see it all for myself.

On the ride into the city from the airport, all I could do was look out the window of the car to observe the closed buildings and the abandoned houses. I have to admit it was very disheartening, but then, just ahead of us, I could see the skyline of the Detroit and to me it looked magnificent. As our cab got closer to downtown I could see a cluster of buildings and then suddenly there it was: the giant GM on top of the tallest building. We had arrived, we were at General Motors’ headquarters at the Renaissance Center along the river in downtown Detroit. I was elated with excitement!

General_Motors_Womens_Retail_Network-logoThis year’s conference theme was “Driven” and Jody was to be a moderator at one of the panels taking place during the event. Not only was this my first trip to Detroit, but it was also the first time I was attending a meeting that was comprised of women who own, operate, or manage automobile dealerships. It was amazing to see so many powerful and knowledgeable women together at one conference. In addition to the women who operate and manage dealerships, there was also a group of women managers and leaders from General Motors, as well as General Motors partners, I felt truly honored to be included in this amazing group of women!

General_Motors_Womens_Retail_Network-201-jody_devere-Celeste_briggsCeleste Briggs, our host and an exceptional motivator, kept the conference moving forward, from the welcome reception, to the wonderful speakers and sponsors. The materials presented had everyone taking notes and participating at the Q-and-A events. Informative sessions covered best practices and technology changes along with an array of profit enhancement methods. The speakers and panelists provided materials, resources, and information that the participants could take back to their dealerships and implement to immediately increase bottom-line profits. The dealers and managers I spoke with said they were extremely happy they had attended the event, explaining the contacts they made and the information gained was insightful and they looked forward to the next meeting.

General_Motors_Womens_Retail_Network-206The information gained was priceless, but as any great host would, Celeste had a lot more to offer us than just business meetings. After our hard work, Celeste had something fun planned for us that kept everyone engaged. We were wined and dined and entertained graciously by General Motors and the WRN. The fabulous Jeanne Robertson, a lovely humorist, had the audience rolling in laughter with her wit and charm.

The Ovation Dinner Cruise along the River was an excellent way for everyone to share their experience and bond with each other in a relaxing and amazing venue. The iridescent skyline of Detroit was amazing as we went from day into night. The lights of the GM building were spectacular, and everyone was taking pictures with the building in the background.

General_Motors_Womens_Retail_Network-221Attendees were laughing and mingling and truly having a nice time. People were exchanging cards and contact information and many agreed the event was powerful and insightful. The cruise along the river was a lovely way to bring the event to a conclusion and allow everyone to share their experience while observing Detroit’s beautiful skyline from the water. Many great business relationships were formed as an outcome of the event.

It was truly wonderful to see the initiative General Motors was taking in this show of support for their women’s dealer body. The respect and admiration General Motors was exhibiting to these dealers was exceptional, and I was thrilled to be a part of the process. Finally after three decades in the automotive business, I felt all my hard work was paying off.

Before returning home, Jody had one more very important meeting set up for us with a woman she has been mentoring for some time. Coincidentally, this mentee was from Detroit and she offered to show the two of us around the city. We were in great hands; the tour could not have been better, and it was really enlightening. I was so proud and honored to be there. This may sound silly to some, but when the car business is in your blood like it is in mine, Detroit is like the heart that pumps that blood. Luckily for us, our tour guide shared that same passion for her city, having come from a second-generation car family. Not only was she was warm and extremely friendly, but she was incredibly smart and told us stories of the glory days, the sad and hard days, as well as the resurgence now happening.

Detroit is a beautiful city filled with architectural wonders: the buildings, neon signs, and homes are all amazing. We visited Greektown and enjoyed some fantastic Greek food, of course. Our mentee drove us around the city to other areas and the surrounding boroughs, sharing with us the history of this once-bustling city. With its population of 3 million now reduced to merely 500,000, it’s clear what a difference the decline of the Big Three automakers has made on the area. No matter to our jolly Detroit-loving car girl: to her this was still the greatest city of them all and I have to say in my heart to agree with her. When our tour came to a conclusion I felt as though I had a thorough understanding of Detroit. I am so grateful to her for sharing with us her knowledge and well as her passion for the city. It was truly a wonderful experience.

General_Motors_Womens_Retail_Network-197-Cherie_wattersI made some really great new friends and business contacts during our trip. I will be forever changed by the experience in Detroit. My passion for the automotive business grows even stronger and I am proud to see how General Motors’ WRN has embraced women. It is really exciting to see how diligently GM is working to build greater interest among women and attract women as a whole to the automotive industry. It’s clear General Motors has an understanding of how important and how impactful women are to the automotive industry and that the company considers women to be important to their competitive advantage.

My trip to Detroit was well worth it. I definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in the automotive industry, but in addition, Detroit has so much to offer, with its history and sheer perseverance. I cannot wait for my next visit to this ever-amazing and resourceful city!

Cherie Watters  is the head of's new Dealer Division. 


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