Kathy Gilbert is a mentor driving the success of women and minorities in a male-dominated industry.
Kathy Gilbert, Director of Customer Success at CDK Global, is proof that a Black woman can succeed in a male-dominated business. Beyond her education and natural confidence, her passion for mentorship has propelled her into a 20-year career in automotive. As a top leader, she’s paying it forward helping other women get there too.
Kathy leads a team of over 65 people at CDK Global, a company that integrates technology in cars, motorcycles, RVs, and more. This team proactively engages dealer customers to help them reach sales goals and other business objectives. She and I live by the same motto, “Teamwork makes the dream work,” and you see it as the light guiding Kathy’s illustrious career. Understanding the importance of leadership, team building, and teamwork have powered her rise through an industry that isn’t known for having many women, especially black women. As she blazed her way to being one of the top women minority leaders in the auto industry, her drive to inspire success in others now dominates her path.
According to Kathy, “If we don’t do this together, we are all going to fail.” Her biggest joy and accomplishment is building her clients up to lead.
“As I am standing looking back at my life and my career, I would want people to say that I am a genuine influencer, a helper, a problem solver, results-oriented, but most of all, I had a good story to tell. In my story, my experience was able to help them grow in their career or by providing guidance on the next step. Someone, they would feel comfortable talking to.” – Kathy Gilbert, Director of Customer Success at CDK Global
Kathy’s story says a lot about the culture of CDK Global and the company’s value system, which puts people ahead of technology. Meanwhile, Kathy was able to use her background in technology and parlay a job in data entry into a transformative career helping people.
The first of eight children to attend college, Kathy obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a minor in Computer Science from Illinois Wesleyan University. She was active in the student council and student union because, even then, she recognized the importance of people working together to bring about positive change. It was during this time that she honed her ability to listen to and understand others.
Kathy attended the University of Dayton, where she earned her Master’s of Business Administration, Management of Information Systems. While her educational background is technical and did not initially revolve around the auto industry, it did provide her with the skills she needed to be a leader helping to break barriers for minorities, especially women in the industry.
In her first job out of college, she took on the role of a programmer analyst with the National Cash Register Corporation (NCR). There she learned about technology and understood the importance of being a team leader, building a team, and understanding how teamwork works. That’s what led her to CDK Global, where she continues to dominate in her dream job.
Kathy uses her influence to help propel more women to be leaders in male-dominated automotive careers.
Kathy’s interest in influencing industry and inspiring individuals to propel their careers is no accident. She had help. Her mom was her first role model, and her sister mentored her from AT&T, teaching her the etiquette of working in corporate America.
“The automotive industry is a very male-dominated industry. It is hard sometimes for women to really find their place,” says Kathy. “I don’t usually name names…” she later added when mentioning Scotty Reiss and Jody DeVere among female mentors she’d encountered upon arriving at CDK Global. These notable women were people Kathy knew she could count on, and those connections inspired her further to pursue a life of mentorship for future leaders in the industry.
Kathy is proud of her 25 years with CKD Global, a company she says has excelled as an organization over the last year, especially through the pandemic. Making sure their employees and customers are safe was key. They’re fortunate not to have had to furlough or lay-off any employees. Their leadership allowed them to take care of customers and their employees, helping the company stand stronger.
CDK Global Company Culture Has Made Her a Better Leader
As a provider of integrated information technology and digital marketing solutions to the automotive retail industry, CDK Global is always defining who they are. Over the last five years, CDK has evolved to focus more on a collaborative company culture that Kathy says has helped her evolve. CDK Global is structured so that there is a focus on connections internally and the communities that they serve.
Focusing on connections that allow support through data insights are critical to her role as Director of Customer Success. Last year, her team rolled out an initiative to ensure customers have a great experience with the company and its proprietary software.
As a leader, Kathy reflects fondly on Powering Employee Development & Learning (PEDL), CDK’s mentorship program for internal associates. CDK Global’s “100% successful” mentorship program helps with employee retention and promotion for female managers. There were so many young people in various roles in the organization trying to identify how to develop the skills. The program allowed Kathy and others in leadership roles to pair up with mentees to help them achieve their career goals.
As a Leader, It Is Her Obligation to Give Back
Kathy compares her need to give back to the movie Pay It Forward. “When something great happens to you, you have to give and pay it forward to someone else because that’s how we as women in automotive continue to grow.” In every role she takes on, Kathy looks for an opportunity to give back. As a founding board member of Women in Automotive, for example, she helped increase by 38% the number of women at CDK who could participate externally in CDK events. There are always opportunities for Kathy to give back.
Her Background in Data DrivesHer Success in What’s Becoming a Data-Driven Society
When being the best leader you can be, you become a certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. “What’s that?” you ask. It’s her certification which reinforces the value of data and enables her to make better decisions. A Six Sigma Blackbelt is a professional fluent in the Six Sigma philosophies and principles. They also have a firm knowledge of lean enterprise concepts. In short, Six Sigma Blackbelts utilize teams to improve businesses. Kathy’s CSSBB status helps her identify problems for her teams’ customers and create optimal solutions. It all comes back to her beginnings as a Data Analyst. Data has been immensely helpful to her and her team’s success.
With a background in data analytics, I have found a commonality with Kathy Gilbert. Knowing her previous achievements and speaking with her, I have come to admire her even more. Kathy describes herself as a results-oriented, true influencer; as someone in the influencer space, I agree that, in fact, she is one. I can only aspire to achieve some of the things she has accomplished.
“You don’t have to run fast to get the job done. It is really important you take your time to get it right.”