Leading by Example and Empowering Others, What Drives Her: Dana White of Hyundai

Dana White Of Hyundai, One Of The Top Female Auto Executives
Dana White poses for a photo inside Hyundai Motor America. (Carol Larsen/Zenger)


Her journey has led to China, Paris, the Pentagon, the U.S. Senate and now, Hyundai’s C-Suite. 

When I set out to research Dana W. White, Chief Communications Officer at Hyundai and one of the top female auto executives, my curiosity had been already been piqued. Here was a woman who seemed to do so much and yet seemed more comfortable behind the scenes. Her pictures conveyed a spark of delight, a quiet confidence, and the easy grace of approachable authority. Image after image showed her capably, quietly, leading, providing support and sound counsel in a variety of fields from the Pentagon to the U.S. Senate. A quick Google search showed her name alongside legendary figures of the military and automotive sector like Senator John McCain, former Secretary of Defense General James Mattis, and current Hyundai North America CEO and Global COO José Muñoz.

When I dug a bit further, I noticed a common thread of excellence ran through each of her pursuits.  

Wherever she went, innovations and noteworthy results soon followed. Following the thread, I found that she is an innovator, an author, often the first in a role, fluent in the languages of leadership and a magnetic leader in her own right. Through hard work and hustle paired with an almost tangible desire for forward progress, she efficiently elevates the game in whichever room she happens to find herself. It is no surprise that when the time to interview Dana came along, I could not have been more excited. I wanted to know what made her tick, how her mind works and how she found herself along the path that she is currently on.

Related: What Drives Angela Zepeda, Chief Marketing Officer of Hyundai

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Dana White’s Book, Leader Designed

Let Me Introduce You to Dana White

Charismatic and observant, our Zoom conversation began quickly, and before long, I was caught up in her story. White is a study in the power of words, of resourcefulness, and of how one experience and one dream connects to another.  The Charlottesville native learned at an early age the value of being able to communicate, how to listen and how to tell a compelling story. After all, she is the granddaughter of the founder of one of the longest-running Black-owned newspapers in Virginia.

Following her grandfather’s footsteps, she clipped stories and prepared content for the paper, laying the groundwork for a dynamic path that continues into today and the firm unshakeable belief in her ability to effect change and make a difference. She fell in love with history, truth, global communities and a well-told story. White recalls that when you are “standing on the shoulders of slaves, there is no room for slouching.”

Understanding the gift of the written word, White set out to forge her own path, which includes becoming an author, learning Mandarin Chinese and French, serving as a mentor, traveling the globe, and equipping herself with the tools to reach for every opportunity that presents itself.

Related: Making Magic, Lemonade and Milestones: What Drives Her … Olabisi Boyle of Hyundai

Dana White What Drives Her

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide testimony on the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense to members of the Senate Committee on Armed Services during a hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington D.C., June 13, 2017. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

When There are Only 3 Seats on the Helicopter Make Sure That One is For You

Armed with a sense of responsibility for her own happiness, a degree in Chinese History from the University of Chicago, and the fire of a dream, Dana moved to Beijing, Paris and later to Washington, DC, decisions that most likely changed the direction of her life. Learning and absorbing the inter-connected ethos of a global community while working for the Renault-Nissan Alliance, Fox News, Northrup-Grumman, the Heritage Foundation and the US Department of Defense’s Taiwan Country Director, White loved immersing herself in the cultures, communities and partnerships that she found herself in and advocating for. 

Related: What Drives Her: Claudia Marquez Paved the Way and Broke the Glass Ceiling at Hyundai Mexico

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US Secretary of Defense James Mattis (2nd-L) hold talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (2nd-R) at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo on June 29, 2018. (Photo by Kimimasa MAYAMA / Getty Images)

She learned to be able to pivot, how to choose a life that “you love” and be willing to advocate for yourself, a concept reinforced by her mother and the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well within her family. White notes that “life is lived in seasons” and to embrace the one you’re in. When asked about why she chose this path, she mentioned that she has always been fascinated by the way that people live, work and the stories that they tell themselves. Those stories are ones that drive decisions and create actions, programs and policy changes.  

Dana White What Drives Her

Serving as Pentagon Spokeswoman Ms. Dana White speaks with Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis prior to his press conference at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Department of Defense Photo: Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

It seems only natural that White went on to found her own firm, 1055 Grady, between stints of public service with the policy leaders of our time. By this point, White honed a laser-focused sense of how to solve problems and source solutions, a talent strengthened during her time as a liaison for the Department of Defense. As she says, “when there are only three seats on the helicopter, you make sure that one is for you.” She advises that “leaders come to you for your expertise and solutions,” not so that you can try to “be them,” become yes-men, or bring more problems to the table. That pragmatic, solution-oriented mindset and ability to encourage results from her team has made White a person tapped time and time again to serve, to activate communities, to smooth transitions and to convey the stories that touch lives.

Related: I went to Korea and Discovered the Soul of Kia and Hyundai, Korea’s Car Kings

Dana White What Drives Her

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks with reporters while on board the aircraft to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Headquarters, June 6, 2018. Department of Defense Photo: Tech Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

Democratizing Progress and Rewriting Hyundai’s DNA 

When the leadership of José Muñoz as Global COO began at Hyundai Motor Company, it ushered in an ambitious mission that would drive every decision moving forward. His vision of the democratization of Progress, Technology, Mobility and Safety for All has directly impacted the latest offers, partnerships and products from the iconic Korean brand with strong California roots. It surprised very few that he tapped Dana White, his colleague from the Renault-Nissan Alliance, as a key player to help share and shape a story that would turn this lofty vision into a reality lived and enjoyed by millions around the globe.  

The fact that the brilliant, client-centric design that Hyundai is known for paired with the strategic plan that bears the fingerprints of White’s work and ability to unify a talented team to common mission is a winning combination. Which in this case is essentially expanding and rewriting the company’s DNA from a simple tech-driven automaker into a modern catalyst for change.

When asked how she feels about the monumental goal that Muñoz has placed before the global team at Hyundai, her face lit up, the spark of excitement around her was visible. I have a feeling she was made for this and is ready for every challenge that comes Hyundai’s way.

Dana White What Drives Her

Dana W. White with the 2021 Hyundai Elantra

Opening the Path Forward for Others

Recently appointed to the board of Women in Automotive, an organization missioned with elevating the entire automotive industry by elevating the role of women within it, Dana continues to inspire those who encounter her and her work. With a confidence and efficiency that brings out the best in those around her, she continues to drive toward tomorrow by shaping the stories of today.  

To learn more about Dana White and her current work at Hyundai, visit here.

Teia Collier is a mother of three, educator, social journalist, advocate for women’s and children’s issues and lover of... More about Teia Collier