Real Model Interview featuring Annalise Eldred, Head of Customer Contact Centres at Lookers Plc and Inspiring Automotive Women Award Winner for 2022

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Annalise Eldred, Head of Customer Contact Centres at Lookers Plc and one of our Inspiring Automotive Women Award winners for 2022, in our latest Real Model interview.

Read more below.

How did you feel to be nominated by your colleagues in the Inspiring Automotive Women Awards 2022 and how did it feel to be recognised as a winner?

It felt rewarding and humbling to be nominated, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to, or take for granted the fact that colleagues took the time to nominate me. I think what made it so special for me is that attracting women to automotive is a real passion of mine and the fact someone recognised me as an inspiring woman was staggering. To be amongst lots of incredible women, and win an award was very surreal. I thought being nominated was a career highlight but being one of the winners was an all-time high.

What action have you taken that led to you being nominated for the award?

I’ve always been very supportive of women in automotive and ensured they have the psychological safety to speak up and get involved. I’ve worked for Lookers for 18 years and in those first few years I felt frustrated by the lack of women in management and senior positions. I just wanted everyone male or female to be considered based on their ability, not their gender, or any other factor. I thought I’d have to be my own role model, until a few years later when I started to see many incredible women thriving at Lookers. Since then, it has always been important to me to uplift and support women in automotive, allow them to see what they are capable of, and not be constricted by societal norms. I’ve increased awareness around IWD, engaged with succession planning for women in the industry, and offered local-level support.

What does your job involve? What do you like best about it?

My job is incredibly varied, and I think that variety, along with the people I am lucky enough to work alongside is the best bit. I am the head of customer contact centres for Lookers PLC which involves managing the seven contact centres we have. Our contact centres look after and manage customer enquiries to make an appointment or a visit to one of our sales or aftersales locations. My job involves ensuring that we look after our customers in those interactions to the highest standard, whilst offering a service level to the OEMs and colleagues at site which surpasses expectations. We have an amazing group of managers in the contact centres who make my job a pleasure and are all so passionate and committed to our customers. I can be looking to integrate a new system, visiting one of our locations, or discussing how to improve a process with a third party among many other things on a given day. There is never a boring day thank goodness.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I am sure like most young people I really struggled to pin down exactly what I wanted to be, I loved gymnastics as a child, so initially, I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast. I completed work experience at a law firm and loved the idea of exploring a career in law, so that was my main goal as a young woman.

What or who inspired you to join the automotive sector?

My Dad was a mechanic and had a small garage selling used cars, as a result, I was always interested in spending time at the workshop and seeing customer interactions. I think perhaps subconsciously that stuck, but I fell into automotive. I was waiting for a job role to be available and had a 6 month wait for the position. I’d left university and wanted something as a stop-gap. My sister’s boyfriend worked for Lookers and mentioned they were looking for sales executives. The rest is history.

What are your future aspirations?

I don’t have a particular role in mind, but I think often we enjoy what we are good at, and I love delivering change and managing a large team. Operational excellence, making marginal gains, and fostering growth for team members are all passion projects for me, so I would like to ensure my future involves those.

Personally, I’d like to continue traveling as much as possible, and I love interior design, and home renovation, I am hopeful I can complete another renovation in the future.

Can you name a woman in automotive that inspires you and why?

Alison Jones instantly springs to mind, with a global role and winning the ‘Autocar’s great women of the British car industry’ award not once but twice. I think having her talents recognised creates awareness that the role of CEO is not reserved only for men. She is a visible and refreshing reminder that automotive is inclusive.

I also must mention my own manager, Karen Prince. She offers inspiration within Lookers and proves that women can do it all. For young women joining Lookers, they see a female amongst the executives in our business and are offered a pathway to senior management. This is led fairly, equitably, and with a passion and commitment unsurpassed, she inspires me daily.

What do you think is the biggest challenge women face when trying to progress within the sector?

I think women can stand in their own way, we’ve been conditioned to ask for less, accept less and be comfortable in the background since childhood, so it is difficult to assert ourselves. Often to progress you need to be confident and proactive, and this can feel overwhelming when it goes against conditioning or is perceived as ‘bossy.’ If a woman is passionate about something, she can be rendered ‘emotional’ yet that is not a term which lends itself to males often. I think if women had more self-esteem, and courage in their abilities we would see far higher progression.

What advice can you give to other women who want to progress in their careers?

I would advise you to really think about your brand, what you stand for, where you find fulfillment in your career, and what you offer which is unique. Once that brand is defined then you can think more widely about the types of roles, rather than confining yourself to one section. I am a big advocate of refining transferable skills and applying logic from one role to another. I would also advise them to ask for conversations with seniors about succession planning and future goals. In the meantime, for the shorter term, show up and be the best version of yourself every day and be committed to crafting your skills. The only place you’ll see success come before work is in the dictionary.

What advice can you give to men in the sector about helping to build a gender-balanced business?

I love this question, as I am surrounded by so many uplifting and supportive men, who are committed to improving the gender gap. What I observe from them is vulnerability and openness, I also see them challenging the status quo and adapting. I would advise asking questions, debating topics out and be understanding to perceptions from a different optic. There is hard work at the core, daily it looks like calling out behaviours that could cause discomfort, having difficult conversations and cultivating self-awareness which can be hard. However, once you have a diverse and gender-balanced team, the rewards outweigh the efforts, and we have a team who reflects our customer base. I think once there is an inclusive culture in your business then diversity will follow.

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