“You Don’t Feel Like a Number on a Piece of Paper Here”: Erika Ardouin’s Story

Employee Spotlights are a new initiative to highlight dedicated team members across the company. Nominated by their leaders at all locations, these employees reflect Garber’s company values through actions and attitude. Every one of our team members has a story. Read below to learn more about Erika Ardouin, Director of Recruiting at Garber Management Group in Saginaw, Michigan. 


When Erika Ardouin started working in the automotive industry at another dealership, she was the only female in the office.

The Northwood University grad quickly discovered that the work culture wasn’t exactly encouraging. 

It was draining. 

“I worked for seven years as that dealership’s F&I manager between 2003 and 2009, and I felt like I was on an island,” she said. “I was working alone. There was no teamwork.” 

Though her job was less-than-fulfilling, Erika was able to make an important connection. She just didn’t know the impact it would have on her lifeyet.  

“When I was in that role, I crossed paths with Tamara Dangelo, who now works at Gateway Financial Solutions as the senior vice president of national sales organizations,” Erika explained. “I built a good relationship with Tamara because of our roles, and we were both moms who needed a career that provided good work/life balance.”

The day came when Erika had enough of the challenges she faced at that dealership. She left in 2009 and spent the next two years going to beauty school to help support her family.

But then Tamara came back into Erika’s life.

She sent Erika a message in 2011 — a message that would open up a new career path and future for Erika, paving the way for her to become our current Director of Recruiting with Garber Management Group.

From Salty to Sweet

Erika said Tamara reached out to her via Facebook. 

“She said, ‘I’m working for Gateway. You should apply’,” Erika said. “At the time, I was feeling salty towards the auto dealership industry because of my past experience.”

Tamara explained to Erika that this role and the culture were not the same as Erika’s previous employer. It got Erika thinking. 

“Tamara told me who Gateway was and what they did,” Erika said. “I remember walking into the conference room here for my interview and thinking, ‘This is not what I pictured at all…but in a good way’.” 

After five interviews and some soul searching, Erika hopped aboard the Gateway Financial Solutions team as a loan buyer in 2011. She was a part of the team that helped launch the indirect loan program.

Erika said the difference between her past dealership experience and working at Gateway Financial Solutions was night and day.

“Immediately when I joined the Gateway team, I loved that there was this sense that we were doing this all together,” she said. “We sat in a room together and made magic happen. I felt like I was a true part of a team and everyone cared about each other. Your success reflected their success. To this day, nearly everyone on that team that I started with is still working here.”

From Past to Present

Prior to her days in the automotive industry, Erika worked in the mid-90s for a company known for its body products: lotions and scrubs and shower gels with scents like Cucumber Melon, Sweet Pea, and (Erika’s personal favorite) Sun-Ripened Raspberry.

The company? Bath & Body Works.

“I opened about 15 or 16 Bath & Body Works stores between 1995 and 2001,” she said. “We would set up the store and interview people to get hired on. I quickly realized that I had a good gut feeling about people and who to hire. Dick knew that about me.”

It was her ability to find the right people for the job that widened her own career path.

“One day, I’m sitting at my desk at Gateway, and my phone lights up,” she said. “I look at the screen and the name says ‘RICHARD GARBER.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh’ before I answered. He asked if I could come down to his office because he had some ideas and wanted to talk to me.”

During that meeting, he proposed a new role for Erika.

“He said, ‘I need someone to interview people and screen them, talk to them, find people that fit our culture and then connect them with hiring managers and find their right seat on the bus’,” she said. 

After the conversation with Dick, Erika became the Director of Recruiting in June 2012 — a role she’s held at GMG ever since. 

 

‘The Gut Doesn’t Lie’

As the key point person in recruiting top talent, Erika has had a hand in hiring over 700 people to work under the Garber umbrella: Garber Automotive Group, Garber Management Group, Gateway Financial Solutions, RightWay Auto Sales and Saginaw Spirit. 

She said sustaining Garber’s quality culture begins with who we hire. Those decisions take many things into consideration — including instinct. 

“When interviewing people, I’ve learned that the gut doesn’t lie,” she said. “Sure, we could pull the trigger and just hire anyone, but our process is very intentional. We typically interview a person three times on average before we hire them. Anyone who loves the process and thinks this is worthwhile really gets it, really gets this company.”

With 10 years under her belt, Erika said many factors contribute to the positive work culture at our company. 

“Here, you don’t feel like a number on a piece of paper,” she said. “I love that the door is always open, including with leadership. You are always welcome. You are going to be listened to and your feelings are going to get heard.”

“There’s a million things that keep me here, but overall, it’s the culture,” she said. “We don’t just talk about it; we live by it. We used to be a quarter of the size, but growth happens when you work for someone that has vision and knows how to make that vision a reality. To quote Dick Garber: ‘A strong foundation makes a tall building.’ We’re still growing our footprint, and after 114 years, it’s pretty remarkable.”

FAST FIVE

What was your first job? When I was 13, my friend’s parents owned the Hemmeter Market in Saginaw, so during my summers when I was 13 and 14, I was a strawberry picker. We’d pick strawberries, wrap fruit…eat fruit right off the vine. There’s nothing like fresh fruit. 

What are three things you can’t live without? I’m a girl’s girl, so I need mascara and a good blow dryer (it’s all about the weight…you have to get a nice, heavy one). I’m a licensed cosmetologist; I still know how to do a good men’s cut.

I also need music. I grew up in the 90s when everything was happening — rap, hip hop, underground, Nirvana — so I like it all.

Fun fact about you? I am the first generation in my family to be born in the United States. My parents are from Latvia, a country by the Baltic Sea. My mom came here when she was 11 and my dad came when he was 13. They were escaping the war in their country. There was a big Latvian community in Michigan; Dad had a sponsored family in Saginaw and my mom was in Detroit. At that time, there would be these big dances where people would dress up fancy and dance, and that’s where my parents met. 

Favorite animal? Dog. My family has a dog: a mutt named Ozzwald. We call him Ozzie. He’s a rescue.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received? I got this advice from someone I worked with at Bath & Body Works. She was a regional manager from Kentucky, and she said to me in a thick, Southern accent (which just made it even better): ‘You gotta look like a duck above water.’ Ducks on the surface look calm, cool, collected, but underneath, their feet are moving a mile a minute. That’s how you’ve got to be when you’re feeling under pressure or stressed: calm and cool on the surface. 

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Lindsay Henry

Lindsay Henry

Lindsay is the Digital Communications Manager for Garber Automotive Group.

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