LeeAnn Shattuck went to college and earned degrees in Quantitative Economics and Industrial Engineering at Stanford. She followed in the footsteps of her father, who was a managing partner at Ernst & Whinney, and became an IT consultant for Anderson Consulting (which became Accenture).
“I learned a lot of different businesses and industries,” LeeAnn says. “I learned something new every day. There was always a lot of interesting new information. But the travel got old. I travelled so often that I knew all about the flight crews and their families. When the crew started to comment when I wore a new outfit, I knew it was too much.”
LeeAnn left Accenture and went to IBM, doing the same work at the same pay but working from home. After 9/11, IBM wanted her to move to New York City, and she refused. She moved to different IT jobs with smaller and smaller firms. “It was always the same hassles,” LeeAnn says. She got divorced, and her life began to shift.
“The last straw came when I asked my boss if I could work a day at home—same billable hours—to meet a repair man, and he said, ‘why can’t your wife just handle all that for you?’ It didn’t even hit him what he was saying until it was out of his mouth,” LeeAnn says. “He and his male friends all had wives who didn’t work. It was very chauvinistic.”
LeeAnn reevaluated her goals. “I asked myself why I was working eighty hour weeks to build a business for this idiot,” she recalls. “I wasn’t getting treated the same as the men, and they had zero-percent respect for work-life balance.” LeeAnn realized she was burned out and began looking for other options, including franchises.
Then the universe intervened. “I was in the bathroom when I saw a brochure about car shopping—a company that helped women shop for cars,” LeeAnn says. “I called the owner, and fell in love with the concept right then. I have always loved cars, I’ve raced cars all my life. It was fate stepping in.” The company at the time was called Women’s Automotive Solutions.
“I had no idea of what I was getting into,” LeeAnn admits. “Customers don’t magically show up. I didn’t know what I didn’t know about marketing, sales, etc. I hadn’t thought about being an entrepreneur. Working with a business partner was new, since it was just the founder and me. I went from a cushy six-figure salary to nothing for a long time.”
Thus began a journey of learning how to run and market a business. “My first customer was a young, single mother who had been taken advantage of by a con artist and stuck in a bad lease. She was terrified of going to the car lot. I helped her get out of her old lease, found her a car she loved at an affordable price, and got her out of a bad situation,” LeeAnn recalls. “This wasn’t really about cars. It was about empowering women. Cars were something I knew well. People started calling me ‘The Car Chick™’ and it stuck. That’s who I really am, and this is what I was meant to do.”
LeeAnn had to create her own support network. Her ex-husband wasn’t supportive of her venture, but her father believed in her. “Mom was a worrier,” she adds. She found groups of other women entrepreneurs and gradually found her way. “I was empowering other women, but I empowered myself, too,” LeeAnn says. “I just ignored the naysayers.”
It took about five years for the business to become profitable. “There was a big learning curve,” LeeAnn says, “and I had to get over my fears and out from under the limitations of my business partner, who had a small view of what the company could become.”
She hired a good business coach and tripled what she was charging while also increasing the services clients received. “My business is different now,” LeeAnn says. “I provide so much more value than I did originally.”
“I am not even remotely the same person that I was before,” LeeAnn says. “I was very risk-averse, and I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. Now I’m seen as one of the most influential women in the auto industry. I used to be afraid to speak to groups—now I’m on radio and TV.”
She’s learned a lot, but there’s always something new to master. “I still get scared of a lot of things, but my fear of failure is less than my fear of not trying,” LeeAnn adds. “I don’t need a boss or a partner to be a leader. I know that this is my purpose on earth, and if I didn’t do it, I would regret it forever.”
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