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Allison Barlow: Building relationships

More than a century after Henry Ford transformed the automotive industry, it still remains a male-dominated good-old-boys club. But Allison Barlow is bringing a female voice to an industry that’s long overdue for a change.

As the only female on Ken Garff Automotive’s executive team and the vice president of human resources, Barlow is able to hold her own. She joined the organization in 2015 after serving in senior leadership roles at O.C. Tanner, the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Ken Garff Automotive was looking for someone to help lead a culture change, giving employees a better work experience, and Barlow fit the bill.

Now she is working to create a culture of trust—among both customers and employees. “If you think about the car industry, it’s not been built upon trust,” Barlow says. “So we’re working to be as transparent as possible, and we’re working on creating an environment with our customers and employees where we treat them right, and it builds a sense of loyalty.”

One focus area for Barlow is on how the organization hires its employees. She’s putting in place hiring standards, interview committees and other infrastructure to ensure each hire is a good fit for the new culture. She is also helping the organization get clear on how to help employees succeed at work.

“A great experience is allowing employees the opportunity to be competent so they feel confident in their job and creating a community that cares about them so they can be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Barlow says.

Part of that effort involves strengthening the lines of communication between management and the frontline. Ken Garff Automotive’s tagline is We Hear You, but this also applies in the employee realm, Barlow says. The company holds monthly team meetings at each dealership, giving every employee an opportunity to voice what is working and areas needing improvement.

“Employees and management listen, and then they work together to say ‘OK, these are the areas that we need to work on,’” Barlow says.

With HR representatives on the ground to listen to the employees, get to know their needs, and then feed information up the pipeline, they are able have a better pulse of what’s happening among employee groups.

“I think our employees have the solutions,” Barlow says, explaining that when they use the designated venues to voice their ideas, struggles and opinions, it can make for an unstoppable team. She has a great success formula that includes bringing this important dynamic to the table, while also being able to speak to the men she works with in a meaningful way.

“The female voice is needed. I truly believe that the feminine voice needs to be heard in business,” Barlow says. “I believe people are desiring a more relationship-based experience.”

And when it comes to advice for empowering women in any line of business, Barlow has two words: Know yourself.

“When you understand yourself and what you’re trying to accomplish it’s a lot easier,” Barlow says. She also encourages women to deeply understand the business they’re working in, so they can truly bring their gifts forward.

When she’s not at work, Barlow can be found hiking, skiing, waterskiing or golfing. She uses meditation, psychology and Eastern philosophy classes as a way of clearing her head and staying balanced.