Women in Retail: Laura Donahue of CarMax

CARY, N.C. – 

In a key complement to our Women in Remarketing and Women in Auto Finance franchises, Auto Remarketing is proud to celebrate our second annual Women in Retail awards, a program sponsored by CarGurus.

We spotlight these honorees in the Oct. 15 issue of Auto Remarketing, which includes Q&As with each recipient of the award.

Next up is Laura Donahue, vice president of marketing services at CarMax

Auto Remarketing: What was your career path to the retail auto industry? Did you always see yourself in this line of work?
Laura Donahue:
As a founding member of CarMax, you might be surprised to learn I never expected to work in automotive retailing. I was working at Circuit City in a merchandising role and applied for a new role as a business development manager. It turned out the new business was used cars! Before Circuit City and CarMax, my first job was working for Lord & Taylor in New York City. It was a great job to have right after college, because I got immersed in learning about developing businesses, serving customers, and how to motivate a team.

AR: What’s a typical day like in your job? (if there is such a thing as “typical!)
I love that my day is filled with conversation and collaboration with a wide variety of people. My team is always my top priority, and I check in with them to determine if I can help move obstacles to pave the way for their success. It’s important to me to discuss not just business priorities and projects but their personal career goals.

I also meet with our agency partners at least once daily to make sure we are on track delivering the CarMax promise and consumer offer into the world through a variety of ways. Finally, I enjoy spending time with other CarMax leaders across the business to gain new insights, discuss the current retail environment and share ideas.

Laura Donahue

I’m constantly working on a great mix of short-term efforts and longer-term work that is more ambitious and forward-thinking. My day might include reviewing new creative material or a media-buying plan, being onsite to supervise the filming of a new ad, or working with my operations team to review workflow processes and productivity.

Finally, I’ll share my top tip for managing a packed calendar: I check my e-mail right before I go to bed and first thing when I wake up so I can quickly determine if my expectations and priorities for the day need to shift.

AR: Who is a leader, outside of the auto industry, that you admire and why?
LD: I’ve always admired Serena Williams and her confidence, determination and incredible career. When she’s stumbled — on the court or in her personal life — she’s always been honest and candid about how she’s overcome challenges. I think she’s always had this wonderful blend of sticking up for herself while advocating for women’s equality.

AR: What accomplishment or moment in your career are you most proud of?
LD: I’m proudest of helping CarMax manage through major inflection points in the company’s history and come out of the other side even stronger. From the challenges of starting a new company in 1993, to the 2008 recession, to the current global pandemic, I’ve been laser focused on collaborating with our senior team to quickly adapt to ever-changing situations and make sure our marketing services team is delivering the best customer service we can.

For example, we know the consumer’s behavior has changed in a lasting way due to this pandemic. Customers are seeking safety, personalization and convenience now more than ever before. In April we launched contactless CarMax Curbside to enable customers to complete the car buying and selling experience outside the store with adherence to social distancing practices. My team was a big part of this and had to quickly update all marketing materials, website creative, ads and more. 

AR: Describe a time when you have been challenged professionally and what you learned from it.
LD: I’ve had to redefine how I think about career success. For example, many years ago, I tried to take on too many very different roles and it didn’t go well. I had to admit that there were certain areas of the business I wasn’t as well equipped to manage. It took self-awareness and humility to realize that. As a result, however, I discovered that giving up some opportunities and empowering others so others could be successful was incredibly satisfying. My new definition of success became not going after my own ambition, but to focus on helping others succeed.

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