Irma Elder, CEO of Elder Automotive Group, was the very first woman in America to own and head a Ford dealership in the Detroit area. She died on September 30, aged 84.
Elder, who was of Mexican origins, came to the US in 1946, “not able to speak a word of English,” according to her autobiography, written back in 2000. She was born in Xicoténcatl, Mexico, but grew up in Miami and moved to Michigan together with her husband, James Elder in 1963. After his passing in 1983 she took over the family business and the Ford dealership he bought in 1967.
“There is a feeling that the automotive industry is a man’s business,” she said in a 2008 interview. “I’m not saying everybody does it, but there is some patronizing if you are a woman. But that is a fact of life. I do not allow it to get to me. It is tough for everybody. We can’t cry and say, ‘I’m a woman’ or ‘I’m a minority.’ It’s not going to get us anyplace.”
“Irma Elder built one of the most successful woman-owned businesses in the country and she was a role model of service to her community, her state and the country,” said General Motors CEO Mary Barra when both were honored by the Michigan Women’s Foundation this year.
Recognizing her as one of the biggest business leaders in the auto dealership industry, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers rewarded Elder in 2014 with the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award back in July.
Via Automotive News