03/25/2014 09:38 am ET Updated May 25, 2014

Barb Moran-Goodrich Gets the Motors Running

Don't tell Barb Moran-Goodrich no.

She's now CEO, president and owner of automotive service company Moran Family of Brands, but Moran-Goodrich was once told she would never run her father's company. Even though she knew the business inside and out, she was told she wasn't fit for the top job -- just because she was a woman. The man who told her so? Dad himself.

He believed she was better off at home, taking care of her two kids.

"He basically fired me when I had my first child," she tells me. "And he got upset because within three months I had a job working in the government. To his mind, he was trying to do good for me. That's what his generation believed."

Dennis Moran, who started his business in 1958, must have known his determined daughter had other ideas.

"I was always told to be quiet because I was very opinionated," Moran-Goodrich recalled, thinking back to family dinners in the 1970s. "I talked about equal rights and women, always pushing the envelope, saying we had the same abilities and needed to be given the same opportunities. My dad was not happy with the fact that I was very stubborn, but he tried to portray it as him just trying to do me a favor."

But the consultants who advised her father on choosing a CEO successor for his company had different ideas. After taking a deep look at the company, they came to a pretty smart epiphany: Who better to run Moran Family of Brands than the founder's daughter, with her in-depth knowledge, experience and strong opinions?

"I think that's what made them say, 'Well, I don't know why he's looking outside the company,'" she said with a laugh.

When she took over in March 1999, her first task was to change the company culture from task-oriented and micromanaged to one that followed management by objective -in other words, she wanted stronger accountability. The transition wasn't for everyone though; a good number of employees didn't agree with Moran-Goodrich's direction and walked out the door. Others were simply not the right fit. She faced other challenges, too--mostly with the men who couldn't take her seriously in an industry traditionally associated with men. In the beginning, there were a few franchise operators (Moran Family of Brands includes franchises like Mr. Transmission and Milex Complete Auto Care) who wouldn't even speak to her.

"They would speak to my fellow employees--other men--instead of me," she said. "And the funny thing is, my co-workers didn't even notice. They just thought they were having a great conversation!"

"I realized I needed to show them I was capable," she added.

To help open their eyes to the injustices, Moran-Goodrich asked some of the male franchisees what it would feel like if their daughter was treated the way she was at franchise meetings. One who had a daughter in college was so taken aback he called Moran-Goodrich a week later to apologize.

Now, she's seen as "one of the guys," but her ultimate aim isn't to simply "fit in," but to help turn the auto industry into a more female-friendly business. She's been working on an internal initiative to train her franchisees not to patronize female customers.

"If there is a situation where a franchisee is talking to a female customer in a way that is perceived as patronizing, then our recommendation would be to go through customer relations training, having them hear and listen to how they're communicating," she explains. "Many people don't realize they're talking down to women, and I believe they need to be called out on it. In a nice way, but be called out on it."

Moran-Goodrich is also focusing on encouraging more women to own her franchises. It's an uphill battle -- and not just because of gender stereotyping in the automotive world. Women face greater barriers in getting funding for business than men do. More and more women are forced to fund ventures with credit cards or "friends, family and fools" -- it's their only option when just eleven percent of venture capital funding goes to women, and regulations on loans by the Small Business Administration have become tighter.

But Moran-Goodrich sees hope: Females hold great purchasing power and are generally the family decision makers. Women buy more than half of the new cars in the U.S. and influence up to 80 percent of all car purchases. Plus, she said, the image of father and son out in the garage tinkering with the family car no longer applies. Vehicle maintenance is much more complicated now, and men are not as interested.

For businesses today, customer experience and service are top priorities, and the automobile industry is no exception. This is where women have the edge.

"Women have more of a tendency to be empathetic and understanding, so I think that going into the automotive business is a good opportunity for them," says Moran-Goodrich. "They don't have to know how to fix the car; what they have to know is how to help a consumer through the process, because at times people have difficulty in knowing what decision to make, and if they can even trust a repair shop."

As the person in my family who deals with the car, I for one have had enough of men at the auto shop talking down to me. I'd love to see Moran-Goodrich's dream realized, and see women elevate their presence in -- and ownership of -- this industry. Maybe then I'll stop hearing the words, "Have your husband call me."

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