03/19/2014 07:36 am ET Updated May 19, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Rissy Sutherland, COO Honest-1 Auto Care

Rissy brings a wealth of automotive industry experience to her role as Chief Operating Officer at Honest-1 Auto Care, a position she has held since April 2008. After learning the automotive industry from the inside out while working in her family's shop for 10 years and holding every role inside the automotive business, Rissy established herself as a leader in the category while serving first as Director of Training and then as Vice President of Operations and Training for Moran Industries, where she managed all operations and training for over 200 repair facilities.

Rissy received both her Bachelor of Science and Masters in Human Resources and Training degrees from Clemson University in South Carolina in the 1990's while working in her family's automotive facilities. In addition to this she was recognized as one of the top 40 people under 40 by the Phoenix Business Journal in 2009.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
What a great question! I grew up in a home and family that had to work very hard to make ends meet. My siblings and I all had tasks to complete as a team to prepare our meals, keep the yard maintained, get our homework complete--and much more--while our parents were working long hours. There was no pride, there were no extravagancies; there was an understanding that hard work produced results and we enjoyed working toward solutions together. Growing up and absorbing this lifestyle gave me respect for my parents' work ethic that I would unknowingly try to emulate. I wanted to be just like those people I respected so much!

My father eventually purchased and began running his very successful automotive business, with many more to follow. At this point, it became our job to work in our family's business and shops when you were not at school or completing your home chores. This not only taught us that working as a team was fun, but that sometimes work needed to come first. There was an enjoyment of producing results, learning business skills, implementing good customer service, experiencing a new level of teamwork and coming to discover that you are not too good for any job (including scrubbing toilets☺). Everyone was taught that whatever is needed that day to make it all work was what needed to be done! The words 'can't' or 'won't' were actually considered "bad words that resulted in grounding" if they were ever said! This was one of the best things I ever learned. It meant you could do anything or be anything and it didn't matter what age or gender you were!

I loved every minute of working with my family and working in the business, and it has continued to this very day. Many people think I'm crazy with the amount of I travel I take on and the hours I choose to "work," but what they don't understand is that when you love what you do this much and enjoy the people that you work with on your team, it's not working, it's fun! Remembering hard work, dedication, and a passion for what you do is what produces results, brings more joy, and is more fulfilling than I could have ever believed possible.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position COO of Honest-1?
Of course growing up in my family's shops made the biggest difference in my future direction and career. My family's automotive business and a love of knowledge gave me a passion for education and entrepreneurship of all kinds. The skills that I gained by working on cars, at the front counter, and watching how to run a successful business-- all in a male dominated industry-- provided me with more skills than all my degrees combined! I look back and am so grateful that I was never given special consideration or jobs in the shop just because I was a girl. I grew up as "one of the boys" and didn't know until the outside world started to tell me that I "should" look, be, or act differently just because I was a female. By this point in life, I had the confidence not to worry about what I should or shouldn't be to others because I could define who I wanted to be. I control my own thoughts, actions, and feelings, and no one else has this ability.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think everyone has a different definition of what the right work/life balance is for them, and I think we all must respect each other's differences in those needs. For me, I enjoy traveling 75% of the time and working with my team and shop owners across the country. They are my second family. This is truly not work to me! In order to balance seeing my family and personal friends, I'm able to bring them on many of my trips, or I extend my time on a business trip when there's friends and family living in that area that I can visit with! This allows me freedom that many others don't have to spend time with my friends and family across the country!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Honest-1?
Some of our greatest moments have been watching franchisees come into the business and playing such an integral role in changing their lives. You can't replicate that feeling!

Another highlight is having same store sales growth every year that has resulted in our concept spreading across the nation. We are bringing a whole new concept of auto care that centers on family, females, honesty, and service -all in an ecofriendly environment. We are changing people's views of the industry as a whole while protecting the environment to the best of our abilities for future generations.

Being voted as one of the top 40 people under 40 was also a great highlight and honour.

With all that being said, one of the biggest challenges is that with tremendous growth and success comes tremendous pressure to make sure that our franchisees receive the best support and training to continue their growth and success in the future. Luckily, we have added some of the most amazing team members to our corporate staff, and we continue to develop the staff with the right team members to support that growth. The other amazing solution is how many of our current franchisees have stepped up to the plate for others as trainers and mentors. Our franchisees are amazing in their willingness to go above and beyond to help one of their fellow brothers/sisters in the business to be more successful. Some of them have even traveled on their own dime just to help another franchisee and that is what family is all about!

What advice can you offer young individuals hoping to establish a business similar to Honest-1?
One piece of advice for any individual buying any franchise business (no matter the concept) is to follow the proven system that is given to you and don't reinvent the wheel. You invested in the business because you believed in the concept and tools available to bring your family success and happiness. Why reinvent or change what has already been done and tested for you. Don't waste your energy and money! That doesn't mean that you want to stifle your creativity on new ideas because all businesses need evolution over time and some of the greatest ideas come from new people in the business. However, use the team around you (corporate, fellow franchisees, and your own employees) to really look at the pros and cons and how to make your idea really work well before just making changes that result in a loss of money or customers.

The most important piece of advice is to do something you love and have a passion for. If you love what you do, then it won't be work and you are much more likely to be successful.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the biggest issue many women have is their concern for what others think about what they do and how they act in the work place and home life, and we create these issues for ourselves. We try to live up to other's standards of what a woman should be instead of just looking to ourselves to decide what is right for us. You can't live for other's ideals because you'll never be able to make everybody happy! Don't buy into the people who give you too many compliments and don't buy into harsh comments from the haters. Be true to yourself and at the end of the day that's all that matters.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
There is so much to gain and learn from Ms. Sandberg. No one can argue that her tremendous success is amazing and we all could learn so much from her. However, it doesn't mean that every part pertains to every woman or situation. You must define your own terms of what success is to you. I love her teachings on women creating many of our own issues by letting others define for us what is the 'right' and 'wrong' way to react or work. I also strongly agree with the critical aspect of picking the right spouse for what your goals are and laying them out up front. I could never hold together a family and work/life balance for the last 15 years on the road if I did not have a partner that was 100% supportive of that position and role.

At the end of the day, I know every person (male or female) can learn something from each point she made. Whether it is right for me personally or the woman down the hall, it is still a great lesson learned.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I know that I have had three key mentors in my life who have each served a different role during different time periods of my career and life. I would not be the business person or woman that I am without those mentors. I think it is key to anyone to surround yourself with people you respect and want to emulate because when you surround yourself with success you are more likely to be successful and positive yourself. When you surround yourself with negativity or 'can't do' attitudes, then that is the mentality that you will take on. The choice is yours.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Dina Dwyer-Owens of the Dwyer group is a business woman that I have tremendous respect for. She grew up in a family business and earned her respect and position in that company, which is one of the hardest things to do. Her ability to grow such a successful business with an equal focus on developing the team and company evolution, all while upholding and implementing stellar core values and themes, is surely something every person, company, and business can learn from and try to emulate! Also, her passion for her company, team, family, and business is truly inspiring!

On a different level, my mother is the leader I admire the most, and I have my entire life. My mother grew up with more obstacles and challenges than my mind can even comprehend. However, through it all, she has shown all those around her the value of family, hard work, love, compassion, and what a positive and 'can do' attitude in the face of any obstacle will bring the end result you desire. She also has shown that harboring any negativity or self-doubt will only serve to create more problems and not solutions, so those pessimistic thoughts are a waste the time and energy.

What are your hopes for the future of Honest-1?
My biggest hope is to continue the expansion of our brand across the country, to add value to our franchisees and their team's lives, and to keep our franchise family as the core family it is at this size and no matter how large we grow. As we work and grow together, we all have good days and bad days. Some days we are on the same page and other days, not so much, but at the end of the day, we are still family and here for each other through the good and the bad times! We once were only a few, and now we are in a growth phase, but when we are hundreds or thousands across the nation, I would consider what we have done a success if that family core is always there!