Gala Urban Wheel Awards Shine Spotlight on Women

In an atmosphere distinctly more upbeat than it has been in recent years, the 17th Annual Urban Wheels Award, the official multicultural event of the North American International Auto Show, was clear and successful in its objective: to celebrate and honor the people who have valiantly succeeded in breaking through barriers of color and gender.

An Urban Wheels Awards attendee checks out the Urban Car of the Year -” the 2013 Cadillac ATS.

But this year it was distinctly about the women, something celebrity co-host Edward James Olmos made clear in a comment about Henry Ford’s early days as a manufacturer.

“Who do you think told Henry Ford to go outside and build a car in the first place? Henry called Clara his great believer,” said Olmos in his opening remarks at the Jan. 13, 2013 event, held the day before the Press Preview at the North American International Auto Show began.

Olmos, perhaps best known for his roles as Lt. Martin Castillo in Miami Vice and a schoolteacher in the movie Stand and Deliver, shared the stage with Niecy Nash (from Reno 911!).

Quipping that he gave up the Golden Globes to be at the Motor City Casino event, held in the Sound Board Theater, Olmos said he had no regrets. “They may think they share diversity, but not like you.”

Organizers of this year’s event, which is produced by Decisive Magazine, underscored the contributions made by women in its theme and awards categories.

Malesa Owens McGhee of Eye 2 Eye, a public relations and productions company, sits in the Urban Car of the Year, the 2013 Cadillac ATS.

Malesa Owens McGhee of Eye 2 Eye Productions, an agency that worked on the awards program, said even remaining in business after the industry downturn is something of an achievement. “A lot of dealers had to shut down because of the industry. They are crucial. So we want give tribute to those who have survived it, who believe in it, who work hard,” she said.

Armando Ojeda, executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who presented the Hispanic Supplier of the Year award, said growing a business takes a sustained amount of energy and commitment-”something women entrepreneurs have.

“There is a strong emphasis on Hispanic owned female business -“ they are the fastest growing segment of business formation among all segments,” said Ojeda.

Also presenting awards were Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Automotive News Publisher and Editorial Director Peter Brown, U.S. Congressman Hansen Clarke of Michigan, and broadcasters Carolyn Clifford of Channel 7 and Roof Raj of Fox 2 Detroit.

Gospel legend Vickie Winans sang at the event.

Lifetime Achievement: Kathy Jackson
One of the honorees was Kathy Jackson, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Jackson is a consummate trailblazer, having been either the first woman or first black or both in her positions with the Automotive News. Over 20 years, she earned a stellar reputation in the journalistic community and is described as “one of the best reporters to have ever covered the auto industry.”

Designer of the Year: Crystal Windham
It clearly isn’t enough for Crystal Windham to have been named the first black designer at General Motors. As the automaker’s head of design for North American interiors, Windham brings a new level of energy and excitement to the vehicles on the road, notably from the perspective of the inside.

Executive of the Year: Alicia Boler-Davis
As vice president of global quality and U.S. customer experience for General Motors, Alicia Boler-Davis began her career with GM in the manufacturing environment, as a manufacturing engineer at the company’s Midsize/Luxury Car division in Warren, Mich.

Since then she has worked as a plant manager (at one time serving simultaneously at Orion Assembly and Pontiac Stamping).

Her resume includes being plant manager at Lansing Consolidated Operations and Arlington Assembly, where she was the first African-American woman to be appointed to plant manager at a GM vehicle manufacturing plant.

Pioneer of the Year: Jenell Ross

Jenell Ross won honors as Pioneer of the Year. She is president of Bob Ross Auto Group in Centerville, Ohio.

Jenell Ross, who is president of the Bob Ross Auto Group in Centerville, Ohio, became the first second-generation black automobile dealer principal when her father died in 1997. In 2013, she will head the American International Automobile Dealers Association (representing Mercedes-Benz, one of the brands sold by the dealership group).

Ross said she was humbled and honored by the award.

“I attribute a lot of that to my parents, who started the business 39 years ago and who are no longer with us. I am trying to move that legacy forward. Am I a pioneer? I feel that I am still just trying to fill the big boots they left behind. Whatever I can do help bring about more interest from automotive retailer standpoint, especially among minority women, that is definitely something I will work toward doing.”

African-American Dealer of the Year: Gail Martin
Gail Martin, a graduate of Wilberforce University in Ohio went on to graduate from the NADA Dealer Academy. Today she continues the legacy of Cornelius Martin that began in 1985, along with her three children, Amber, Chadwick and Coleman, as owners of 12 automotive dealerships and two Harley-Davidson dealerships, Martin Management and Co-Mar Aviation.

Martin was chairwoman of the Kentucky Foundation for Women Board and was the 2007 recipient of the Sallie Bingham Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to women and the arts in Kentucky.

She has also served on several community and nonprofit boards, among them Western Kentucky University, Kentucky Museum and Library Council, Capitol Arts, and Western Kentucky University Women’s Studies Fundraising Council. She endowed the Gail Martin Faculty Development and Lecture Series.

Asian Dealer of the Year: Lori Lum Toyooka
Lori Lum Toyooka is president and general manager of Lum’s Auto Center, in Astoria, Ore., a multi-franchise dealership that includes Toyota, Scion, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.

Lori Lum Toyooka, Asian Dealer of The Year award winner, is president and general manager of Lum’s Auto Center, near Astoria, Ore.

Taking direction from her father, David Lum, she has continued the businesses dedication to community support by actively participating in, supporting or creating numerous community events that would either raise awareness or funds for groups or organizations in need. Her business plan is focused on family, community, customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction.

Toyota has awarded Lum’s Auto Center with its President’s Award and she is currently on the board of the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association as well as on the Astoria Chinese Park Committee.

Hispanic Dealer of the Year: Evelyn Chatel
The career of Evelyn Chatel, general manager and co-owner of Freedom Toyota and Chrysler/Jeep in Harrisburg, Pa., is one that has been marked by significant accomplishments, due to her professional ambition, passion for the automotive business, and genuine caring for her customers and community.

Now three decades in the auto business, Chatel is still going strong. Her diverse professional experience and a “from-the-heart” giving nature are in perfect sync, and from her arrival at the dealership in 2006, she has been an inspiration to those around her.

One way Chatel has reached out to the community is through a Facebook campaign-””Freedom Toyota Cares”-”that worked in concert with a highway safety education initiative between the automaker and the state Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.

Company of the Year-”Progress in Human Resources: -¨Chrysler Group LLC
Georgette Borrego Dulworth, Chrysler’s director of talent acquisition and global diversity, accepted the award on behalf of her colleagues.

Georgette Borrego Dulworth accepted the award for Progress in Human Resources that went to Chrysler Group LLC. Dulworth is director – Talent Acquisition and Global Diversity for Chrysler. She is showing off the 2013 Ram 1500, the Urban Truck of the Year.

Dulworth, who came to her job in October 2011, is responsible for overall recruitment of top talent and the management of corporate hiring practices for salaried and hourly personnel. She leads Chrysler Group’s Diversity Office and is a member of Chrysler Group’s Global Diversity Council.

Acknowledging the award, Dulworth said it remains a challenge to generate interest in so-called STEM technologies-”science, technologies, engineering and mathematics. “To be recognized for our efforts to move that needle is especially rewarding.”

Company of the Year -” Progress in Women Supplier Development: -¨Toyota Motor Sales
Adrienne C. Trimble, manager of supplier diversity at Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, accepted the award on behalf of Toyota.

Since 2005, Trimble has continued to build the automaker’s efforts to build its diversity program, emphasizing the sourcing and development of minority business enterprises.

Company of the Year -”Progress in Community Service Initiatives to Women:-¨ General Motors
Vivian Packard, who heads the General Motors Foundation, accepted the award on behalf of the automaker.

Company of the Year -” Progress in Women’s Dealership Diversity:-¨Toyota Motor Sales
Alva Mason, manager of diversity, inclusion and community relations for Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., accepted the award on behalf of the automaker.

In her role at the company, she identifies, develops and implements initiatives that support Toyota’s 21st century diversity strategy and has helped more than triple the number of minority dealerships since 2001.

Suppliers of the Year

Rush Trucking
Andra Rush, a Native American, launched Rush Trucking Corp. in Wayne, Mich., nearly 30 years ago.

After having earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing, Rush began her business career by combining a full time nursing position, working evenings and weekends, with a day and night school program that included pursuing an MBA. As part of her MBA program she accepted a summer internship at Timely Air Freight. With mentoring from the owner and growth from experience, Rush became interested in the trucking industry and convinced of its growth potential, she founded Rush Trucking.

Whisper Creative Products
Delores M. Rodriguez has been in the packaging industry since 1994 and is president and founder of Dundee, Mich.-based Whisper Creative Products, now a leading supplier to a number of automakers.

Urban Wheel Awards Vehicles of the year:

Urban car of the year: 2013 Cadillac ATS

Urban truck of the year: 2013 Ram 1500

Urban green vehicle of the year: 2013 Tesla Model S

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Richard Blanchard
Rick is the Managing Editor of Corp! magazine. He has worked in reporting and editing roles at the Port Huron Times Herald, Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, where he was most recently assistant business editor. A native of Michigan, Richard also worked in Washington state as a reporter, photographer and editor at the Anacortes American. He received a bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan and a master’s in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.