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Kerrigan: Be yourself, work hard and you'll likely find success

Standing in front of an audience at the 2009 NADA national convention, Erin Kerrigan realized her moment had arrived.

With the nation in the midst of the economic and credit crisis, Kerrigan, a former dealer/operator and investment banker, had pitched—and pitched, and pitched—herself to NADA as a potential speaker, and after her determined effort had been added to the program.

“Honestly, I was terrified,” she says. “I knew my material, I had researched it, but speaking to a large audience was not something I’d ever done. But being up there, I realized that I was being presented with the opportunity to become a thought leader in a major industry. I knew that moment could open many doors in my career—and it has.”

Today Kerrigan is managing director of Kerrigan Advisors, which she founded in 2014. The firm is a leading sell-side advisor to auto dealers, brokering deals on more than 60 dealerships since 2015.

Kerrigan entered the retail automotive world in an unexpected way. Her father was a real-estate developer; while she was working with him, they had the opportunity to invest in a Kia dealership in New Mexico. When their partner proved unable to run the store, Kerrigan picked up and moved to Albuquerque to spend two years as dealer/operator.

“It was trial by fire,” she says. “And when running the store became more difficult, we sold the business. But I spent a lot of time networking in and learning about the industry.”

Kerrigan used her unique experience, encompassing both finance and dealer operations, to start writing for industry publications. Then the success of that first NADA speech, she says, “led to so many other things. The speaking and writing has become a big part of my success. It gave me a name in the industry that initially I didn’t expect.”

Kerrigan’s success includes a return engagement as a speaker at next month’s NADA Show.

She says she has never found it to be a disadvantage to be a woman in the auto industry; in fact, she says, “I think women in auto retailing, in particular, have a real opportunity to stand out.” She says she admires female dealer/operators, including two, Patti Swope and Enessa Carbone, who have been her clients. “They are inherently pioneers, because there are still so few of them,” Kerrigan says.

But she also says she finds women dealers “don’t make a big deal of it. All of us who are females in the industry—as a cohort, I just find us to be very hard workers. I’m a 4 a.m. riser, and give my work my all.”

As a woman in auto, she says, “I do feel some responsibility to make sure I’m doing a great job for my clients. As a woman, I have to make sure I’m holding myself to the highest standards. And hopefully other women will have the chance to achieve what I have.”

She has one piece of advice for younger women interested in a career in the industry: “My advice is go for it,” she says. “Don’t worry about the fact that you may be the only woman in the room. Be yourself, work hard and you’ll likely find success.”

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