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North Star Award

Karen McKemie: A Business Woman Who Is a Guiding Light to Others

CKW Luxe is proud to announce that Karen McKemie is our honoree for the North Star Award. This award goes to a philanthropic woman who has been a sincere leader, mentor, and teacher to others and made a significant impact by her wisdom and guidance.

“Both relationships and results are essential to your personal and professional success. One without the other is a life improperly balanced.”—Karen McKemie

Karen McKemie has had multiple senior operational roles with Sonic Automotive Group in Houston since October of 2008. As the division vice president, Karen oversaw all of Sonic’s franchise dealership operations in the United States, including oversight of five regional vice presidents and over 100 dealerships. As regional vice president, Karen has oversight over all of Sonic’s operations in Texas. Her many responsibilities include financial and operational oversight for 21 dealerships in Texas and involvement in all other aspects of operations, including acquisitions and divestitures, evaluation of new facilities, manufacturer relationships, and inventory acquisition. She is also responsible for management, recruitment and selection of general managers, annual budget preparation, marketing and pricing, and standard processes and procedures.

Prior to joining Sonic, Karen was president/general manager of Mercedes Benz of South Charlotte, North Carolina. During her first year with the new dealership, which she opened, and for which she was responsible for completing its 65,000-foot construction, Karen had the honor of making its service department the number one ranked among all U.S. Mercedes Benz service departments. In its second year, the dealership was awarded Mercedes Benz’s top award: Best of the Best. Positions Karen held in the auto industry prior to her time with Mercedes of South Charlotte included president of Denny Hecker Auto Group and various senior management positions with AutoNation. The experience and knowledge she gained with these exceptional companies was invaluable.

Karen was born and raised in Michigan. When she was growing up, her father was on the fringes of the automotive industry, but young Karen never imagined she would be an actual part of it someday. She went on to receive her bachelor’s degree with a double major in economics and psychology from Albion College in Albion, Michigan. Before taking her first position with the automobile industry, Karen was vice president and CIO of Tenneco Business Systems. In this position, she established the overall strategy for the development of information systems and related technology. Prior to this, Karen held various management and consulting positions with Tenneco Energy, Enron Corporation, and Andersen Consulting.

Karen found, when she was first breaking into the automotive industry, that the greatest challenge she faced was the fact she was not from the industry, but was coming to it from information technology. Because she worked hard and brought a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to her position, Karen was able to break through any barriers that existed. In 2015, Karen was named one of Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.

To encourage other women to enter the auto industry, Karen would like them to understand it’s not a good old boys club, and there is more opportunity for them than they might think. One of the most attractive things about the industry, Karen believes, is that when you’re part of it you can chart your own course and accelerate your success. She would like women to know it’s an incredible industry where the sky is the limit.

Married to Andrew (Andy) McKemie for 31 years, Karen credits much of her success to his unwavering support. The couple’s love of animals led them to adopt two cats: Misha and Tiger. On weekends, Karen and Andrew enjoy golfing and mountain biking. Being active is important to them both, but they also enjoy reading, going to the movies, and spending time with friends and family.

Believing it is important to give back to the community and afford others the opportunity to succeed in life, Karen has been, and continues to be, affiliated with various organizations that educate and assist others. They include: Galleria Chamber of Commerce, which serves the Galleria area and its member businesses with winning leadership and programs; Houston Children’s Charity, which is dedicated to improving the quality of life for Greater Houston’s underprivileged, abused, and disabled children who would have been otherwise left behind; and the SPCA.

Understanding the importance of supporting those who aspire to fulfilling their dreams, Karen is also a valued mentor. In the Sonic Automotive GM Mentor Program, Karen mentors potential associates selected for the GM Academy for one year. In this capacity, she meets with them on a regular basis to ensure they understand the materials and to review homework and assigned presentations with them. In essence, she helps guide them through the program. Karen has had the honor of one of her mentees being chosen as valedictorian, and this year, another is in the running. She feels very fortunate to work with such talented associates.

As a mentor in the TCU MBA Mentor Program, Karen helps graduate students with little or no real work experience entering internship programs as part of their MBA program understand the transition into the work world. In this capacity, she provides them with practical advice and counsel on how to deal with workplace issues. When she meets formally with the students, they reach out to her for advice. They know she and the other mentors provide a safe zone where questions can be asked freely. For Karen, the work is fun and rewarding.

As one who enjoys giving guidance to others, Karen is also happy to accept it. She says the best advice she was ever given was to “Just break some eggs.” Meaning, Karen explains, “There are times when any action is better than no action, so don’t be afraid to break some eggs and get outside of your analysis paralysis.”

CKW Luxe would like to congratulate Karen McKemie on being the North Star Award honoree. As the embodiment of the award, Karen sets a standard of excellence in her field that is admired by others and provides an inspirational compass point for them. Because she understands the importance of receiving assistance from those who are leading the way, Karen mentors others in the skills and experiences she herself has benefitted from.

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