Class of 2015
By Vicki Ikeogu
Originally published: January 3, 2016
At the age of 10, Christy Gilleland and her family relocated to Central Minnesota from Grand Forks, North Dakota. Her father, Duane, had the opportunity to own a Chevrolet dealership thanks to some help from his former boss, Leonard Rydell.
"We would come here every Sunday," Gilleland said. "We would typically go to church, go out to breakfast and then come here as a family. My dad would work on paperwork and get caught up on things and then my brother, myself and my mom would kind of hang out."
From that moment on, she was in love with the dealership business.
"I would always sell cars to my mom while we waited on my dad to do his paperwork. My mom's like 'I think you sold me my first car when you were about 10,' " she said.
Fast-forward a few years and that little girl is now running the dealership her father had started, Gilleland Chevrolet Cadillac. With help from her brother, Grant, Gilleland has devoted her attention to building lifelong relationships with her customers, managing 107 employees, transitioning the company into her and her brother's name, and having an effect in the community she has called home for the last 28 years.
In addition to her business responsibilities, Gilleland has taken a leadership role in Rotary Club of St. Cloud's Summertime by George!, a concert series that brings thousands of people together each week.
Because of her leadership with Gilleland Chevrolet Cadillac and various community commitments, Gilleland has been selected for the 5 Under 40 Class of 2015. The Times recently caught up with Gilleland to talk about her successes.
Question: At what age did you finally say that this is what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
Answer: Probably at some point in my college career. I was working here full time while I was in college. I kind of got to the point when all of my friends were always out partying, and I like to party too, but I was getting frustrated because I would party and they would all get to sleep in and I would have to be here at 8 a.m. So, I think I really took a good look in the mirror and I said 'OK, if I want to stick this career, I need to buck up and do it or now’s my chance to bail and find another career path.' And I think one day I just decided that nope, this is what I’m going to do. So I’ll live on three hours of sleep a night and it’s just gonna work. And it did.
Q: How do you plan on growing your business in the next five years?
A: I’ll be honest, I don’t plan on growing it a whole lot. Obviously, you want to sell more cars and service more customers, and do those things, and we’re constantly growing that way. But when it comes to our overall goals, it’s just to keep taking care of our customers we have, getting some new ones along the way, and just building that customer for life and loyalty cycle. That’s really important to us. I could tell you that I would rather get 200 new customers a month, but then I feel like we’re not taking care of the ones that we already have. So our goals aren’t huge. We don’t want to triple in size over the next five years. I just don’t think we have the capacity or the staff to take care of our people if we were going to do that.
Q: Tell me about that moment in your life when you decided it was important for you to give back to the community.
A: It really always has been. I know it sounds kind of cheesy because probably a lot of people say this, but we have this philosophy card and it shows our values and our vision statement that everyone gets when we start. We start every meeting with an affirmation of our vision, which is to be so effective that we are able to be helpful to others. And that’s been our mission statement literally my whole life. One of our values is the value of being a good community citizen. I don’t think there was ever a moment that I decided being part of the community was important because I’ve been taught my whole life that being a part of the community was important.
Q: And you already stated your motto. Now, how do you take those words — to be so effective that we are able to be helpful to others — and put those into action in your life?
Christy Gilleland, general manager of Gilleland Chevrolet in St. Cloud, talks next to a 2016 Chevy Malibu Limited on Thursday, Dec. 10 about her career in the automotive industry. (Photo: Kimm Anderson, firstname.lastname@example.org)
A: Every single day. We literally use it all the time. So I use it not only here, like I said, helping our employees either move up the ladder internally or externally, but also in their personal lives. You know, what’s it going to take, what’s your dream? What’s your goal for next year? I use it with the employees in business, but it’s also kind of my motto with all of the things I do in the community.
Q: What advice would you give to others, especially to young professionals who are just starting out on their career journey?
A: In all reality, I would go with the old, trusty adage "don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do something." Especially being a female in my business, I’ve heard it. I would hear often comments that women don’t know anything about the car business, women can’t be in the car business. Sad, but true. It’s what people thought. And that just fueled me more. Just to stick with it and prove them wrong.
Occupation: General manager of Gilleland Chevrolet Cadillac.
Family: Brother, Grant; significant other, Nick Fath; Fath's daughter Sierra, 10, and Fath's son Dylan, 8.
Education: Bachelor's degree in business management from St. Cloud State University.
Community involvement: Member of the Rotary Club of St. Cloud and its Summertime by George! executive committee; CentraCare Health Foundation board member; St. Cloud Fireworks board member; Athena board member. Gilleland is also actively involved with St. Cloud Youth Hockey, Sartell Baseball Association and the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce.