Monday, 16 June 2008 08:05

A Profile of Aftermarket Industry Advocate Eileen Sotille

Image It’s no surprise that Eileen Sottile has been promoted to Vice-President of Government Affairs for LKQ Corporation, (NASDAQ: LKQX). She was raised in Kingston, New York, a small colonial city 200 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. Known as “the breadbasket of the Revolution,” Kingston was the third Dutch colony in the New World and provided Washington’s troops with wheat and other food in 1777, eventually becoming the first capital of New York State. Sottile’s political roots stem from her Italian-Irish and Kingston heritage.
    The Sottile family are restauranteurs in Kingston and have always been very involved in politics. Sottile  and her five siblings grew up in the world of campaigns, fundraisers, meetings and political picnics in the midst of this family with a strong social conscience to serve the community.
    After graduating from the University of New York, Sottile served as an intern in N.Y. state for Senator Martin Conner. As a vigorous supporter for the advancement of human rights and working on issues of concern to women, this was a good fit for Sottile.

Early entry to politics

After her internship with Senator Conner, Sottile ran for office in the county legislature, was elected and served her community. At 21 years of age, she ran for the N.Y. State Assembly being narrowly defeated in a three-way race. She continued her work with the county until she moved back to the state capital as a staffer for Charlie Cook, a seasoned veteran of the New York State Legislature for over 25 years.
    When asked about her experiences in the state capital, Sottile remembered, “there is a big divide in N.Y. politics – upstate vs. downstate. It was a great experience to see how each party worked and the values they displayed.” About party lines, she explains “this is all about the person and their character – not a party title.
    “I learned at a very young age, people need to take time to understand what they care about and pick people who are like minded. Look at the individual, what they stand for, who is a good leader, who will listen. It is important to choose carefully.”

Personal choices

Sottile left politics for a time, going back to Kingston to be with her family, devastated by her brother’s diagnosis of Hotchkin’s disease. Sottile  stayed close to home and helped with the family business at this time.
    Not returning to New York politics, Sottile followed her husband’s career path to Florida. “We drove both sides of Florida to see where we wanted to live and chose Fort Lauderdale,” she reminisced. Florida brought a sea of change to her life.
    After a divorce, Sottile made the decision to stay in South Florida. “I was looking for a job. I thought my political career was over, yet it was so much a part of me,” she reflected.

Beginning again

With all her political contacts left in N.Y., she started over, looking for a public relations job. She found ‘one little ad’ in a Florida newspaper from a company called Inteuro Parts, looking for a speaker.
    “As a child I was terrified of public speaking, and made myself overcome my fear,” Sottile said, “so I felt prepared to tackle this interview.” After a six hour interview with the owner of Inteuro, she accepted the position. The owner was looking to go public. He needed someone to fill a public relations position and help with investor relations.
    And, critically, to talk to legislators. “The light bulb came on,” smiled Sottile. “I was back in the political arena in a different aspect.” After accepting the job, she told the owner, “for me to be credible, you have to teach me the business.” The rest, as they say, is history, and a talent was unleashed.
    The competition was fierce between Inteuro and Keystone. When Keystone acquired Inteuro, Sottile started to polish up her resume thinking she would be out of a job. In a meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, with Keystone principals, the opposite happened. A Government Affairs position was created for Keystone, and Eileen Sottile was at the helm.

Back in the political arena

Keystone continued to build the Government Affairs program. “We needed to sell this to the industry, so we could speak as one voice,” Sottile said. A coalition was created. Sottile attributes success to the coalition. “It can’t be done alone. The industry has to learn to speak with one voice to protect the marketplace.” Competitors were brought into the coalition. Sottile worked to bring in people “who will care as much as you care.”
    That philosophy follows her own creed. “I have to represent something I believe in,” Sottile emphasized. “It makes the rough road easier to travel. Together we overcome many attacks, sometimes  coming out with bumps and bruises.”
    The merger of Keystone with the LKQ Corporation was big industry news this last year. Sottile is taking this in stride. As Vice-President of Government Affairs for LKQ Corporation, she is excited about the future and is committed to learning another segment of the industry.
    “We need to learn the issues that impact this segment of the business,” Sottile stated, “it’s exciting and interesting and just as complicated as aftermarket parts.”

Quality Parts Coalition

In addition to her Government Affairs position, Eileen Sottile is the Executive Director of the Quality Parts Coalition. This coalition was established to protect consumer choice in replacement auto parts. The Quality Parts Coalition (QPC) represents a consortium of independent parts and insurance companies committed to preserving and protecting the benefits of a competitive marketplace when repairing damaged vehicles (www.qualitypartscoalition.com).
    “We have a good cross section of people who understand that consumers are entitled to have a choice,” Sottile continued. “The public should have access to aftermarket parts.”

Team participation

LKQ Government Affairs office in Fort Lauderdale is run with a small efficient staff. “January through July is crunch time for us,” Sottile stated. “We are working at a frantic pace. There is so much activity. In July, we start to go out of session and things slow down a little.”
    Seven in-house team members and lobbyists throughout the country support these legislative efforts. Team member Ray Colas, who also started as an intern, tracks all state legislation. “He makes it so I can keep track of everything.”
    Sottile  has been working at this pace for eleven years. “So much happens on a given day: being on the road, running through airports, conference calls, time spent in Washington D.C. “Sometimes I will meet a legislator in an airport for 5 minutes,” she said, “It is all good. We are working together, not against each other. We have a good momentum going, the timing for what we are doing is really good.”

Supporting women in the industry

Having been honored by Akzo Nobel as one of the Most Influential Women in the Collision Industry, Sottile would like to see more women gravitate to this industry. “It would be good if we could make more women aware of the opportunities in the aftermarket or automotive industry.” She believes “in the past, women have not been inclined to seek employment in this industry.”
    Sottile speaks with high regard of having great mentors throughout her career. “Both men and women mentors have opened doors for me. Being a woman can be a competitive advantage in any industry,” she stated. “if you articulate your positions well, work hard, stay detail oriented and develop good communication skills.”
    On a personal note, Sottile feels fortunate that she has had the benefit of doing what she loves to do. “None of it comes about if you don’t have a support system. I appreciate everyone who has helped along the way and supported our continued efforts to push forward,” remarked Sottile. “There is a close group of people who have contributed towards any success we may have had and who should share in that achievement. That brings about the success collectively.”

Helping hand

Keystone and LKQ, now just LKQ, have proven to be good corporate citizens. “This company shows a duty to the extended community to people who are in need,” Sottile pointed out.
    When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, Keystone employees did not miss a paycheck even though businesses were gone. More recently, an employee was shot to death by an ex-boyfriend, leaving 5 children behind. A Memorial Fund was set up to collect funds to help support and sustain those children.
    “This reveals the heart of the company,” Sottile concluded. “At that moment in time, I was very proud.”
    Sottile can be reached at her office at LKQ Corporation: 954-492-9092.

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    Janet Chaney has been in many facets of the collision industry. She is serving the best interest of her clients through Cave Creek Business Development. She can be reached at janet_chaney@earthlink.net.
    Karyn Hendricks contributed to this article.