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Congress recognizes outstanding contributions women have made in the United States each year in March in honor of Women's History Month. The impact of women is seen across every sector in the United States, but perhaps more than in any other segment of American life, women have taken outstanding leadership positions in commerce.

In 2017, a record 32 women were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. General Motors’ Mary Barra leads the way as the highest paid automotive CEO. However, less is known about the even more impressive story women have written in starting and running their own businesses and their growing contribution to American entrepreneurship.

Inc. magazine reports women start new companies at 1.5 times the average rate in the U.S. each year. Women-owned business startups added net new jobs of 340,000 between 2007 and 2015, while men-owned businesses realized a loss of 1.2 million jobs during the same period, according to Women-able and American Express. In fact, the heart and soul of entrepreneurship in America rests with family owned businesses. Fully 64 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product is generated by family businesses, accounting for 62 percent of the country’s employment and 78 percent of all new job creation, per the Conway Center for family business. The same report states nearly 60 percent of all family owned businesses have women in top management team positions.

The automotive industry is one of the most important economic sectors in the world and critical here in Michigan, with an estimated 17.2 million new vehicles sold in 2017. While the industry is thriving, so are women.

An example of a leading American businessperson and entrepreneur can be found here in southeastern Michigan in Katie Bowman Coleman. After graduating from Denison University, Coleman started her career in the global fashion industry working for designer Ralph Lauren. In that time, Coleman’s father acquired a Chevrolet dealership in Clarkston, but it wasn’t until she had seen much of the global fashion industry in New York that her father asked her to return to the dealership and work with him.

Coleman took a risk and changed her career, spending 17 years learning each department and every position in the dealership before taking over as dealer operator in 2011. Today, Bowman Chevrolet has received many recognitions and regularly has been named to the top 20 Chevrolet dealerships in the nation, and recognized as one of the fastest growing dealerships in Michigan.

For three consecutive years, Bowman Chevrolet has been rated No.1 for consumer satisfaction in Michigan, No. 1 in Customer Satisfaction by Metro Detroit Chevy dealers, and 2017 Dealer Rater Chevrolet Dealer of the Year. Coleman was named Chevrolet’s Dealer of the Year in 2017, an honor given to the top dealer in the U.S. She was recognized recently in DBusiness Magazine as one of the top female business leaders in Michigan, in their annual feature “Powered by Women.”

Not only has Coleman succeeded in her professional career, but also believes very strongly in giving back. She is an active member and past president of the Greater Detroit Chevrolet Dealers’ Association, an active member of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, Clarkston Chamber of Commerce and Clarkston Downtown Retailers’ Association. The Bowman Auto Group is a proud sponsor of Easter Seals, SCAMP (a special camp for special kids), My Habitat Clarkston, and many other community organizations.

Today, Coleman is president and owner of Bowman Auto Group, which includes Bowman Chevrolet, Bowman Isuzu Commercial Truck, Bowman Auto Center, and oversees a team of more than 130 employees, selling roughly 5,000 vehicles per year. The auto group recently announced Bowman Chevrolet will be expanding its dealership in Clarkston in 2018. Coleman is proud of the fact that many of her top leaders are women who worked their way up the ranks to positions of leadership, just like she did.

Isabel Leach is an automotive marketing and management student at Northwood University. Dr. Keith A. Pretty is president and CEO of Northwood University. Dr. Timothy G. Nash is senior vice president and director of The McNair Center at Northwood University.

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