Unstoppable Women: Marion Luna Brem's Story
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The following story has been excerpted from Cynthia Kersey's new book, Unstoppable Women: Achieve any Breakthrough Goal in Just 30 Days. Don't forget to take advantage of the special offer for pre-ording Unstoppable Women.
(Rodale, $15.95), Copyright © 2005 by Cynthia Kersey
In 1984, Marion Luna Brem was 30 years old-and she was dying. Marion had cancer of the breast and cervix and had undergone two surgeries in 11 weeks-a mastectomy and hysterectomy. Now she was suffering the horrifying effects of chemotherapy. Adding to her pain, the disease had robbed her of her hair, her savings, and now her husband. He walked out saying he couldn't deal with the pressure any more. Marion was left with two small boys and no means to support them. Worse, her prognosis was a death sentence: Doctors told her she had 2 years to live, 5 if she was really lucky.
So, on a hot Texas morning in May, Marion laid with her cheek on the cold bathroom floor trying not to throw up-again. And despite her gut-wrenching pain and paralyzing fear, she knew she could not afford to lie there feeling sorry for herself. Instead, Marion had to focus on taking care of her kids. And that meant finding a job. But she had almost no experience and little formal education-not exactly a powerful résumé to launch a budding career. Plus, she was a woman-an Hispanic woman-which in many people's eyes meant she had two strikes against her. Marion thought only of survival. The words rich and successful didn't even enter her mind.
Deciding to Be Courageous
Where to begin? Susan, Marion's best friend, suggested she look for a job in sales, but Marion worried about her lack of experience. Susan reminded her that there was a lot of value in the job market for the skills she possessed as a housewife: time management, budgeting, not to mention the people skills she developed while being a room mother and a member of the PTA. So with all the resolve she could muster, Marion thought, "Why not?"
Of all the industries to pursue, Marion chose the male-dominated field of selling automobiles. One of Marion's past part-time jobs was a switchboard operator at a Dallas car dealership, so she knew there was good money in car sales. She had also seen firsthand how salesmen talked only to the male half of the couple, virtually ignoring the woman. Intuitively, she knew women were an important part of the decision-making process and believed this was an opportunity. Statistics now reveal that Marion was right. When couples purchase a car, the woman influences the decision 80 percent of the time. Marion recognized the need for car saleswomen, and she was determined to fill that need.
Armed only with her gut instinct and a funky blonde wig, Marion approached the first dealership. "Have you ever thought about hiring a woman?" she asked. "No!" was the curt reply. She heard the same response from 16 other sales managers around town. Yet Marion Brem didn't give up. She couldn't! "I think courage is something you decide upon," she says. "You wake up in the morning and have a meeting with the mirror and say, 'Today I'm going to be courageous."
But her approach clearly wasn't working. So on her 17th try, she modified her pitch and said, "Here's what I can do for you.." After telling the manager her angle on women car buyers, she was hired on the spot! Marion Luna Brem's career in car sales had begun.
From Rookie Saleswoman to Manager
At first, her all-male colleagues embraced the rookie saleswoman. "It really wasn't until I began competing with them, beating them, that I noticed a change of heart," Marion recalls. "But when they see that you're not going away, and not going to personalize their derogatory remarks, then a kind of respect is born."
Brem's first year out, she was named salesperson of the year. Of course, the plaque read "Salesman of the Year," and the award included a trip to the Super Bowl and a man's Rolex watch. Still, it was a great honor and a wonderful achievement. Meanwhile, her cancer went into remission and Marion was going strong.
For 2 more years, Marion was a top producer, but she wanted more. It was then that she approached her boss about a management position. Her proposal was flatly rejected. He said that he'd be "nuts" to take her out of sales with all the money she was making both of them. As difficult as it was for her to leave the security of the established clientele of repeat and referral business she had worked so hard to create, she moved on, believing she would find what she was looking for. That meant, once again, knocking on doors.
After several frustrating weeks of pounding the pavement, Marion was finally hired as an entry-level manager at a new dealership. She quickly climbed the management ladder. Two and a half years later, she was ready to start her own dealership. She envisioned an operation run by women for women. All she needed was a "measly" $800,000 and she was off to the races. To Marion, it might as well have been $800 million.
A Labor of Love
Once again, Marion rolled up her sleeves. "I put together a portfolio on myself. I literally went to the drugstore and got 50 of those school folders," she recalls. Inside, she put her certificates, press clippings, and a biography. Marion called it her "brag folder." On the advice of a trusted friend, she sent the package to 50 CPAs all over Texas-money managers who represented doctors looking for investment opportunities.
Two weeks later, Marion received a call from one of her contacts. It would change her life. The CPA had a client, a cardiologist, who had agreed to become her silent partner. The doctor helped arrange $800,000 in working capital as well as millions more in loans needed to lease, stock, and market her first dealership. Marion approached Chrysler Corporation-and quickly struck a deal.
Now all she needed was a name for her brand-new dealership. Marion wanted something distinctive-and it had to be feminine. She tried several "feel-good" names, but nothing stuck. Finally, it hit her: "Love." "It's the most positive word in the dictionary," she thought. "And it's the way I feel about this project, the way I'm going to treat my customers and employees."
So in 1989, just 5 years after selling her first car, "Love Chrysler" was born, complete with a heart logo on every car. Marion's motto: "It's not just the hearts on our cars, it's the hearts inside our people. We're spreading Love all over Texas!"
Marion's labor of love paid off handsomely. Today, she is cancer-free, is the owner of two car dealerships, and recently celebrated the 11th anniversary of Love Chrysler. Her company is 89th on the Hispanic Business 500 with revenues of more than $45 million.
At the age of 30, Marion Luna Brem had lost her breast, her womb, her marriage.and soon, the doctors said, she would lose her life. But Marion literally dragged herself off a cold tile floor, put on a cheap wig, and took on a world dominated by good ole boys. In the process, she raised two kids, beat a devastating illness, and turned steel into love.
You've gotta knock them down!"
-Marion Luna Brem
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