Every year, Automotive News presents its “40 Under 40” award, distinguishing 40 outstanding individuals in the industry who are all under 40 years old. ADCO Member Ellena Woodhams is the acting compliance officer and outreach director at Stevens Management, oversees four California dealerships and was recently given this distinction. While Woodhams was unaware, her co-workers recognized her strong response to COVID-19 and her dedication to community outreach and nominated her for the award.
“Being selected was a very big surprise. To get national recognition for something I just do every day was a big honor and I am proud to receive it,” she said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the duties and responsibilities of compliance officers faced even more precarious issues. Woodhams implemented comprehensive procedures that involved every employee at every level. A strategy that consisted of constant and dependable communication enabled her to formulate an inclusive response to the shutdown. By recognizing and reacting to trends in other parts of the country at the beginning of the shutdowns, she streamlined compliance with new and changing regulations.
“Once we knew that the Bay Area was going, I knew that we were going to start to see that follow throughout the state. So, we focused on getting employees and managers prepared so we weren’t blindsided.”
Not only did her efforts maintain a safe and hazard-free dealership during a nationwide health emergency, but she also acted as a strong industry advocate. With each dealership in different California counties, the constant flow of new information that came “almost every 12 hours” had to be addressed and passed on to her co-workers. As California initially designated the sales departments of dealerships unessential businesses, Woodhams provided leadership for the industry in allowing employees to return.
“We were able to work with our lobbying forces here and among other dealers to express that auto sales are essential and here’s how we can do it while remaining compliant by following state and federal guidelines as well as city ordinances.”
As a key part of her compliance plan, Woodhams has installed safety committees in each of the dealerships she oversees. Each of these committees were already well-versed in remote communication which would turn into a useful asset moving forward with their COVID response.
“After COVID hit we created a COVID committee that was separate from the safety committee to avoid having them be overloaded on top of the existing OSHA and EPA regulations we already deal with.”
“Each store has a team leader who would report back to me with any issues or policies that need to be put in place,” she added.
After collaborating with the COVID committees, department-specific policies were implemented. This avoided overbearing rules and kept each department as safe as possible given their day-to-day activity. Once the policy was reviewed by a lawyer and signed by the employees, the consequent “COVID policy handbook” provided training as well as a basis for the required policies that all employees had to follow to keep their department compliant.
“By posting these policies in each department we can point to it and remind them that failure to comply could be an HR write-up,” she said. “We want to remain lenient, but if it starts affecting our business then we will have an issue with it.”
Woodhams’ all-encompassing strategy to involve everyone in the education and implementation of COVID safety precautions kept employees and customers away from any situations that would put them at risk. Her simple, but effective policy that “communication is key” educated employees on technology use and compliance, operational procedures, and proper PPE use.
Another aspect of Woodhams’ recognition from Automotive News stems from her community-based approach to philanthropy.
“I began in the marketing department, which is where the philanthropy started. As a family-run business we wanted that warm community feel so we did more community-involved philanthropic marketing, as opposed to the old-school auto sales ads.”
Community events like Back to School Drives for local elementary schools and New Client Appreciation Events where customers from the last six months come and learn about the technology in their car have gained them a good standing in their communities. Although COVID-19 has put a stop to some of these token community events, the stores continue to look for ways to remain involved.
“We are figuring out ways to stay compliant with federal laws, but still give back to the community.”
However, Woodhams was still able to find ways for her dealerships to give back during the lockdown. “When we were shut down for sales, we lent our showroom to Central California Blood Center because they needed a bigger space to collect blood while social distancing.” Not only did they provide a venue, but Fresno Acura also donated $10 per donation to supply a meal from a local restaurant to a front-line worker at Community Medical Center.
Ellena Woodhams did an excellent job at maintaining compliance and safety in the workplace and has used ADCO as a resource both in information and connections. Her interactive techniques of including management in discussions and establishing safety and COVID committees is a great example of keeping compliance acknowledging compliance on all levels.
“To be able to know other people that also handle large stores and groups who deal with the same things that I do is a great resource. It’s a really good feeling to have a team of other compliance people who have your back,” she added.