After Peter Terian died of cancer in 2002, his wife Juliana took over The Rallye Group, the luxury car dealership he founded in 1958. An architect by training, she had no background in selling automobiles but soon established herself as a savvy executive who expanded the company and took care of employees by instituting training and educational programs. She also increased opportunities for women, making her an apt Spotlight subject for Women’s History Month. In 2008, she married movie producer Bruce Gilbert (On Golden Pond, Nine to Five) and is now Juliana Terian Gilbert. While raising her daughter Olivia, 11, Gilbert holds the title of chairman, after starting as CEO and president. The largest woman-owned car dealership in America, Rallye has franchises for Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Acura and the tiny Smart car, with locations in Roslyn, Glen Cove, Carle Place and, since 2007, an environmentally-friendly new building in Westbury. Revenues reached $710 million in 2009, up from $670.6 million in 2008. An avid art collector and philanthropist—and a former model—Gilbert, 54, lives in Manhattan and summers in East Hampton.
Do you think things have changed for women in business? They have had to change, because in our society both people have to work. I think things have changed for men. There’s more acceptance for their taking on more familial responsibilities. // When you stepped in at Rallye, what challenges did you face—as a woman and otherwise? I didn’t have an automotive background, so that was the biggest learning curve I had and still have. I have relied on the management that was in place when my husband died. I had a couple of instances in which there were doubts about me, one specifically because I am female. There was one gentleman who had difficulty working for a woman. // What happened to him? He resigned. // And the women? I think the women felt empowered when I became the head of the company. In fact, there have been more positions that have opened up and successfully filled by women since I’ve been there. In some cases, the job didn’t exist before. // An example? Human resources. Rallye was run more like a ma and pa company. When I came in, I didn’t know the automotive business or the Rallye business, but I knew business in general because I had my own small business before in architecture. I knew that businesses had to have processes and structure, and so I put a structure in place. Things are very systematized now. Had I not been a novice, we probably would not have put those things in. But last year, we had the best year since 2002 when I first came in. It’s taken a while, but it’s paying off. // That’s unusual, to have a best year in this economy. How do you account for it? It’s about customer care, training our people to provide the best customer care. // Have you seen changes in car buying patterns during this recession? People hold onto their cars longer. And man ufacturers are giving more incentives to buyers of pre-owned cars. The shifts have also been to smaller cars. People are being more economical. But they’re not going over to Buick. We thought they would go to another car company, but so far they have not done that. Instead, they’ve brought their cars in for service, to improve their cars. And that’s business that we get. // Is that part of why revenues have gone up? Yes. And we also own a body shop. You have nicks and scratches or dents, things you would normally just tolerate if you were going to sell or trade your car in. Now you’ll keep it, but make it nicer. We’ve been increasing our parts business, too. // Do you still work as an architect? I have my license but it’s on hiatus. When we do building projects, I manage from afar. I hire the architect and the construction people and direct what I want it to be. // Is the Westbury building the most recent? It’s not the last. We have some plans, but they’re under wraps now. // How did you meet your husband Bruce Gilbert? His dad introduced us. I knew his father because he was a car dealer in Los Angeles, and he was good friends with my late husband. Bruce is now the director of marketing and public relations for Rallye. // How is that working out, since he’s sort of working for you? It is working very well, thank goodness, because he’s not working for me. He’s working for the president. We’re lucky to have him and he’s overqualified. // You grew up knowing about cars, didn’t you? I developed a love of cars because my Dad loved cars. I changed the oil, and the sparks and plugs. // Does it help you now? It does, because I’m very quick to know what’s going on with the cars themselves. In the car business, they call it having gasoline in your veins. // And you have it? Yes. I was going to sell the dealership in the beginning, when I first took it over, and then I just didn’t want to. And then I tried again, and it was only if it would make sense for all of us, and it didn’t, so now we’re keeping it. // For your daughter? She told me she would want to work there when she’s 14. She told me that she didn’t want to sell it. Now she’s talking about designing women’s fashion, so we’ll see. // So, cars or fashion? What are your aspirations for her? I want her to be an honest person and a graceful person and a respectful person. In my generation, we evolved as women from one thing to the next, because family life stops us for a while and integrates us. Olivia will have those issues herself. She’ll probably do it all.