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Women In The Driver's Seat

Rally Driver and Suzuki Dealership owner, Emma Gilmour is on a mission. Recently appointed Ambassador for MITO, New Zealand’s Motor Industry Training Organisation, Emma is keen to drive more women towards a career in the thriving motor industry.

Emma has had a love of all things motor since childhood. With a mechanic father and grandfather, Emma’s natural affinity with automotives was inevitable. In 2015, Emma won the prestigious FIA Women in Motorsport and QMMF Cross Country Selection, and in 2016, she became the first woman to win a round of the New Zealand Rally Championship. Last year, Emma reached a massive milestone when she was signed as the first female driver for McLaren in the Extreme E.


As an accomplished businesswoman in the industry and a successful rally driver, representing MITO is a great opportunity for more women to consider their entry into a traditionally male dominated workforce. Emma states, “I’m really excited to be able to showcase and hopefully educate, help and inspire others to take up the trade!”

We spoke with five other women leading the charge in Suzuki dealerships, starting with Emma Gilmour’s 2IC, Karyn Costello of Gilmour Motors Suzuki.

With 18 years in the industry under her belt, Karyn started in customer service before moving into finance. Karyn’s current role is to run the dealership when Emma is away. Cars and technology have always been an interest for Karyn. She enjoys learning different things about them and keeping up with what’s new. At Gilmour Motors Suzuki, every day is completely different. Karyn feels lucky to work with a great team, “Everyone supports one another, and we’re all working towards the same goal or outcome.”

“It’s also great to have such a supportive brand - Suzuki are awesome. There’s always someone at the end of the phone to answer all your questions, which I really appreciate.”

IMG_6930.JPGWhen Monica Smith joined Hollands Suzuki Cars in Timaru 18 years ago, she was the first female car sales consultant in South Canterbury. Monica says the most enjoyable factor of her role as Sales Manager is the thrill of the chase, meeting the customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations. Her advice to women considering working in the automotive industry, “If you think you can, you can, and if you think you can’t, you’re dead right.”

After the first COVID lockdown, Whyteline Limited Marketing Specialist, Sjaan Welsh, left Auckland for Paeroa and joined the motor industry. Sjaan loves the variety of her role, from promoting tractors to ATVs, the vehicles and their diverse audiences. Sjaan says the business has three workshops that cover servicing and repairs, and a team of twenty plus so there’s always someone different to talk to in the break room. “It was a big change coming from a close-knit team of women to being one of four at Whyteline, as break room conversations definitely don’t revolve around the latest episode of ‘You’ anymore!”

Lisa Hunt.JPG

Lisa Hunt is the Business Manager for Hollands Suzuki Cars in Christchurch. She has progressed from a role in sales and finance administration in Timaru, then moved into a vehicle sales role in Christchurch. Now as Business Manager, Lisa enjoys helping people on their journey to financing a vehicle by making the process as simple and stress free as possible. “Everyone’s circumstances are unique. I enjoy helping my customers provide the information that we need to give them their best result possible.” Lisa’s advice for other women considering a career in the industry “Go for it! It’s no longer a male only environment. It’s all about relationship building and caring about your customer. They are just like you and I. And you meet lots of interesting people.”


Sue Johnstone and her husband Grant moved to Rotorua in 1995 to set up a motor vehicle franchise, Grant Johnstone Motors. This was Sue’s first involvement in the industry having worked previously as a nurse. Sadly, after 18 months of Sue and Grant running the dealership together as a team, Grant passed away from a heart attack. 26 years later, Sue continues to run the dealership in his memory.

As Dealer Principal, Sue says each day brings its own excitement and challenges. Her key to success is being able to “relate to others in all walks of life and ask the right questions to match the right cars to the customer’s needs.”

Sue recognises the importance of women joining the force; “we need far more women involved in the motor industry and those of us who have given it a go, just love it!”

Interested in a career in the automotive industry? Check out the MITO website.