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Phoenix Forward magazine

Student uses her smarts to run the family business

Christel Garcia

Working in the front office of Rudy’s Towing Service and Wrecking Yard, Christel Garcia gets a lot of grief from some male customers.

“They assume because I’m a woman, I won’t be able to answer their questions about car parts,” says Garcia, 31, a student in the MBA program at University of Phoenix. “Before they even start talking, they’ll say, ‘Can you find a guy who works here to talk to me?’”

What they don't realize is that Garcia has logged 10 years at the Roswell, New Mexico, towing company — the past three as president —­ and probably knows more about automotive parts than most men.

But being in charge of a business that tows, wrecks, salvages and recycles cars and parts was not what Garcia planned to do with her life.

After high school, she enrolled at Eastern New Mexico University to get her bachelor’s degree in education, and began working part time at Rudy’s. Her father, who emigrated from Mexico, founded the company 16 years ago with one tow truck.

“I always wanted to be a teacher,” Garcia explains, “but after I started working here, my mom was like, ‘You’re the one who can do the business. You can handle this for us.’”

By going to school, I’m a role model for my kids … They see how important it is for me to be educated.

With the encouragement of her family — her brother and father tow vehicles, and her mother helps in the office — Garcia began assuming more responsibilities, including negotiating contracts with insurance companies and law enforcement, as well as handling accounting, overseeing environmental inspections and making sure the company follows safety regulations.

After 10 years helping run the business that now boasts 11 employees, Garcia, who graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 2006, decided to return to school to get an MBA so she could figure out ways to make the company more efficient and increase profits.

“I wasn’t using my teaching degree, so I thought, ‘I have to get better educated, for my family,’” says Garcia, who is married with two young sons.

After just two MBA classes, Garcia already has applied her new knowledge to increase company performance. “I started seeing places where I could make improvements,” she says.

For instance, she researched how to increase the sales of parts at the company’s salvage yard by soliciting contracts with bulk buyers. She also has been using what she learned about human resource management to help reduce employee turnover by communicating more with company mechanics to improve relationships and foster loyalty.

“I’m like a sponge,” she laughs, “absorbing all this information to benefit my family. I love it.”

Garcia hopes to one day teach in an MBA program, and she’d like to test her management skills at a Fortune 500 company.

But for now, she’s enjoying what she’s able to do for her family, and not just her parents. “By going to school, I’m a role model for my kids,” she says. “They see Mom doing homework now. They see how important it is for me to be educated.”

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