Meet Jacci Grillo-Noto
Director of Sales Northeast Kelley Blue Book ICO at Cox Automotive Inc.
"I thought I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, but I didn't want to live on a boat for three years studying algae."
Jacci is a self-described "girly-girl" and the idea of not having running water or electricity on board would result in a diverse career path change. One involving Disney, WEEI-FM Sports Radio, and an incredible tale involving a committed recruiter called Felix, who played a large role in introducing Jacci to in-depth learning in the world of automotive.
I grew up in upstate New York, an only child with two parents who were married my whole life.
My dad was an engineer, but he was also an executive on the board of the IBEW, the union for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. As an engineer, he would wear a jumper all day and then change into a suit to attend board meetings by night. I thought it was just fascinating. My mother was an artist, and she was hired to draw the first personal computers. Unfortunately, those personal computers she drew replaced her, and that was where her technical artist career ended.
"I was technical, business and art-oriented," she shares, "well rounded, but an unusual combination at the same time." Jacci decided to pursue business studies, took many Administration, Economics, Human Resources, and Law courses, and attended college in Florida, Rhode Island, and New York.
I was living in Providence and still in my early twenties when I became very sick. I had been diagnosed with cancer. And I was so young and naive; I was focused on the test I had to study for, the friends I wanted to meet for dinner. My mother had come up from New York to take care of me. We went through that for three years. I had an incredible doctor who was methodical and took good care of me. Eventually, my health insurance was running out. So I left school and got a job as a bank teller. I worked my way up and became an assistant branch manager before I realized I could make such a bigger impact as a mortgage broker.
After some time went by and the business began to change, I remember thinking how strange it was to be able to offer mortgages without detailed documentation. Before all of that began to collapse, I left the mortgage business voluntarily. Something didn't feel right.
"I went to work for Disney."
I had worked for Disney in college in Florida. I worked for Radio Disney who was first owned by ABC television, then by the Disney Channel. I got to do a lot of work with some of the up-and-coming Disney Channel tween stars. These kids had their own TV shows, and I was planning events surrounding their arrivals for concerts and appearances in Providence, Boston, Albany, and Hartford markets. My daughter Jessica was around 12 at that time. It was the perfect age for her to hang out backstage with all these tween stars. I loved working for Disney and taking my daughter to all the events with me. I was very fulfilled.
I started noticing a shift toward digital, which seemed important to me. However, no one was focused on monetizing digital at Radio Disney locally yet. I felt that Disney wasn't doing enough quick enough then. Digital was just starting to become a new marketing channel when I was approached by WEEI Sports Radio.
"We want you to teach seasoned radio people how to sell non-traditional media."
They already had established online traffic, but selling digital marketing space was brand new to WEEI. It was my first Director of Sales role. I thought okay, I have this title. I have this suit on; it was yellow and black, resembling something Hillary Clinton would wear. I pulled out all the stops, it was intimidating, and I wanted to show up. I put everything sports-related that I owned on display in my office. I had baseball cards. I had a homerun baseball that somebody in high school gave me. I had pictures with some ex-Yankees that I put up. I didn't realize how important it was that these were rival teams! This had been a really big transition and completely new, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Although I had played and watched sports with my father my whole life, I never really understood a fan's obsession with rivalries because NY had so many teams. Finally, I began to experience how love for a sports team or sports brand could translate to marketing. It was also my first time working in a male-dominated industry. I brought a lot of marketing knowledge to the table and was willing to learn and adapt to the unknown. I learned so much there.
"We went from $0 to $12 million in billing”
I unfortunately got sick again. My personal life was deeply impacted. I ended up fighting cancer and going through a divorce at the same time. It was probably the most heart breaking time in my life.
I went back to work, and I wasn't really happy. I wasn't fulfilled anymore. I needed a change. I had a bunch of companies recruiting me. Autotrader had been knocking at my door for a while. I remember telling the recruiter, Felix. I don't want to work for you. I don't want to work for your paper magazine because I’ve been in the digital space so long. I was polite, but I was just not considering it at all.
He was persistent and eventually he led from a perspective that he knew would spark my interest; "I want you to look up this Cox Automotive website, look at what they do for the community, look at the culture."
They had gone completely digital, and everything that really mattered to me was there and I almost missed it. As a digital creator and a repeat volunteer for dozens of organizations, I saw what I needed to see to convince me to pursue a career future with Cox Auto.
I didn't click immediately. I was good at certain aspects and then not so great at other aspects of the job. So they sent me to NADA Academy, and I had the opportunity to work in an office at an eight-rooftop dealer once a week. I would engage and meet with everyone in the dealership and began to understand the business from the inside. I started to fully embrace and understand the industry and the people. It was an amazing segment and experience.
"At the time, my book of business had 65 dealers. Now I oversee 50,000 dealers in my book."
I ended up being number one in my divisions for many years. I won top awards for several consecutive years and have been promoted seven times. After my entry level position, I became a Product Specialist, a Regional Sales Manager helping launch Kelley Blue Book on the listings side when Cox bought the site, and then went into Trade-In Marketplace leadership. I am now the Director of Sales for Kelly Blue Book Instant Cash Offer, and I feel that I have come full circle in my career.
I have always been focused on impacting the teams I work with. The bigger the team, the more people I can impact, those are the accomplishments to which I look forward. I believe in individual development plans, building trust, investing in people, and helping them grow. My approach to leading teams and driving sales has always been to start with an analysis of the weaknesses, which to me, are opportunities. Performance gaps are often gaps in learning. My coaching approach is to understand the gaps and create a structured plan to fill them.
I believe that personal development is important. I recently graduated from Purdue University. Even though the whole world was going through a pandemic, I knew that I needed to get up, exercise, and get ready for my day, and at night, I would go to class and study. This directly impacted my son, Ethan, who wrote about how I had influenced him in a school project. It is important to understand how influence can drive progress and help mould those around you.
I want to spend the next few years impacting people inside and outside the automotive community by sharing my experiences. Right now I am getting so much joy from meeting with and speaking to local high school students. I feel like it is such an important time in their lives, and I want to continue to provide coaching and support their career preparation. But, of course, I plan on doing this all while still building my career with Cox. I want to retire from here; I remain completely committed to my team, the brand, and our communities.