Annette Sykora, dealer at Smith Auto Family Ford Lincoln in Levelland, Texas, was honored as a nominee for the 2022 TIME Dealer of the Year award at the 105th annual National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show held in Las Vegas on March 11, 2022. Annette was one of a select group of 47 dealer nominees from across the country who were honored.
The TIME Dealer of the Year award is one of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service. Sykora, 58, was chosen to represent the Texas Automobile Dealers Association in the national competition — one of only 47 auto dealers nominated for the 53rd annual award from more than 16,000 nationwide.
“I grew up with a genuine passion and respect for the car business and have never stopped being a student of the industry, always learning and adapting to an ever-changing business climate,” nominee Sykora said. “Anything that I’ve been able to achieve has been thanks to the support of my family and our amazing team of employees.”
Sykora followed in the footsteps of her father, Steve Smith, and grandfather, Bill H. Smith, who founded the original dealership, Slaton Motor Company, in Slaton, Texas, in 1952. “Watching them work together in the store while I was growing up made it feel like a career in the automotive industry was exactly what I was supposed to do,” she said.
After high school, Sykora began her journey in F&I (Finance & Insurance) at the family dealership, and she graduated from the NADA Academy in 1989. By 1993, she was ready to chart her own path, and she purchased the business from her father.
As the Slaton location continued to grow and prosper, Sykora and her husband, Patrick, expanded their operation and opened the Ford Lincoln store in Levelland in 1999. They also added a Ford dealership in Plainview, Texas, to their portfolio and a Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center in Levelland.
And the business certainly lives up to its name, as the Smith Auto Family currently employs the couple’s son Holden, daughter Nicole Campbell and son-in-law Tell Campbell.
“I was blessed to be raised in a car family, but also a family that held tight to tenets of faith, service and treating people fairly,” Sykora said. “From the beginning, I’ve loved working with customers one-on-one and learning the impact dealers can have on their community simply by providing superior products and services.”
Sykora became a role model in a male-dominated industry, and her expertise and leadership are greatly valued by automakers and the NADA. She has served on numerous boards for Ford, representing Greater Texas, and has held executive positions at NADA, including chair of the group in 2008. She currently chairs the NADA Foundation.
“I was honored to serve as chair during the financial crisis,” she said, working tirelessly to navigate the new economic landscape and advocate for the domestic auto industry and dealers before Congress. In her present role at the NADA Foundation, Sykora is charged with addressing the need for skilled workers in the automotive industry and promoting the foundation’s new Workforce Initiative, which is designed to spark interest in service technician careers.
And she is trying to accomplish those same goals on a local level through her work with Lubbock ISD’s (Independent School District) Byron Martin Advanced Technology Center; she has been on the advisory committee since 2005.
“I have worked side-by-side with administrators and educators to develop and refine automotive curriculum to meet educational and industry standards,” she said. “We have also worked to provide affordable and seamless transitions for students on their journey to higher education.”
Sykora also supports the automotive program at South Plains College in Levelland, where she is a foundation board member. “As a company, we have donated several vehicles to the college’s automotive program, significantly improving the age of their internal fleet of vehicles for students and the applicability of their hands-on instruction,” she said.
In addition, Sykora is proud to give back to the communities where her dealerships are located. She currently is a contributor to the Weekend Snack Sack program in Slaton, Bill’s Backpacks in Levelland, and Snack Pak 4 Kids in Plainview, all of which fight weekend hunger by supplying food for children when they are not in school.
“The most rewarding impact for me is the support we’ve been able to provide for the next generation,” she said. “When you take care of young people, they grow into adults who are capable of great things.”
Dealers are nominated by the executives of state and metro dealer associations around the country. The award is sponsored by TIME in association with Ally Financial and in cooperation with NADA. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan selected one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year. Three finalists received $5,000 for their favorite charities, and the winner, Bob Giles of Giles Automotive of Lafayette, Louisiana, received $10,000 to give to charity.
In its eleventh year as exclusive sponsor, Ally also celebrated the dealer nominees and their community efforts by contributing $1,000 to each nominee’s 501(c)(3) charity of choice. Nominees have been recognized on AllyDealerHeroes.com, highlighting the philanthropic contributions and achievements of TIME Dealer of the Year winner and nominees.
“It’s an incredible honor to recognize these dealers for their business accomplishments and their unwavering commitment to ‘Do It Right’ by helping others in their communities,” said Doug Timmerman, president of Dealer Financial Services at Ally. “They are extraordinary auto leaders who care and go the extra mile to give of themselves to make their communities stronger. Ally is proud to support and celebrate their achievements.”
Sykora was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Darren Whitehurst, president of the Texas Automobile Dealers Association, TADA and Morris Wilkes with the New Car Dealers of West Texas. She and her husband, Patrick, have five children.