AutoNation’s First Woman CEO Gone After Less Than a Year — What Happened, and Where Is She Now?

In 2019, Cheryl Miller made headlines and history as the first woman to lead AutoNation. The appointment also made her the first woman to become CEO of a publicly traded car sales company.

However, only months after accepting the position, she stepped down. What happened? And where is she now? 

Cheryl Miller’s path to the top

According to her LinkedIn page, Cheryl Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance in 1994 from James Madison University in Virginia.

Soon, she began her automotive career at a seemingly unlikely place: Circuit City. Her position involved financing for the electronics retailer’s CarMax division, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.

In 1998, she moved to South Florida to work with businessman Wayne Huizenga and his company Republic Industries. This was the early predecessor of AutoNation.

But then Miller transitioned to another automotive company, JM Family Enterprises, in 2004. She began as the director and assistant treasurer and later became the vice president and treasurer.

In 2009, she returned to the Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation. Five years later, she became its chief financial officer. And in 2017, her deal-making prowess won the company a coveted partnership with the autonomous driving tech firm Waymo. AutoNation’s stock price skyrocketed.

Cheryl Miller’s history-making move

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Two years after leading the Waymo coup, Miller made history when she assumed the top spot at AutoNation, the Sun-Sentinel reported. In an industry where women are much less likely to hold jobs, especially higher positions, Miller’s step was a giant leap for womankind.

Only four women in a pool of 109 executives led public companies in Florida in 2018. The following year, the 47-year-old Miller was helming the nation’s largest automotive retailer and appearing on Fortune‘s “Most Powerful Women” list.

Then, only months later, she was gone.

Her unforeseen AutoNation exit

Miller unexpectedly went on medical leave in April 2020, the Sun-Sentinel and other outlets reported. That July, news broke that she wouldn’t return. She had been AutoNation’s CEO for barely a year.

Before Miller’s stint at the top, the previous CEO, Carl Liebert, had lasted only four months. According to South Florida Business Journal, his departure was because “he wasn’t a good fit,” according to another former AutoNation CEO, Mike Jackson.

Like many other companies, AutoNation has also taken a financial hit thanks to the pandemic, reporting a 10.7 percent decline in new vehicle sales.

As for Miller, she has requested that her reason for taking medical leave and resigning remain confidential.

The Business Journals reported she’ll receive $5.4 million in severance, paid in 48 installments of $113,000. Miller is also eligible for a prorated bonus based on her performance with the company and time-based, restricted stock units. 

She left on good terms. In a letter signed by 127 AutoNation associates and published in Automotive News last August, employees said, “Cheryl was one of our own. She worked her entire career to become CEO of AutoNation, the automotive retail industry leader.”

Where is she today?

In December 2020, JM Family Enterprises announced Miller had rejoined the Deerfield Beach-based auto retailer.

As the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, she oversees financial operations and business units. They include Southeast Toyota Distributors, JM Lexus, Home Franchise Concepts, and JM&A Group, one of the leading independent providers of finance and insurance commodities in automotive production.

Miller is also a member of JM’s executive management team, helping to direct the company’s growth strategies.

JM has been ranked 20th on Forbes‘ “America’s Largest Private Companies.”

Miller’s latest role is certainly less powerful than her AutoNation position, but it’s no less newsworthy. So far, she has chosen not to disclose any further information regarding the move.