Movement within a company is traditionally straightforward—after gaining experience and responsibility over time, an individual is promoted and moved up within a department. However, for Lisa Price, the executive vice president of human resources at KAR Auction Services, the path of promotion was a little less orthodox. Despite beginning her career in law, an open mind and willingness to take chances drove Price to the top of the human resources department at KAR, where she is now redefining the department at the Indiana-based company.
Price earned her law degree from the Indiana University School of Law after graduating from Ball State University. Although Price says she got her first taste of the automotive industry through a college job, it wasn’t until she worked with Stewart & Irwin, a private law practice, that she began to develop a more comprehensive view of the industry.
KAR Auction Services sells almost four million used and salvaged cars each year through physical and online auctions. Its subsidiary companies also provide services such as inspections, storage, reconditioning, and financing. Price was referred for a position at ADESA, a subsidiary of KAR, after five years at Stewart & Irwin.
“The position was a perfect match for my skill set,” Price says. “I threw my hat in the ring and fortunately was selected.” In 2005, Price joined ADESA and began her role as corporate counsel, specializing in employment, litigation, and third-party liability, as well as developing relationships with different human resources departments in the company.
After about eight years and several internal promotions under the leadership of Becca Polak, KAR’s general counsel and executive vice president, Price was again approached with the opportunity to point her career in a new direction—but this promotion was a little different.
“From a leadership perspective, you give back when you can. There’s always someone in need, and someone whose needs are greater than yours. You contribute, and you give what you can.”
In 2013, the CEO of KAR told Price that the company was looking to fill the role of executive vice president of human resources, and he wanted Price to take it. “I had the confidence that I could do it and that it would benefit the employees as a whole,” Price says. “It was the right thing for the business and I was willing to do that.”
Although Price says she was confident in her abilities, she had concerns about some of the more nuanced changes she would face in switching to human resources from a career looking at the legal side of the business. For example, Price anticipated challenges about being accepted internally, especially when her job as corporate counsel only had her coming in when there were problems. However, when it came down to it, Price knew the benefits of embracing a new role at KAR would outweigh any concerns. “I was willing to shift lanes,” Price says.
In human resources, Price says she has been able to widen her perspective of the company and look at how KAR functions more holistically. “I’m moving from that problem-solver role to a developing and nurturing role,” she says. Instead of coming to the rescue only when a problem arises, Price now looks at the entire employee life cycle.
Currently, Price’s main goal consists of rebuilding the HR department so that human resources aligns enterprise-wide at KAR under the company’s foundational core values. She is also interested in using technology to make human resources more strategic and not just tactical. To make sure a human resources overhaul benefited the whole company, Price conducted interviews with employees at all levels to identify a list of pain points on which to focus, and set out to answer her main question: “How do I solve as many pain points as quickly as I can with thought on how we look in the future?”
Price’s efforts are coming just in time, as KAR Auction Services and its subsidiaries are growing substantially, in part due to mergers and acquisitions. In summer 2016, the company will open a new physical auction site outside of Chicago. Online auctions are also proving to be another great avenue for business, according to Price.
As the company grows, so does KAR’s ability to give back. Price says the company is focused on creating a fun environment and encourages community involvement as corporate citizens. “We want to be part of our communities and we want to be helpers,” she says. In October 2015, the company built a Habitat for Humanity house in Carmel, Indiana, where the company is headquartered. Members of the company have also worked with Komen Breast Cancer, Meals on Wheels, Special Olympics, and United Way. Price gives credit to the employees for their extensive community involvement. “They come with their passions and they dedicate their time and their organizational efforts,” she says.
As vice president of ProKids, a nonprofit that helps young children with developmental delays, Price also practices what she preaches. She says working with ProKids influences how she approaches her work. “That’s where, from a leadership perspective, you give back when you can,” she says. “There’s always someone in need, and someone whose needs are greater than yours. You contribute, and you give what you can.”
Price attributes her success to her willingness to say yes, and encourages individuals early in their career to step outside their comfort zones and explore. “Be willing to take the chance without fear. Be all in,” she says.
Practically, Price says this might mean being willing to raise your hand and take on the extra effort and work. She says not to be afraid to demonstrate your strengths, be prepared, focus your attention, and multitask less. If things don’t work out, you can always shift back, she says, but if you don’t take that step, you’ll never know. “Be prepared,” she says. “Life is a series of shifts.”