A Global Presence: CDK Global and Northwood University

Throughout its 56-year history, Northwood University has been an advocate for the global relevance of business and the opportunities it provides to individuals to improve their lives. This focus and drive, embedded in the faculty, students, and alumni, means that other organizations with a similar emphasis could become a lightning rod for graduates.

For this reason, dozens of alumni have found their fulfilling careers at CDK Global, with more on their way every year. According to their website, “We [CDK Global] provide integrated technology solutions to over 27,000 Auto, Truck, Motorcycle, Marine, Recreational Vehicle and Heavy Equipment dealers throughout the world.” Northwood University has a rich history of partnership within the automotive industry, and when we dug a little deeper, we found that we have stories of success throughout CDK Global’s organization. IDEA Magazine reached out to several people to hear their stories. From recent interns to those with decades of experience in this area, we wanted to find out what it was about the Northwood University education that brought so many people to pursue a career at CDK Global.

To start, we spoke with Sarah Lepri, class of 2015. She is a current senior who completed a ten-week internship with account advocates, who manage the relationships with groups of dealers.

“Some of the projects we did were strategies for the dealer’s website and designing new things to add to their website. They really allowed us to be part of the team as an intern,”

she said. Marlon Hairston, class of 2015, another senior who completed the internship in the same department told us that, “They had a whole program set up for us. As interns, we weren’t directly working with the dealers, but we did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that an account advocate would do. We learned about the different departments within CDK. We had projects on top of that that we would present to people within the company. Our last project was presented to a couple of VPs.”

Both Lepri and Hairston were offered full-time positions after their internship was completed. Lepri shared that the culture was a big reason why she decided to accept the position beginning in June. “Being an advertising major, initially I thought I’d go down the agency path. Being with CDK, it’s a different avenue but it still has that agency vibe. The culture is unbelievable. I can see myself being with them for a while.”

Northwood University Career Advancement has played a big role in Lepri and Hairston’s gaining an internship. Both found CDK Global at a career fair hosted at Northwood University. Drawn by clever marketing and a vibrant display, they echo one another when they tell us that their interactions at the fair were a significant reason why they pursued the opportunity.

Hairston told me that another Northwood graduate, Kristin Perschon, class of 2014, was at the fair helping to recruit. (Perschon says she was also recruited earlier through a similar career fair.) Perschon told us that her Northwood University education is important in her current area of digital advertising and marketing. “I think that Northwood set me up for success by being more in-touch with the world. It wasn’t just textbook material all the time. We were always working on projects that were related to business or sometimes we were making our own fake business. It helped that our teachers were always in the field. They didn’t just go to school to become a teacher and then become a teacher. I know my marketing teacher was doing a lot of market research outside of being a professor.”

Lepri said that she is interested in helping to continue the recruiting effort, and is already scheduled to help find new talent on-campus in the future.

“They gave us such a phenomenal opportunity that I definitely want to give back and help out with that as well.”

As an automotive marketing student, Hairston says the culture had a big impact on him. “I loved it. It’s definitely different than anything I’d done before. I’ve had an internship with an OEM, and the environment at CDK was more like, ‘I’m going to take you, and develop you as a person and then as an employee. I’m going to look at you and your skills, see where you’re lacking and see where you’re strong, and make you an all-around better person.’ Everyone in the office is extremely helpful. Everyone introduced themselves, and showed me their desks and gave me their extensions. And if you called that person, they would do exactly what they said they would do. They would be there to help you and guide you through your different projects. It was definitely a culture of everybody wanting everybody to do well. It was also a young and energetic office as well, which I found to be very pleasing.” It’s clear, talking to everyone involved with this piece, that the culture is a big draw.

“There’s no substitute for the closeness that we have as a company. We are a big company, but you sometimes hear the saying, ‘It’s a big town, but it’s a small town.’ It’s the same thing with this company. It’s a big company, but it’s a small company. Everyone works very well together and they interact a little like we’re a small family. Northwood is similar. It’s a bigger school but it’s a small school. Everyone basically interacts at some point,” says Jac Alvarez, class of 1995, who is General Manager and Vice President for National Accounts. He and his team manage 100 of the largest automotive dealer groups in the United States.

Greg Rancilio, class of 1991, Director, Program Management, tells us that there are some pretty clear similarities between his alma mater and his employer:

“As I reflect now on my career and the Northwood education, it really aligns with CDK and their guiding principles. The special part is when you can find an education and an institution that aligns with the company you work for. One thing I don’t think I realized as soon as I got out of school, but have come to realize now, is that the importance Northwood had is that spirit of volunteerism and community involvement. These are things CDK places a lot of emphasis on.”

Both Alvarez and Rancilio mention that there are opportunities at CDK Global to develop not only professionally, but personally. Professionally, Alvarez says, “We do a lot of things that enable our clients to be technologically advanced, create efficiencies, lower turnover, and increase revenues. And all of those things are really exciting when you can come to a customer and say, ‘I can bring you solutions that will make you more profitable, and they will make you a better company.’ When you can work alongside one of your customers to bring those solutions to life and actually come through on your commitment and deliver those kinds of results, that’s when it gets fun and your passion comes out.”

Rancilio echoes this when he encourages students to develop this personal passion early, on campus. “Students really need to take advantage of the educational setting: the classes, the sports, and the extracurricular activities. If they take full advantage of the setting at Northwood, it will definitely prepare them for other life experiences.”

As a growing business, CDK Global always encourages talented individuals to seek them out. Rancilio tells us, “If you’re a high performer, and you want to work with a global market leader, and you enjoy personal and professional growth opportunities, I would look into CDK, no matter where you are in your career, as a new graduate or a tenured one.”

With the feedback we’ve received compiling these interviews and discussions, there’s no doubt that those who pursue a career in many of CDK Global’s areas will find a challenging yet fun environment.

Christopher Deming transcribed and conducted the interviews in this piece. If you’re interested in finding out more about opportunities at CDK Global, you can find more information at www.cdkjobs.com.

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    About Northwood University

    Northwood University is committed to the most personal attention to prepare students for success in their careers and in their communities; it promotes critical thinking skills, personal effectiveness, and the importance of ethics, individual freedom and responsibility.

    Private, nonprofit, and accredited, Northwood University specializes in managerial and entrepreneurial education at a full-service, residential campus located in mid-Michigan. Adult Degree Programs are available in multiple states and online. The DeVos Graduate School offers accelerated, evening and weekend programming in Michigan and Texas. The Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity and Enterprise provides system-wide expertise in family enterprise, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and new business development. International education is offered through study abroad and in Program Centers in China (Changchun and Wuxi), Malaysia and Sri Lanka.