Marcie Jacob, a former vice president of employment law at Time Warner, has taken on a very different kind of role as chief compliance officer at a Bronx Honda dealership.
The job is unpaid, and her desk inside the auto dealer’s accounting office is a world away from the 48-story Time & Life building where she worked for 12 years in midtown Manhattan.
Nevertheless, Jacob put aside her solo legal practice of eight years for a chance to help the auto dealership founded by her father 45 years ago.
Her appointment came less than a month after Bronx Honda agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint alleging the dealer discriminated against Black and Latino customers.
Jacob said her years practicing employment law prepared her for some of the demands of her new role. But switching to the auto industry from publishing brought a steep learning curve.
Publishing had a corporate structure that was “all about knowing the right person to call,” Jacob said. “With a small car dealership, the structure is flat at best, nonexistent at worse.” At Time Warner, she had to balance many competing agendas and make compromises to achiever her goal. “In a dealership, there is one agenda: sell cars.”
Jacob’s family’s ties to the auto-selling industry in the Bronx go back two generations. Her grandfather started selling used cars in the borough after World War II. Her father, Harold Schlanger, and his brother, Martin, went into the family business, with Harold ultimately having franchises to sell Hondas, Hyundais, Volvos, Buicks, Chevrolets, Lancias, and Suzukis. When Harold died in 2014, Honda was his only franchise.
Jacob said she always wanted to work in her father’s dealerships when she was younger, something he discouraged because he “didn’t think dealerships were for women,” Jacob said. At home she would read through her father’s inventories and invoices, helping him do the same kind of work she’s now responsible for.
Observing the family business from afar didn’t teach her everything she needs to know about the auto industry. Jacob is taking an online course on financial management skills.
Having Jacob present has helped bring immediate improvements to the dealership, said Bronx Honda’s General Sales Manager Izzy Wahba, who was promoted after the FTC settlement.
In the complaint, the FTC alleged that the dealership and its former general manager directed employees to charge African-American and Hispanic customers higher interest rates and fees than they charge white customers.
The nature of the auto industry puts it risk for these kinds of suits, Jacob said. “The car business is one of the last remaining businesses in America where you can negotiate a final sale price,” she said.
Jacob said she is dedicated to doing more than checking a box when it comes to compliance. Since joining the dealership, she has implemented training and held the staff accountable to even the smallest mistakes.
“Culture change is the hardest thing in the entire world,” Jacob said.