Meet the Locals: Armstrong Auto Group’s Jacqui Armstrong
After switching careers – and home towns – in the mid-1990s, Jacqui Armstrong began climbing the ladder at her local auto dealership.
Today, she owns Armstrong Auto Group with her husband John, and is a strong proponent for several charitable activities outside her work.
Armstrong Auto Group has been servicing the Toowoomba region for almost three decades and The Chronicle named Jacqui Armstrong in their influential POWER 100 list for 2020.
We recently sat down with Jacqui for a quick Q&A.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your history with Toowoomba?
I’ve been living in Toowoomba for 27 years now. I originally grew up in Brisbane and have been working at Armstrong Auto Group since 1994. Prior to that, I was a registered nurse in Brisbane. An opening became available for a receptionist in the dealership, and I thought: “Well, here’s a great opportunity for me to jump over into dealership land.” And I’ve been here ever since!
How did you climb the dealership ladder?
When I first came to the dealership, I started as the receptionist because I’d never done any of that style of work. So I needed to learn how to type and all of the secretarial skills required to work in administration.
I basically worked my way through the business over a number of years, working as a costing clerk and then payroll officer. I became the financial controller about 16 years ago now, and have been the dealership CFO ever since. That means I run all of the accounting operations for the business.
What are some of the challenges in your line of work?
The up and down of the economy has a major impact for us. A lot of our franchises are based in Melbourne, and because the head offices are there, it’s a bit of a challenge at times getting manufacturers to understand the implications of the drought in our region and how that affects our business.
With COVID-19, every area has been different with how they’ve responded to it. But the drought has been such an ongoing issue in our area and that has had a massive impact on how we sell cars and people’s ability to purchase.
One of the other things that has changed over time is the finance industry and all the regulations that go with it. It’s far more difficult today to get people secured on finance, because there’s so many legislative requirements they need to meet. It doesn’t necessarily mean the person’s not a solid applicant; it’s just the way the regulations are set up now. They have to meet so many criteria that it can really complicate things.
On the flip side, what are some of the biggest rewards?
I really enjoy working with the team we’ve got at Armstrong Auto Group. All our staff are amazing. Certainly through COVID, they have stepped up to the next level. We asked a lot of them to take reduced hours, which meant reduced wages, and they did that for us without question.
We had to stand down half our staff when the pandemic hit and everybody did what we asked them to do and more. They all just stepped up and we’ve got most of our staff back now. What a team we’ve got – the teamwork and the loyalty that people show John and me at work is probably the biggest bonus.
When you’re not at the dealership, what do you enjoy doing around Toowoomba?
I’m a cyclist, so I don’t mind getting out on my bike, and I also like a bit of Pilates. But part of what we do outside of the dealership is community work for BASE Services, and also I’m on the board of the Toowoomba Hospital Foundation.
We do what we can for those community enterprises, and obviously with my work for the Foundation that covers a number of things: raising funds to get more equipment into the local hospital and the wider community; we go on different trips with them, like four-wheel-driving trips and all of sorts of other things.
How long have you been participating in charity work?
We’ve been doing work with BASE Services for five years now. So that originally started when Nat – who’s the founder of BASE Services – came in to buy a car from us. Nat got in touch with me because he was just about to start a sleepout, where he sleeps out for a week on the street and asks for a donation.
At that time, I didn’t even know we had homeless people in Toowoomba. So when we chatted I was really shocked and more than happy to support him. Since then we’ve had a great relationship and watched BASE grow as an organisation, helping lots of people in our local community.
In December we did a Christmas campaign for them. We asked people to donate non-perishable food items, clothes and children’s toys for Christmas. We filled the back of a Nissan Navara and gave it to BASE Services just before Christmas. They could then use everything to do up hampers and donate them to people who need it.
What do you love most about Toowoomba?
There are so many things! We live in such a fantastic community, and for me personally, that’s the thing I love about Toowoomba the most. No matter where you go, or what function you attend, people are always willing to support the community. No matter how tough it is, people always put their hand in their pocket.
We’ve done work with Drought Angels, BASE Services, Toowoomba Hospital Foundation, Protea Place, and no matter what, people always just dig deep. That’s something I’m really proud to have here – a community that’s just so giving.
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