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Family Business Thrives from Diversity of Experiences 



Fox Valley Auto Group, based in Saint Charles, Ill., is a family business – that is not unique for a franchised car dealership. However, the founder and CEO, Emir Abinion, and his daughter Gabrielle Abinion, general manager of Fox Valley Volkswagen, bring a unique approach to their company.

“If you’re not pushing for change, change, change, you’re not experiencing."
- Gabrielle Abinion 

Gabrielle was raised in the car business – scraping gum off the service drive floor as a kid, working as a cashier in high school, selling cars on summer breaks, and talking shop with her family over dinner every night. She always knew she wanted to follow her dad into the dealership, until she didn’t. 

During her final year at Loyola University in Chicago, Gabrielle called her dad to tell him she would not be returning to the family business after graduation. She wanted to get her start somewhere else where no one knew her, her family, or her connection to the business. 

“Although the people there had a lot to teach me, I felt like I wouldn’t be doing myself or the business justice,” Gabrielle says. “All I knew was my dad’s company.”

Emir says the call was a disappointment but as a father, he was proud of her decision. He understands the draw to chart one’s own course. 

“I’m a first generation dealer, so I learned by my mistakes.”
- Emir Abinion

At six years-old, Emir’s parents abruptly moved his family to Chicago from the Philippines. They always aspired to move to the U.S., but their plan was fast-tracked when they learned martial law was imminent. 

“I just remember one day my dad coming to me with a small suitcase and said ‘whatever toy you want to bring, put it in here.’ And then we left everything else behind,” Emir says. 

The family arrived in Chicago with $300, three kids under the age of seven and nowhere to live. Emir remembers his parents sitting in a phone booth in O’Hare airport for hours, looking through the phone book for names they recognized from the Philippines. Eventually, they found a former student of Emir’s mother, who picked them up from the airport and boarded them for the next six months in her one-bedroom apartment.

“To me, that’s courage,” Emir says of his parents. “They sacrificed a lot to bring their kids to the U.S. to give them more opportunity.”

Emir’s opportunity did not necessarily come in the shape the family planned. When he was a junior in college, his parents fell on hard times. He dropped out and answered the first job he saw in the newspaper – selling cars at a Ford dealership, no experience necessary. 

“I certainly didn’t have experience, and I certainly didn’t see myself as a salesperson of any means,” Emir says. “I’m actually an introvert.” 

Emir did have a love for cars though and took to the job well. His original plan was to work for six months to make enough money to return to school, but when he handed in his resignation, the store’s owner asked him to reconsider. Three years later, he was general manager of the dealership selling 250-300 cars a month. 

A couple years later, Ford recruited Emir to a dealer development program, which is how Fox Valley Automotive Group was born. 

Abinion dealership team
Gabrielle Abinion, Shana Eastern (Senior Manager, GM Diversity Dealer Development), Emir Abinion
“If we all agree on everything, only one person is doing the thinking.”
- Gabrielle Abinion 

After several years as a sales consultant, then F&I manager at Howard Orloff Imports in Chicago, Gabrielle returned to Fox Valley Auto Group, bringing new perspective and ideas with her.  And most of all, she started asking “why” again and again.

Why is this system in place? Why do we do it this way? Why not this way? 

Emir was more than ready for the challenge. He worked with his daughter Danielle West, the Chief Operating Officer of the auto group, Gabrielle, and the leadership team to use their expanding size to their advantage: streamlining the group’s administrative work and business development center into a central location, adding parental leave benefits and creative scheduling to attract more female talent, and implementing multiple pay plan options for sales consultants. 

“You get left behind if you only focus on good enough.”
- Emir Abinion

And while Emir was learning from his daughter, she was learning from him. A core lesson, Gabrielle says, was how to manage people. Emir taught her that her “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.”

Under his mentorship, Gabrielle learned how to actively understand what motivated individual team members and use that knowledge to work with them most effectively and efficiently. These values of personal relationships are a pillar of the group’s operations. 

Emir approaches the business of selling and servicing cars as helping people solve problems. His perspective has origins in his family’s first vehicle purchase, a red Plymouth duster, half a year after moving to the U.S. He says his dad was so proud of owning his first vehicle, and he’s never forgotten the significance of a vehicle purchase. 

“In this country, we have a love affair with vehicles. It’s just not something that gets us from Point A to Point B like the rest of the world,” he says. 


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