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Sandy Pearce Raffealli
Bill Pearce Courtesy Honda
“I am constantly inspired by our employees, our customers and our community.”
“Watching my parents work in the car business when I was younger, it seemed to be a confining, limiting occupation,” nominee Raffealli said. “Now looking back at my 26 years in the industry, I see the worlds which have been opened to me. I am constantly inspired by our employees, our customers and our community.”
A 1964 graduate of La Sierra High School in Carmichael, California, Raffealli earned a B.A. in sociology and anthropology from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1968, where she was on the dean’s list.
In the mid-1970s, she asked her father, Bill Pearce, if she could join the dealership, which he founded in 1974 as Bill Pearce Oldsmobile Honda in Reno. “I was told, emphatically, ‘Absolutely not,’” she remembers. “Two years, later he asked my husband, John, to join him and learn the business.” After spending ten years in banking, Raffealli left that industry in 1989 and her husband asked her to help out at the dealership.
“I started with projects that fit my background: customer service training, writing our first employee handbook, creating our new employee orientation and starting our bimonthly customer appreciation meetings for new customers,” she said. “As time went by, my father became comfortable with me in the business and in 1992, I was brought in full-time as the human resource manager.”
Working as a partner with her husband over the years gave her the background she needed when she was called on to take over business following her husband’s death in 1998. “I was honest with everyone about my need to learn,” Raffealli said. “But I had also been groomed by my husband during his illness and I did, in fact, know a lot more than any of us realized.”
Today, Bill Pearce Motors encompasses five dealerships in Reno representing brands BMW, Honda, MINI, Porsche and Volvo. Raffealli’s daughter, Lydia Meyer, and son-in-law, Matt Meyer, are actively involved in dealership operations.
Raffealli credits her longtime participation in the Honda 20 Group (dealer network) for giving her the knowledge and support she needed to take the reins of her family business. “The members of the group had been such staunch supporters of my husband and me during the rough years of my husband's illness,” she said. “When he died, they were with me on the phone, in emails and visits. Their encouragement has meant the world to me, and I hope I am making them proud.”
She has also built a network within her community by serving on the boards of several organizations, including the Nevada Women’s Fund; Reno Philharmonic Association; Western Folklife Center (sponsor of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering); Reno Rodeo Foundation (philanthropic arm of the Reno Rodeo); and Susan G. Komen Nevada.
In support of the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows, Raffealli has donated a car for the group’s fundraising auction every year since 2004. “In addition, we contribute money annually toward their scholarship awards,” she said. “The scholarships have been truly inspiring since I have had the opportunity to meet some of the students who have now graduated.”
She is proud to have been recognized by the Nevada Women’s Fund for designing and participating in leadership training programs for women in the community. “The program was conducted three consecutive years and many of those who attended have become high achievers in their fields,” Raffealli said.
Other organizations she supports include Northern Nevada International Center; Nevada Museum of Art (Reno); Children’s Cabinet (aiding children and families in need); American Heart Association; Alzheimer’s Association (Walk to End Alzheimer’s); and the American Lung Association.
“The resources we have are the result of years of hard work by my family and our team members,” Raffealli said. “It is an honor to be able to support issues and fight problems in our community.”
Raffealli was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by Andrew MacKay, Executive Director of the Nevada Franchised Auto Dealers Association. She and her late husband, John, have one daughter.