As the new chair of the AAA, Valerie Daniels-Carter has ambitious plans for North America’s largest motorist and leisure travel club.
A trailblazing entrepreneur, Daniels-Carter has been elected chair of AAA, making her the first African American woman to land that position in the group’s 115-year history.
AAA has 57.4 million members and 38 affiliated clubs in the United States and Canada.
From Burger King to Boardroom
Carter-Daniels is co-founder, president, and CEO of V&J Holding Cos. Inc., the largest female food service franchise in America. She, along with her brother John, started her company with just one Burger King restaurant in 1982 and developed it into a 137-unit, multibrand franchise powerhouse.
Her election comes as women control around 70% to 80% of consumer spending decisions with their purchasing power worldwide in recent decades.
Daniels-Carter noted her appointment is also significant for the black community because it shows that AAA recognizes the innate ability of individuals of color who are professionals to be able to navigate in various environments.
“We (AAA) have members from diverse communities and diverse backgrounds, so it (her election) reflects who we are as a brand in terms of having an appreciation of all,” says Daniels-Carter in an interview with Black Enterprise. She will oversee AAA’s 12-member board for two one-year terms.
AAA is taking many steps to continue as the “undisputed leader” in America in businesses where it operates, Daniels-Carter says. It provides members with travel discounts and rewards, insurance, financial, and auto-related services. “We want people to know that if you think of anything in those categories, download your AAA app because we are going to have a solution that is competitive for you,” she says.
Spearheading AAA’s Digital Strategy
Daniels-Carter says AAA’s biggest opportunity is ensuring its digital platform remains relevant and cutting edge. She claims no one in the marketplace has the research capabilities AAA has from a historical and futuristic perspective, giving it a competitive edge over rivals.
Her goal: Make the digital platform more relevant to all people, including social media users, millennials, and Gen Xers.
Marshall Doney, AAA’s president and CEO, says in an interview with Black Enterprise that another AAA goal is to boost membership to 60 million by 2020. He says AAA adds about 1 million members a year.
He added AAA plans to enhance its offerings. He says one example is a recently launched mobile battery delivery service that provides members a new battery if their existing one goes bad, saving them a trip for a replacement. “We’re really looking to innovate and improve the member experience,” he says.
Further, Daniels-Carter is leading AAA’s evolving innovation and expansion efforts. For instance, she says, that could include making enhancements to Service Tracker, a free AAA app that allows members and non-members to track in real time the location of an assigned service providing roadside or towing assistance.
Yet, AAA still faces challenges. Daniels-Carter says one of the biggest continues to be competitive threats that include the likes of insurance giant Allstate trying to provide motorists roadside assistance. “We have to ensure that our customers have the best services in the related area,” Daniels-Carter says.
Doney applauds Daniels-Carter’s election. He says her leadership style, community involvement, and business acumen make her an ideal candidate to be AAA’s chair.
“We are really pleased to have her in this role.” Daniels-Carter, a director on the Green Bay Packers and various other corporate boards, has been active with AAA for 22 years in her home state of Wisconsin and nationally. She was elected vice chair of the AAA board in 2015 and joined it in 2013.
Being a dynamic leader and helping organizations grow is nothing new to Daniels-Carter. She has partnered with former NBA superstar and entrepreneur Shaquille O’Neal to open 30 Auntie Anne’s Famous Pretzels locations across the country. Her company’s brands include Auntie Anne’s, Burger King, Coffee Beanery, Nino’s Southern Sides, My Yo My Frozen Yogurt, VJ Cafe, and Pizza Hut.
A top-notch former high school and college basketball player who chose a business career instead of a shot at playing in the WNBA for the Milwaukee Does, Daniels-Carter’s has a long list of achievements. They include receiving the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award presented at the Multicultural Prism Awards; Essence magazine’s Top 10 Black Female Entrepreneurs; and Black Enterprise magazine’s Women of the B.E. 100. Her company, V&J, has received awards such as the Top 500 Women-Owned Businesses (Working Woman Magazine); Top 200 Restaurants in the U.S. (Restaurant Finance Monitor).
Now Daniels-Carter aims to be a playmaker and game changer for AAA, making it a more dominant player in its business.
Jeffrey McKinney is a long-time freelance business writer and reporter, contributing to Black Enterprise magazine for several years on a broad range of business and financial topics.