NORTH HOLLYWOOD, California—There are infinite car clubs around the globe, in every language and covering the entire alphabet of vehicle manufacturers. Then there are the category and niche clubs, among them the lowrider, classic, and hot-rod groups. In Southern California, throngs of car clubs from Lancaster to San Diego are rising from informal car meets that inadvertently flourish into mini societies. But car clubs for women, while not entirely revolutionary today, are still few and far between.
Laurina Esposito is one woman who is working to change that. The owner and CEO of Esposito Restoration, or “Espo Resto,” in North Hollywood, California, recently launched Women in Porsche (WIP), a group dedicated to women who drive, work with, and love Porsche cars. Espo Resto is a Porsche body shop established by her father, Porsche restoration expert John Esposito; Laurina is the executive director and founder of WIP. She founded the group in early 2019 to create a community for female Porsche enthusiasts where they can find support for their passion for Porsches, foster friendships, join drives, and organize social events.
Based in Los Angeles, WIP recently opened chapters in Florida, Germany, and the U.K., with plans to expand in New Zealand, Mexico, Italy, and Canada. Laurina Esposito chatted with us about her inspiration for starting a Porsche group for women, and what it’s like to run a business in a male-dominated industry.
Automobile: What was the genesis of Women in Porsche?
Laurina Esposito: Before launching WIP, I was trying to find a group of like-minded women within the Porsche community where I could reach out for support, and I discovered none existed. WIP has allowed for other female Porsche enthusiasts to say “me, too” in a positive way; being able to say I do this, too, in the car world. Porsche is the starting point, but ultimately, I would like to see other groups for women in Audi, Mercedes, BMW, and so on.
When I started Women in Porsche, initially, I wanted to find other women who were just like me. And then it became, I want to normalize women in this industry as opposed to sensationalizing it. I had to change my approach of “women in this business are unique” to, “no, this is everybody, and all of us are just human beings.” I think the way to get to equality is by taking away how special it is to be a woman working in this industry. This way of thinking is more successful for equalizing women in the business. WIP is not restricted to women only. I want women to understand that men can support us by participating in some of our events.
You grew up around Porsches, because of your father’s work. Did you ever think you’d become a future Porsche devotee and run a body shop?
No, this is the last thing I ever thought I would do, especially my role as the face of Espo Resto. In my previous life, I reached a point where I was tired and no longer passionate about what I was doing. When I suggested to my dad that I come over to his shop and help back in 2016, I thought it would be temporary. At the time, I did not feel that I would enjoy being in a car shop every day, but I ended up loving it. My dad and I still joke about this, because it never occurred to him or me that his daughter would take over the business. He would always openly say how he wished he’d have someone to pass down the restoration shop to and keep it going.
Tell us about the weekly dinner dates with your dad, where he’d pick you up in a cool Porsche and take you to Taco Bell.
My parents separated right before I turned 2. Every Wednesday, my dad would pick me up in either a Porsche that he’d be repairing or a model that he purchased to restore and make a profit. From an early age, I had the opportunity to ride in so many different Porsche models. I can still vividly remember feeling the speed of the car, barely being able to see over the dashboard, and how my feet dangled over the seat. To an extent, I think my dad was hoping for a boy, which probably explains why we’d play hockey, softball, and some rounds of golf.
You took over as owner and CEO of Espo Resto just a few years ago. How did it happen?
When I first came to Espo Resto, it was never the intention for me to take on the role of CEO. Initially, I planned to clean up the business operations, do some marketing, and a little bit of development. In early 2017 my dad was in an induced coma, a situation that forced me into a position of being a leader. I dove head-first into the CEO role and ran with it. This decision made my dad happy, as it allowed him more time to focus on his craft and take a step back from daily business operations. You can say it was a natural progression for us.
Esposito Restoration specializes in restoring Porsche cars, but also others …
We restorePorsche cars, mainly 911s, and we’ve branched out quite significantly over the last couple of years into the BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and VW business. When my dad started the business, he only did body and paint. Since then, we have migrated into doing everything from the body and paint to interior, electrical, and mechanical. Our services range from standard maintenance to full restoration.
What motivated you to transition from a fashion career to working at a Porsche body shop?
Before making the big move to Espo Resto, I was living in Las Vegas and working for a company called Alexis Bittar, where I would oversee various stores, a role that also required me to travel to California. The company wasn’t doing well, and it decided to scale-back on some of its retail stores, several of which I was managing. That meant I had to lay-off staff, and although I still had a job personally, it was tough.
Simultaneously, Coach reached out to me about a position with it, and I entertained the idea for a while because you don’t turn down Coach. The day I received my final check from Alexis Bittar, I didn’t yet have an offer from Coach, so I called my dad and told him it was now or never. We pulled the trigger. Two or three days later, Coach called with an offer; I had to turn it down.
Switching gears for a moment, what was your first car?
My first car was a 1970 Chevelle that I drove as a college student in San Francisco. Driving a massive boat across the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge was loads of fun, except for all the oil it required. I’d pile several of my girlfriends into the car, and we’d go to the city to see a ballet performance or to have dinner at a hip restaurant.
So, everything you learned about Porsches from your dad growing up has come full circle …
Absolutely. My dad shared so much information with me every time I’d visit him. In those days, I didn’t realize how much I was retaining from our conversations. Now that I am working at Esposito Restoration, I know more about Porsches because of the knowledge I internalized listening to my dad talk about cars. He taught me everything there is to know about Porsche.
As a woman working in an industry dominated by men, what has this role taught you about the car business?
It has quickly become clear to me that this industry is behind the times when it comes to women’s equality–drastically behind the times. While there are other industries where women make up maybe 10 percent of the business, in the car-restoration business, it is more like less than 1 percent. During my early days at Espo Resto, I was getting a lot of, “You must be the secretary, where is the man in charge, and it must be cute to work with daddy,” stuff.
At the onset of these types of comments, the experience was like having a glass of cold water thrown on you and a stark contrast to my previous career in fashion. Candidly, I will admit, I did not believe that women had it as bad as they claimed.
What else has surprised you?
I have to come to the shop every day, and in a sense, be a man to get people’s respect. My ability to set aside my emotions for the greater good of the company is quite remarkable.
What is the greatest challenge you have confronted as the face of Espo Resto?
I arrived with the idea of wanting people to hear me; to force people to recognize that there is a woman in this business, and damn it, they will listen. I have learned to sit back and be humble. The men on my staff come first before my own emotions. I can’t unceasingly place the equality of women ahead of my business because that’s not always the right way to approach things.
Many organizations have stepped up to support the people most affected by the pandemic. You’ve established WIPcares, a foundation to help people within the Porsche community. Talk a little about that.
From the beginning of Women in Porsche, one of my goals was to establish a charitable aspect of it. I saw how the current state of affairs was affecting my business, our staff, their families, and friends, which prompted me to launch WIPcares. Right off the bat, we were able to help five different people financially. This initiative will be ongoing and is here to stay.
A lady pal of yours brought her Targa in for extensive work, which you are spearheading. How is that project coming along?
My friend Mailani Deyoung told me she had a 1968 Targa 912 she wanted to restore but didn’t have the budget for it. After doing some collision work on my Boxster, now called the WIP Mobile, I thought this would be a cool project for both of us to take on. I wanted to do a full restoration that would be all hands-on and led by women. Mailani and I work on her Targa every weekend, and others have also pitched in. This project is allowing us to do work we otherwise would not normally do.
One of your first jobs was as a Starbucks barista. You recently visited a middle school for career day; what was your message?
I started as a barista at Starbucks and learned so much from working there; it is fast-paced, dirty work that required me to wake up early and be on the clock by 4 a.m. It taught me the importance of dedication and hard work. I went from making coffee beverages to becoming the owner and CEO of Esposito Restoration. On my visit to a middle school for career day, my message to the kids: You can do anything you want; you don’t have to choose one thing. The only person that can deem whether you can or cannot do something is yourself.
Do you have a mantra for success?
Anything less than extraordinary is a waste of your time.
The post Passion Profile: Women in Porsche Founder Laurina Esposito appeared first on Automobile Magazine.