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A Story of Career Reinvention at Cox

Keith Burnette 2.20.24

If you had told 20-year-old journalism student Keith Burnette exactly how his career would unfold over the next 30 years, he would have never believed it possible. After all, how does a young aspiring writer end up finding success in sales, product management and competitive intelligence? 

Keith’s professional pivots were all possible because of the mix of opportunities he’s had across Cox, starting with his very first job in advertising sales at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  

Thanks to the rise of the internet and Cox’s commitment to always-on reinvention, Keith was able to pivot from sales pro to operations and product leader at Autotrader, part of the Cox family of businesses. Today, Keith continues to support innovation across Cox Automotive as a senior manager of industry intelligence. 

Here, he shares how he’s been able to reinvent himself over and over again at Cox.

 

Growing a career with the internet boom 

In college, Keith had hopes of working in a newsroom someday. At the end of his freshman year, he landed his first summer internship at his local paper — but it was working in the advertising sales department.  

Surprisingly, he loved it and never looked back. 

“I worked there every summer during college, and by my second summer, I made full commission,” he said. “I liked the freedom of basically running your own business.” 

When he graduated, Keith went to work in sales at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. With almost 10 years of experience at AJC, Keith got a call from a leader who’d left the newspaper to build up Cox’s new online advertising business, Autotrader. He wanted Keith to join him as director of sales operations. 

“Autotrader started to compete with the newspapers,” Keith said. “Cox has a history of innovating to disrupt their own businesses. It really is a brilliant strategy. If somebody is going to do it, do it yourself, right? Be the future.” 

 

A front-row seat to innovation 

Getting in on the ground floor of a new startup, which is what Autotrader was at that time, meant that Keith wore many hats across the business. That’s how he gradually began to cross over from sales and operations into product management and strategy. 

In 2014, Keith joined the research department at Cox Automotive. His decades of experience across the auto business gave him an edge to work on competitive intelligence and keep an eye on the future. 

“I knew the dealer software side; I knew the media side; and I had just been on a three-year stint in wholesale, working on a digital auction startup at Cox,” he explained. “So I had lots of experience.”   

 

Jamming out of the 9-to-5 

Aside from his writing, Keith’s passionate about music and has been a drummer and singer on and off with different bands — including a five-year stint with an all-employee band at Autotrader called Roadkill. 

With Roadkill, Keith started making a name for himself at work through his passion for music. He recalls belting out Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” at a company rally. 

“I was super nervous about it because I had this corporate persona, and I remember thinking, ‘my career is going to be divided between before I sang front of the entire company and after I sang in front of the entire company,’” he said. 

Not only did they rock the crowd, but Keith learned that sharing his passions out loud can be a positive in his career. 

“They saw the human being, that I was a creative and had a talent that they didn't know about that kind of thing,” he said.  

Even though Roadkill eventually broke up, Keith continues writing and playing music with his band, Brand New Kevins. 

“That’s the kind of writing I’m doing nowadays,” he said. 

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