She has been a pioneer in the Canadian automotive industry for a while, but Susan Gubasta is about to take it to another level as the first woman president in the 110-year history of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association.
Gubasta, who is the CEO of Mississauga Toyota, will take over from Larry Lantz of Hanover Honda in April 2018, as head of TADA, which represents which represents about 1,100 new-vehicle dealerships in Ontario.
Gubasta was the first woman on the TADA board of directors and the first woman to serve on the Ontario Toyota Dealers Advertising Association.
“It’s an honour, a privilege and a huge responsibility, but there is a great team that will support this,” she said. “Yes, I am a female, but I don’t look at it from the standpoint that I’m the first [woman]. I’m another person that has the privilege of serving that role and that position.
“The way I have grown up through this industry, I have always felt very supported. Everyone has always asked me, ‘What is it like to grow up in the old-boys’ club and to be a part of that?’ I say, ‘I’ve never felt like an outsider. They’ve always been good to me.’”
PEOPLE, NOT PAPERS
Her father, Joe, worked his way up the industry from a technician into sales and graduated into a new-car dealer, starting with Chrysler, then acquired Ford, Nissan, Acura and Toyota stores at about the same time. Susan, who is one of four siblings, pursued a career as a law clerk, but she wanted to work with people instead of “pushing papers” and followed in the family business, starting as a business manager.
“I had to grow up and have that inner confidence and say, ‘Yeah, I can do this,’ and that took some time.”
The TADA executive had asked Gubasta once before to go through the chain to become president, but she turned it down, feeling she wasn’t ready. Some of that was because she wanted balance in her life with her young son, Jacob, and running the dealership.
She left the board for a year, then rejoined it to be in a future position to become president.
“One of the things I really want to see and drive change to is education. We’re looking for great people in this industry. There’s so much opportunity in this industry, and I want to make sure we continue to spearhead it and bring it to the masses and say, ‘Hey, do you know you can make a really great living in this business?’ We’re not that old-school, plaid jacket, grease-monkey mentality. We’re so professional today. We have to be.”
‘EDUCATION. EDUCATION. EDUCATION.’
“And we need to educate teenagers and educate parents to let them know their children can have a really great life in this business. We need people that are accountants. We need business people. We need tech people. We need marketing managers. The list goes on, and people just don’t know that. They think we sell cars and change tires. We’re so much more than that. That’s my main stage, and I would like to push that forward.”
While the automotive industry is male-dominated, Gubasta said the message has to come from the industry that there are also jobs for women.
“When I first started at this store, the only females we had were at reception and guest services and accounting,” she said. “Now I have managers that are females. I’m not looking just for men. It’s hiring to the culture of the store. It’s hiring personalities that fit and we can train the rest.”
As for hiring women to work in the maintenance of cars, Gubasta said attitudes need to change.
“It’s a tough job, it’s a physically gruelling job lifting tires on and off, maybe it’s not something women want to do,” she said. “I’m not saying we’re not strong and we can’t do it, but I think they tend to shy away from it because there still is that old term of a grease-monkey type of job.
“It’s not really a dirty job anymore. There’s this preconceived notion. How do we break that cycle? How do we break that chain? Education. Education. Education. Everything is plugging in computers.”