The Unobvious Ones is a monthly look at movers and shakers who fly below the radar in the Canadian auto industry.
KEEGAN DE FRANCE
CUSTOM PAINTING, COLLISION WORLD ARE ‘TWIN BROTHERS’
With the creative talent from his mother and a penalty from his father for dropping his clothing-design studies, Keegan De France began a circuitous journey to become head automotive refinisher at Formula Honda in Toronto.
“I paint cars, doing priming, sanding, sealing, colour-matching, and finish-matching if there’s orange peel in the paint,” said the 34-year-old. “Most of the cars are warranty, accident repair, or a used car that has damage when it’s traded in.”
De France’s father was part-owner of Don Valley Volkswagen in Toronto. “When I was eight years old, he would pay me $25 a month to clean the body shop office every two weeks. On the school summer break, I’d work in the cleanup department, and I had worked up to prepping cars and getting them ready for paint.”
Heavily into street culture, including airbrushing T-shirts, he went to college for fashion design. He wanted to create men’s clothing, but when he discovered the course focused on women’s fashions, he dropped out.
“My dad put me into the wash bay as a form of punishment. I stuck with it, and eventually he put me back into the prep bay.”
De France learned to paint inner surfaces as prep for the painter, and then got his painting certification through Centennial College in Toronto. When a position opened at the dealership, he became a fulltime painter.
He moved to Formula Honda when the Volkswagen store was sold. In his spare time, he creates airbrushed and pinstriped art panels, which he sells at car shows.
“It’s a progression of paint control and layering techniques. Custom painting and the collision world are twin brothers.”
WEARING THREE HATS TO PROMOTE THE BRAND
For a vehicle to sell, there needs to be a link between buyers and the brand, and Kevin Marcotte is that link. He gets the word out as BMW Canada’s national manager for its M, electric i, and Luxury Class brands.
“Day to day, I can wear any of three different hats,” said Marcotte, 53. “I work with our field sales staff and retailers to drive sales, along with all the business areas of BMW Canada, including marketing, after sales, and financial services. My aim is to ensure that the entire company is well-informed to differentiate the subbrands.”
This means tracking and reporting sales numbers and targets for retailers and regions, working with them to promote specific models, and tackling brand advertising and electrification awareness.
“At two per cent of our overall sales volume currently, [electric] may seem minimal, but it’s the future of our automotive industry and there’s a lot of focus in that business.”
Marcotte earned a business degree in sports administration and management at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont. Having done some communications internships at school, Marcotte’s first job was public-relations manager at Medieval Times dinner theatre in Toronto. He moved to an event-marketing company and was assigned to BMW. Three years later, in 1999, BMW made it an in-house position and Marcotte was picked up by the automaker.
He became the director of corporate communications and then spent a decade as director of marketing before moving into his current position in 2016.
“The biggest challenge is determining priority focus, ensuring all areas are well-informed, and differentiating the sub-brands for a competitive edge. The most fulfilling aspect is the commitment of our retailers and associates [as well as customer satisfaction].
“The culture of the company is young and performance-driven, and that energizes me.”
RONNA DEL ROSARIO
1988 HONDA PRELUDE LEADS TO AWARD-WINNING CAREER
He bought his first car in high school and, like many kids, he needed his father to help change the oil.
Look where it led.
The boy, Ronnel Del Rosario, is now 28 and a team-leader technician at Wheaton Honda in Edmonton. And earlier this year he represented Canada in Honda’s international diagnostics competition.
“We’re a big shop, with 24 bays,” said Del Rosario. “We have three team leaders — each in charge of six other technicians — and I’m one of them.”
That first car, a 1988 Honda Prelude, which he still owns, was the key. Del Rosario wanted to modify it but didn’t know how, and decided to go to school to learn.
He attended Edmonton’s Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, which required him to shadow technicians. Since he owned a Honda, he applied at Millwood Honda, which became Wheaton Honda.
“The service manager took me on as a shadow and said after I passed, he would take me on as an apprentice. I started at the bottom washing cars, then to accessories for new vehicles, and then pre-delivery inspection. Once the main shop had an opening, they put me in there.”
The diagnostics competition requires technicians to write an online exam, and those with the highest scores go to a national event in Toronto for a hands-on test. From there, the top finishers compete in Japan.
“I really wanted to go to Japan, so I studied really hard for the entrance exam and got 100 per cent. When I won Toronto, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know I was that good. I wanted to be as good as the shop foreman or better, and didn’t know I caught up so fast.
“I didn’t place in Japan, but I was so honoured to be on stage with such talent, doing what I’m passionate about. To me, that was better than winning.”